Ten days after Frederick Mayor Randy McClement started his first term, 23 inches of snow blanketed the region, forcing him to jump into crisis mode to clear the roads and restore city services.
Two months later, an additional 30.5 inches of snow fell.
“That cost the city $750,000,” the outgoing two-term mayor said of the storms in an interview on Thursday. “We had budgeted somewhere around $300,000. ... That’s when the country was not doing well fiscally, everyone was seeing the pinch of that, and the city was not exempted.”
Early challenges and homage to employees
McClement has told that story frequently over the years as a reminder of the challenges he faced immediately after becoming mayor. Those challenges continued as he began putting together his first budget, when he learned he was faced with a $6 million revenue gap.
“Every budget has had a $6 [million] to $13 million hole,” he said. “There’s never been a time when the budget director came to me and said, ‘You have a quarter million dollars left, what would you like to do with it?’ I never had the opportunity in the budget to go out and do extra projects. It’s really about how do I maintain this wonderful city, move it forward and try and get out of the hole.”
The mayor and his team balanced the budget all eight years without raising taxes for the residents, a feat he deems one of his most noteworthy accomplishments.
The first three years were the roughest, though, because while he was able to keep taxes down, the budget did not allow him to give pay raises to his employees. That hit him hard. He characterizes his staff members as “the backbone of the city.”
“They are the ones who make this city great,” he said.
In year four, McClement said he was able to offer everyone who worked for the city $1,000. After that, he worked merit raises and cost-of-living increases into the budget, which he managed to sustain every year since. McClement said he also fought to keep health insurance costs down as another contribution to the employees.
A humble leader
During the current administration’s final public hearing Thursday, Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak, a Democrat, gave a shoutout to the Republican mayor for making headway on several important projects during his time in office.
The projects — Carroll Creek Linear Park, the widening of Monocacy Boulevard and the development of the Westside Regional Park — were all important to the city and while McClement did not spearhead any of them, his efforts helped move them toward completion. What was most impressive to Kuzemchak, though, was the fact that McClement did not take credit for the projects as his own. McClement said he was purposeful with how he tackled those projects.
“One of the things I think that I’m proud of is that I didn’t take credit for projects that were already in the process. ... All these projects have good foundations,” he said. “You’ve just got to find a way to move them forward.”
A sign with a checklist that marked off each element of the second phase of the Carroll Creek Linear Park rested along the right wall of his office as a reminder.
“You look at the first phase [of Carroll Creek] and you had a $50 million return on investment,” he said. “The second phase should do pretty good, too. ... It wasn’t about who started it. It was about, this is good for the city, let’s keep it going.”
One project McClement said he is disappointed he will not get to see to its end is the proposed downtown hotel and conference center. He has consistently supported the project since its inception and called it a “changer” for the city.
A lopsided election
McClement ran for a third term but lost to Democratic Alderman Michael O’Connor.
The voter turnout was low — at just under 21 percent — and the results showed a majority of registered Democrats cast ballots, which McClement said likely caused the Democratic sweep for mayor and Board of Aldermen.
“I’ve never been a big political party person. ... You can’t tell me there’s a Democratic or Republican way to turn your water on,” McClement said.
Because he and O’Connor agreed on most issues during the campaign, voters had little incentive to come out and vote for one candidate over another, he said. He also said many people he talked to when he was door knocking told him he had the election “in the bag,” which concerned him because that likely meant they would not vote.
“There wasn’t a hot-button topic for people to come out and vote,” McClement said. “People think, ‘Randy’s done a good job, I don’t see why he wouldn’t win.’”
He also suggested that the political climate given who is in the Oval Office also played a part.
McClement has worked with O’Connor over the last eight years and said he believes he will make a smooth transition into the mayoral role. He also believes he is leaving the city in a good place for O’Connor. The transition will be finalized on Thursday at a 1 p.m. ceremony at the Weinberg Center for the Arts.
The one question McClement, now 61, said he has routinely been asked since the election is whether he plans to reopen his downtown bagel shop.
“I loved the bagel shop and I would do it again in a heartbeat, but the reason we closed the bagel shop was the grandkids,” McClement said of the decision he and his wife, Maryjane, made to close Market Bagel and Deli in 2012 after 12 years in business. “It was one of those — I don’t want to call it a bucket list — but I wanted to own my own business and we had 12 successful years.”
McClement’s young grandchildren live in Georgia with his daughter and son-in-law. Time with them is limited, he said, which was lessened even more when he and his wife were running their popular business.
Owning the bagel shop also got McClement into the city’s business community.
“It was a great way to be a part of the community. Eight years after being mayor, I’m still the bagel person.”
It also led to him becoming a member of the Tourism Council of Frederick County. He continued to serve on the board for the city once he became mayor and is disappointed that he will not be able to remain part of it once he leaves office. He said he wants to remain involved as much as he can, though, in addition to getting another paying job. Before he opened the bagel shop, McClement worked with homeowners associations, which he plans to pursue again.
One thing he does not plan to do again is run for office.
“I looked at it as a way of giving back to the community. ... Even if I had won again, that was it ... The only reason I wanted to run just one more time was for the last couple of projects I wanted to see come to fruition.”