The 2022 race to become the second county executive in Frederick’s history is shaping up to be a fascinating contest in which voters will have real and substantive choices.
The primary election is still more than a year away, but the campaign already shows signs of becoming an opportunity for voters to express their opinion on where the county should be headed.
Jan Gardner was the first executive elected in 2014 after voters changed the charter to eliminate the commission form of government in favor of an executive and council form. She was overwhelmingly reelected in 2018 but is prohibited under the charter from seeking a third term.
Republican State Sen. Michael Hough announced this week that he will give up his seat in the legislature and run for executive. Three Democrats have already announced for the race, and we expect the field in both parties to grow even larger.
County Council members Jessica Fitzwater and Kai Hagen, who help to form the Democratic majority on the council, have declared and are expected to promise to advance the Gardner legacy, to one extent or another.
Fitzwater has praised the Livable Frederick planning document created by the Gardner administration as a valuable “recipe book” to deal not only with traditional planning issues such as growth but also areas such as affordable housing, public health disparities and expanding an already strong, diversified economy.
Fitzwater, who is a school teacher, has not shied away from controversial issues during her time in office. She has criticized the 287(g) program run by Sheriff Chuck Jenkins (R), to check the immigration status of anyone booked into the county’s detention center and begin deportation proceedings if necessary.
She also has taken on the county firefighters union. Binding arbitration for the firefighters was approved by voters in 2018, and Fitzwater helped write the enabling legislation. But the union complained that the law did not meet the objectives of the ballot question, and has taken the county to court.
Hagen has been more sympathetic to the union complaints, and has tried to amend the law, without success thus far. Fitzwater said she continues to stand by her legislation.
Hagen also has sought to make climate change a local priority, arguing that many policies that are friendly to the environment are good practices. Affordable housing, planning and other issues are all interconnected, Hagen said.
Daryl Boffman, a former school board member who is now the director of public affairs for Frederick County Public Schools, is the third announced Democrat. His campaign website stresses four major themes — post-pandemic education funding, small business growth and sustainability, financial stewardship, and a “one Frederick united” initiative.
As county executive, Boffman has pledged to expand minority-owned, women-owned and veteran-owned small business participation on county contracts and increase revenue through business and job development instead of tax increases.
Hough, the current Senate minority whip who represents parts of Frederick and Carroll counties, made it pretty clear in his announcement that he will try to attract voters who are unhappy with change in Frederick County.
He said he wants to address crowding and congestion in order to prevent Frederick from becoming “Montgomery County north.” The anti-Montgomery theme was common among some candidates in the past. Without explicitly saying so, the idea then was generally interpreted to mean keeping Frederick from being a more urban, more diverse community.
While that still may appeal to a portion of county voters, the reality is that Frederick has already become more like Montgomery, in large part because of growth and in-migration, often from Montgomery itself.
Ironically, a lot of that change has taken place because of decisions made by Hough’s fellow Republicans on the old county commission a decade ago that permitted aggressive development in the southern and eastern portions of the county.
So, will voters choose a candidate who offers the promise of continuing the Gardner legacy, a call to a more progressive direction, or an appeal to return to the past?
All in all, the election campaign should provide the county with an entertaining and illuminating exercise in democracy. The primary will be June 28, 2022, and the general election will follow in November.