Speculation on Frederick County executive contenders begins -- Gazette.Net



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Two years before Frederick County voters go to the polls to choose a county executive and county council under charter government approved in the Nov. 6 election, the speculation about who will run has already begun.

“People are going to throw out a ton of names,” former county Commissioner Kai Hagen said.

Any current or former elected official in the county is likely to have their name mentioned as a possible candidate, according to state Sen. David Brinkley (R-Dist. 4).

“There will be a plenty large enough field,” Brinkley said.

However, with more than 700 days until the election in November 2014, he said it’s much too early to tell who the candidates will be because everyone is still trying to assess the new landscape created by the charter’s passage.

Hagen said the calculations on who will run will be dramatically impacted by how many credible candidates run in the primaries in June of that year.

He suspects potential candidates have already begun maneuvering behind the scenes to consider what the candidate slates will be in each party’s primary.

If a strong candidate declares early and does a lot of fundraising, it will probably scare away a lot of other candidates from that party, according to former county Commissioner John “Lennie” Thompson Jr.

Thompson said he expects to see a number of prominent people in the two major parties open campaign finance operations in the coming year and start raising money. By the end of 2013, it should become clearer who has the fundraising prowess to emerge as a prime candidate, he said.

He estimated that the amount spent by all candidates for county executive will likely top $1 million.

Along with the county executive position, the new charter provides for a seven-member council with five seats elected by district and two at-large.

Thompson said he expects the at-large seats to be seen as stepping stones to the county executive’s seat, held by candidates looking to prove they can make contacts and connections across the county.

But Hagen disagreed, arguing that the two seats could become targets for Democrats living in heavily Republican districts who may see the at-large seats as a more viable path onto the council.

Brinkley’s name was mentioned by several observers as a possible county executive contender. He said that while it’s flattering to be mentioned, he has no plans to run for the job.

“At this point, no,” he said.

Meanwhile, Frederick County Board of Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young has steadfastly maintained that he won’t be a candidate for the post, either.

Young, who’s seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2014, discussed the charter at virtually every commissioners’ meeting in the weeks leading up to the election — each time emphasizing he had no interest in running for the seat.

His father, state Sen. Ron Young (D-Dist. 3), also said he has absolutely no interest in the executive’s job.

Ron Young, who served 16 years as mayor of Frederick, said there was a time in his life when he probably would have pursued the office, but it’s just not something he wants to do now.

He said he intends to run for one more four-year Senate term before ending his political career.

Commissioner Billy Shreve (R), who has expressed interest in running for executive if the charter passed, said Thursday that he thinks it would be logical to have someone who can provide a transition from the board of commissioners to the county executive.

Shreve said he believes in term limits and has always said he would dedicate eight years to politics after being elected commissioner in 2010.

He said that two years before the election, he had no idea who else would consider running.

Brunswick City Administrator Rick Weldon, a former county commissioner and state delegate, said he is considering the possibility.

“It would be incredibly premature to either indicate or feign interest," Weldon said.

“It’s certainly something I’ll be thinking about but ... I’ve got a pretty good job; I love being a granddad. Knowing my schedule as a county commissioner, I can't imagine what the schedule would be like for a county executive. But it’s certainly something rolling around in the back of my brain,” he said.

Del. Galen Clagett (D-3A), the chairman of the county legislative delegation and a former president of the board of commissioners, said he hadn’t considered the position, but wouldn’t rule out a possible run.

“I’ve learned to never say never,” Clagett said.

Former Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty said she thinks the successful candidate will be a familiar face to county voters.

“I honestly think it’s going to be someone we know,” Dougherty said.

Both Hagen, a Democrat, and Thompson, a Republican, think it’s possible that a Democrat could claim the county executive seat in a county that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won by 4 percent on Nov. 6.

A number of county voters cross party lines in every election, and there are people in Frederick who would never vote for President Barack Obama but might be willing to vote for a local Democrat whose record they know, Hagen said.

Thompson pointed out that Democrat Jan Gardner won the most votes among commissioner candidates by a wide margin in 2006.

He agreed with Hagen that Frederick voters aren’t hard-nosed conservative, party-line voters.

“I think a Democrat would have a half-decent chance,” Thompson said.

Staff Writer Tripp Laino contributed to this story.

rmarshall@gazette.net