Mind Katrina, but don’t forget to vote

Kai Hagen

September 8, 2005

Hurricane Katrina has been dominating the news and my thoughts recently.

It’s been difficult to think and write about Frederick County issues for long without my attention wandering back to the unfolding tragedy along the Gulf Coast.

When Biloxi, Miss., Mayor A.J. Holloway referred to Katrina as ‘‘our tsunami,” it seemed like a fair description of a storm so immense and devastating that it’s hard to get your mind around, even from a distance.

We observe and absorb the life-wrenching experience from a safe distance here. Safe from the power of the hurricane’s wind and water, anyway. But the giant storm surge has sent waves across the entire continent, touching and affecting all of us in different ways.

Many people are doing what they can to help, of course, whether they’re donating money or supplies, volunteering their time, or even offering to share their homes. As we’ve seen before, the worst things that happen to people can bring out the best things in others.

This far away, however, the ripples are not enough to move us from our daily routine. We go off to work or school. We keep our appointments, make it to soccer practice, and so on.

As distinct as the two disasters are in so many ways, in one respect I am reminded of Sept. 11, 2001. Life goes on. It must.

The terrible events then did not even postpone the primary elections held that same day in the City of Frederick. And the current emergency will not affect the campaigning happening in the city now.

So, in my last column before next week’s primary election, I have to make room for a few election-related comments.

Three Republicans and two Democrats are contending for the top spots in the race to be the mayor of Frederick for the next four years. Eight Republicans and seven Democrats are vying for five positions in each party on the November ballot in the race for the Board of Aldermen.

These elections will shape the future of Frederick. Unfortunately, however, if history serves as a guide, a lot of eligible voters won’t vote in the primary. And more than a few who do will make up their minds based on limited information about the candidates.

Fact is that unless you’ve sat down with the candidates to discuss the issues that matter to you, it isn’t easy for busy people to learn more than the basics about who they are and where they stand, especially in the crowded race for alderman.

You might have read some snippets in a few newspaper articles.

Perhaps you’ve taken a few seconds to glean a little information from a campaign brochure. But, really, there just isn’t much out there.

Campaigns are advised to keep it simple, be brief and repeat a few things over and over again. Important information about complicated issues is reduced to slogans that fit on yard signs or bumper stickers or in a 15-second radio ad.

When so little is said, however, what isn’t said is often more revealing.

For instance, Bev Shelton is running for alderman in the democratic primary. Like most of the candidates, her message has been reduced to a few general concepts (‘‘civility, common sense and cooperation”) with few details.

On her Web site, Ms. Shelton includes a short section titled ‘‘Background and Community Involvement,” which refers to her professional career and lists some of the nonprofit organizations she’s assisted over the years.

But there’s no mention of the fact that Ms. Shelton served as the executive officer of the Frederick County Builders’ Association for more than 12 years, or that she was the first executive officer for the Defenders of Citizens Rights Inc., a developer-supported organization.

Although she chose not to mention these associations, development interests don’t seem to be confused about where she stands on the issues that matter to them. Her contributor list reads like a Who’s Who directory of developers.

There are a lot of things competing for your attention out there, including Katrina.
But if you care enough about the election to vote, it’s worth taking a look beyond the bumper stickers.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at