What were the factors that gave Michael O’Connor and his fellow Democrats a full house in City Hall?
It is the “day after” that I am pecking away at my keyboard to provide a few thoughts on what some are saying is an election with surprising results: O’Connor and his fellow Democrats in the aldermanic race soundly defeated all Republican office seekers.
Consider a two-term Republican mayor who governed with a self-professed laid-back steady as she goes manner … an all-around nice guy who enjoyed his job, but did not care for campaigning. He chose to take a stab at a third term in a campaign where many would say that the most notable tangible issue of contention is the handful of vacant and blighted properties speckled around Frederick’s downtown area. While the issue is not necessarily one that should cause riots in the streets, it is important to some, but surely not a reason for an election loss.
Or could it have been the darker campaign issue where candidate O’Connor (and write in hopeful Shelley Aloi) consistently dropped subtle (and not so subtle) hints that incumbent McClement never rose to the level of decisive leadership–one which the office of Mayor of the City of Frederick surely deserved?
Could it have been that in the eyes of those who were paying attention that there was just not much of a difference between the two candidates so the election became a case of which one could show the voters that he wanted the office more than the other?
Taking nothing away from any of the candidates, who campaigned harder and with more enthusiasm for the job?
Hands down most have been saying that it was O’Connor, who has been informally positioning himself for the race over the last few years, announced early and never looked back.
But not so fast: This and many other Wednesday morning election quarterbacks should look deeper at the other factors:
The Aldermen and “Alderwomen” Candidates.
The Democrats – The depth chart of these 5 candidates was filled with four hopefuls who were/are extremely well-known to city voters. The only two incumbents in the race, Kelly Russell and Donna Kuzemchak, have earned a lot of loyal followers during their years of service.
Derek Shackelford has been a highly respected, long-time local leader in community service and the ministry, and Roger Wilson, a former IBM executive, has been actively involved in local community boards since he came to Frederick in 1997. He currently serves as the government liaison and policy advancement specialist for Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner.
Within the ranks of each of these energetic campaigners, the overall Democratic sphere of influence assisted in bolstering the efforts of each in their path to victory. Ben MacShane, a three-year resident of the city and an energetic mid-thirty-something, made it through the Democratic primary as the fifth member of this unified team.
The Republicans – It seems that filling a slate of GOP candidates for aldermen was not as easy this year as in the past. Five and only five stepped up the plate; so, no primary was needed.
But then nearly at the last minute one dropped out and in stepped Bryan Chaney, another very new city resident. The other four-Alan Imhoff, Hayden Duke, Katie Bowersox and Nate Power–are all well known in the community to varying degrees, but maybe because they didn’t have much exposure through the primaries, they collectively pulled in less than half as many general election votes as their other party rivals (about 12,500 to 27,600).
Low Voter Turn Out–The Lowest of the Last 3 City General Elections.
Despite the high level of energy that the candidates brought to this campaign, they only drew slightly over 20% of the City’s registered voters to the polls. Put another way over 33,000 out of 42,000 people chose not to show up to cast a ballot in this election. In the previous general elections of 2013 and 2009 only 23.5% and 23.8% of registered voters expressed themselves at the polls.
Sad, but reality.
Some blame it on the fact that the City holds off-year elections, where traditionally a much higher percentage show up to vote for state and national candidates. But others say it is not so much the turnout percentage as much as it is the small number of voters who truly care about the issues that surround the city elections in the first place. This debate has been waged for decades and will likely not be resolved any time soon.
Frankly, I think it is just fine the way it is, because it gives the voters who care to pay attention less distraction.
There Are Over Twice as Many Registered Democrats in the City as There are Republicans.
Yes, out of the 42,000 who have registered, the 11,500 +/- (27%) claim membership in the Grand Old Party, and over 21,000 (49%) are Democrats. The other 10,000 are either unaffiliated or with a minor party. But putting the latter aside, of the two major parties the scales tip 64.5% to 35.5% to O’Connor’s team. So, to that end, even though many say party affiliation does not matter in local politics, is it just a coincidence that McClement pulled in 36.5% of the votes cast for mayor, and the GOP team of aldermanic challengers were only able to yield 31.2% of their total votes cast?
Republican Shelley Aloi, who was defeated by McClement in last September’s primary, jumped back in the race as a write-in candidate and was able to garner more exposure than I have seen in any local election. She claimed that her popularity crossed party lines enough that the primary was not the right venue for her to show her real clout. There she pulled in 552 Republican votes.
She stated that there were a strong number of Democrats, unaffiliated voters and members of other parties, who would swing her way to create a rift between Randy and Michael wide enough such that she would emerge the victor. Well, that was a serious miscalculation, as the total number of votes for all write-in candidates (before all the absentee ballots are counted) yielded about one hundred fewer votes than she earned in the primary.
But could it have been that Aloi’s effort was perceived as a of lack of party unity, as was the case in the 2013 mayoral race that forced the 2 to 1 Democratic advantage to choose between Karen Lewis Young and Jennifer Dougherty? My bet is that it did contribute, but was not significant.
The Other X-Factor
Last month the MacRo Report Blog posted McClement Versus O’Connor: One In The Same? In it we touched on three X-Factors: Low voter turnout, Incumbency Advantage and write-in candidate Shelley Aloi–all covered above. But could there be a fourth factor that also provided energy (or lack thereof) to voters turn out for the Democrats?
Dare I suggest that the level of unpopularity of the one and only President Donald Trump provided local Democrats an opportunity to make a statement of unity, as seemed to be the case in other elections held last Tuesday such as Virginia and New Jersey.
All in all, the 2017 City election was one that had a few bits of drama and surprise, but it will be looked back on as one where candidates treated their opponents in a cordial and respectful manner–no trash talk or name calling. To that, I tip my hat to all of those who had the courage to offer themselves to the alter of personal sacrifice at the gates of public service.
To Mayor Randy McClement, you assisted in pulling the City out of a difficult economic recession, and you handled yourself well in the midst of many controversial issues especially with the recent high-profile case of the downtown hotel/conference center, among so many others. Many have stated that you could have done a better job, but in my book, you did the very best you could and in a classy and respectful manner.
To Mayor-Elect Michael O’Connor, you emerged a victor in a very well-run campaign–a consistent message that clearly resonated with your constituency.
Congratulations to you and your team of newly elected Aldermen … and Adlerwomen!
Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He has been an active member of the Frederick, Maryland community for over four decades. He has served as chairman of the board of Frederick Memorial Hospital and as a member of the Frederick County Charter Board from 2010 to 2012. He currently serves as chairman of the board of Frederick Mutual Insurance Company. Established in 1843, it is one of the longest enduring businesses in Frederick County.