With early voting kicking off for the city of Frederick’s primary elections Wednesday, the candidates for mayor answered questions and took an occasional jab at one another in a virtual forum Tuesday night.
The event, hosted by the social activist group Moving Us Forward and the Frederick branch of the NAACP, included Democratic candidates Mayor Michael O’Connor, Alderman Roger Wilson, former mayor Jennifer Dougherty and John Funderburk, a financial adviser.
Republican candidates Steven Hammrick and Steve Garrahy were invited but did not respond, NAACP chapter president Willie Mahone said Tuesday.
The candidates agreed that women and minority businesses should be proportionately represented in the construction and operation of a downtown hotel and conference center and that all city employees should be paid a living wage.
Asked whether he would support expanding voting in the city to allow residents with green cards or those who are undocumented, Funderburk said he did, and he strongly supported giving undocumented residents driver’s licenses and letting them work and have dignity, he added.
The country needs to encourage immigration to maintain its population, he said, noting that the average immigrant pays about $6,000 a year in taxes.
Dougherty said she also supported the question and added that the city should look at changes such as letting unaffiliated voters choose which primary they’d like to participate in. Dougherty also voiced support for creating precincts for the city’s aldermen.
O’Connor said he was open to a conversation about how to make sure all city residents had access to opportunities regardless of their immigration status, as it provides them with other services.
Taxpayers should be able to participate in government, Wilson said, saying he was also open to having a conversation on the topic.
Wilson said he’d also like to look at the possibility of non-partisan elections, noting that plenty of voters are unaffiliated with a political party.
O’Connor’s answer drew criticism from Funderburk, who accused him of dodging the question.
His criticism continued throughout the night, while O’Connor, Wilson and Dougherty attacked various aspects of each other’s time in office.
Dougherty said O’Connor’s administration tends to overanalyze issues, while Funderburk criticized the administration for being too reliant on studies rather than taking action.
Wilson joined in toward the end, arguing that O’Connor didn’t do much during eight years as an alderman, and so he brought the status quo when he became mayor.
“If I’m mayor, we will move forward,” Wilson said.
O’Connor said his opponents “have to come after me, because I’m the incumbent,” but urged voters to look at his record as mayor.
Asked if the city should move to ranked-choice voting and non-partisan primaries in the future, Dougherty said she personally doesn’t support such a move, but it can be part of a conversation.
Funderburk said the city should keep the Democratic primary for Democrats, but he spent most of his time attacking O’Connor’s “spineless answer” on the undocumented voter question.
O’Connor said he doesn’t know if ranked-choice voting is right for Frederick, but agreed that Democratic primaries should be reserved for Democrats.
Wilson called it “stunning” that O’Connor wouldn’t support ranked-choice voting and said he’s always open to creating more voter participation.
Mahone thanked the candidates for their participation at the end of the night.
“We had some diversions. But by and large, they stayed on the issues,” he said.
City voters will have several options for casting their ballots in this year’s primary and general elections, with mail-in, drop box and in-person voting available.
Every registered voter in the city was supposed to be mailed a ballot 21 days before the Sept. 14 primary and will be before the Nov. 2 general elections, which they can mail back, take to a drop box or return to the voting center during early voting or on Election Day.
Monitored drop boxes were available starting in early September for the primary and will be in mid-October for the general election at seven locations around the city.
The locations include the Trinity School voting center at 6040 New Design Road, the Frederick County Board of Elections office, Talley Recreation Center, Hillcrest Commons, the Housing Authority office, Frederick Community College and Gov. Thomas Johnson High School.
Mail-in ballots must be received before 4:30 p.m. on the first Friday after Election Day.
In-person voting will be done at the Trinity School site from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. Early voting for the primary election is Sept. 8 through Sept. 11. For the general election, early voting is Oct. 27 through Oct. 30.