Mayor Michael O’Connor recently reflected on his first two years running the city of Frederick, and he seemed generally pleased with what he has wrought.
Asked by News-Post reporter Colin McGuire to give himself a letter grade for his work thus far, O’Connor said: “I’d give myself a solid B, maybe a B-plus.”
We would be a little less generous in our assessment. And based on the available evidence and the words of the mayor himself, we would give him a grade of Incomplete.
To some extent, any public official being judged in the middle of a first term would be incomplete, but we believe that O’Connor has been moving too slowly to address the real problems facing the city. As a result, he has few real accomplishments to which he was able to point.
Read his answer, when asked how he might raise his grade to an A:
“I think we have to step up our engagement level,” he told our reporter. “There’s more that we can do in terms of engagement with the community. We have to get some of these big projects that have been sitting there in the ground. I think people want to see obvious action. We’ve done a lot of things behind the scenes that I think have made the function of government in the city of Frederick better than it was on the day I came into office, but a lot of that stuff isn’t visible to the community.”
Let’s parse those thoughts. Community engagement is important, but beyond that, people want to see positive achievements from their city government, the “big projects” and the “obvious action” to which O’Connor referred.
We would like to see more done to bring the long-delayed downtown hotel and conference center to reality. We would like to see some “obvious action” on the problem of blight in the city. O’Connor fired the former head of the Community Action Agency, the organization charged with helping the poor and the homeless, but we have yet to hear a clear vision for the future.
The mayor has said the right things about these issues, but his first two years have not produced much action.
On the hotel project, O’Connor had to concede that he has been unable to move Gov. Larry Hogan and local Republican legislators to support the project, and added “we’re working to find another path,” behind the scenes.
On blighted properties, the major said: “Slowly but surely, we’re beginning to see some longtime vacant properties begin to get occupancy. We also have some that continue to frustrate me, which is why we took the time to define what long-term vacancy is.”
Slowly but surely is not enough of a pace when it comes to this critical issue. For many residents, blight has become similar to the weather: Everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it. Deadlines come and go, and still the former Asiana restaurant site on North Market Street sits like a giant decayed tooth marring the smile of downtown.
What seems to be missing to us in the O’Connor administration is a sense of urgency to solve the problems we have been addressing. The mayor has said he intends to seek re-election in 2022. If he does, he is going to need achievements and real victories, not just plans and discussions, hopes and dreams.
At the end of the interview, in a self-revealing moment, the mayor touched on a personality trait that may be hindering him.
“I’ve always been a thoughtful person, and I think that can be problematic at times because sometimes what you need to do is act,” he told our reporter. “You don’t need to think, you need to do things, and that works against type for me.”
Mayor O’Connor has less than two years to overcome his reluctance and become a mayor of action. Already it is plain that he will be challenged in the next election, both by candidates from his own Democratic Party and Republicans. If he wants another term, he needs to get going.