Newcomer battles household name

Democratic former mayor faces Republican candidate for top city job in Frederick

October 28, 2005|By JOANNA DAEMMRICH | JOANNA DAEMMRICH,SUN REPORTER

FREDERICK -- A quarter of a century ago, Ron Young's name was practically synonymous with politics in this steepled city in Western Maryland. He became Frederick's youngest mayor in 1974 at age 34 - and held the office for 16 years.

Now Young, 65, is trying to get his old job back. But to return to his high-ceilinged office at City Hall, he has to beat Republican newcomer William "Jeff" Holtzinger in Tuesday's election.

Holtzinger, 41, a lawyer and engineer, surprised much of the city last month by upsetting a veteran alderman in the GOP primary. He's running an energetic campaign, telling voters he has the expertise to smooth the once-sleepy town's bumpy transition into a bustling bedroom community.

It's an uphill challenge: Young, a Democrat, is still a household name. Holtzinger, a former city engineer, is barely known. But Holtzinger is the fresh face, Young the elder politician. And Holtzinger's anti-growth message has appeal in a city unhappy with crowded roads and schools.

Even though Frederick's population has grown from 28,000 in 1980 to 58,000, folks still expect to know their mayor almost as well as their car mechanic. So while Young has raised far more money - $100,000, compared with Holtzinger's $14,000 - the men are both doing old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning.

"I'll be honest, it's hard to choose," says Steven Neel, who lives in Golf View, a quiet neighborhood carved out of an old orchard on Frederick's west side.

Neel and his wife are Democrats. But they're tired of traffic; when Holtzinger stops by, they're impressed by his credentials.

"Either one's going to be a win-win situation," Neelsays, "compared to what we've had."

That was Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty, Frederick's first female mayor, who attracted some fans but more foes with her blunt managerial style. Last month, Young defeated Dougherty in a bitter Democratic primary that turned into a referendum on her personality - and politeness in politics.

Voters turned out in force, clearly fed up with the nonstop bickering at City Hall. Not only did Democrats oust Dougherty, but Republicans picked Holtzinger over Alderman Joseph W. Baldi, who was well-liked but often part of the quarrels with the mayor.

In the weeks since, the campaign has turned more issue-oriented - and subdued.

Gone is the intrigue, the barbed exchanges. Instead, when Young and Holtzinger bump into each other, they banter easily. They're more like father and son: Holtzinger played high school football with one of Young's boys.

"It's very civil. People are almost complaining that it's too civil," Holtzinger says with a chuckle.

The mayoral hopefuls agree more than they disagree. Both men - and almost every candidate for alderman - recognize that Frederick's rapid growth is a big source of discontent.

Virtually all the candidates back a proposed ordinance, similar to Frederick County's, to require "adequate public facilities," such as roads and schools, before new subdivisions are approved.

Everyone wants to restart talks, which broke down during Dougherty's administration, to get the county to pipe more water for the city from the Potomac River.

Taxes are the other hot topic. Much of Frederick was reassessed last year, and that came a year after the city raised property taxes.

Young argues that he has more leadership experience.

"I'm much more of the CEO type with a broader grasp," he says. "I look at the big picture and hire nuts-and-bolts people for the departments."

Among his goals are to improve city finances, cut legal bills and unite a City Hall that he says was fractured by Dougherty. He also wants to build more affordable housing in a city where townhouses can sell for $500,000.

For his part, Holtzinger is proud of being a "nuts-and-bolts" man.

One of the first things he'd do as mayor, he says, is throw out Dougherty's comprehensive development plan. Holtzinger, who left as city engineer after a year of working for the mayor, says the plan was bungled - and includes outlying areas that would require even more water.

Holtzinger also wants to revisit traffic studies that he believes were improperly done. And he would open a police substation for Hillcrest, a neighborhood with increasing gang activity.

"We're doing a bad job handling growth," Holtzinger tells homeowners as he knocks on doors. "And that's what's resulted in these tax problems and traffic."

The two men, though of different generations, have a lot in common. Both are fathers of four. Both grew up in Frederick. They have another thing in common. Until recently, neither man who wants to be mayor lived within the city.

Earlier this year, Young tried to get on the ballot. But though he had moved back into Frederick from its outskirts, he had not lived there for three years, an election requirement.

Opponents of Dougherty threw out the residency rule.

With that gone, Holtzinger, who lives in a farmhouse just outside town, got in the race. He is renting a house downtown during the campaign; if he wins, he'll move his family.

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