Political Novice's Win Still Has Jaws Dropping

"What goes on bothers me so much, I said if I'm going to complain, I've got to be willing to do something," Frederick's mayor elect, Jeff Holtzinger, said after he entered the race. His wife, Pamela, had encouraged him to run despite his lack of political experience. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 6, 2005

Listen up, all you political junkies who follow every twist and turn of every planning commission debate or talk back to the talking heads on television on public access TV.

Jeff Holtzinger was just like you, once.

About 18 months ago, his wife, Pamela, started finding him glued to the television set for city of Frederick planning commission hearings, muttering to himself. Go ahead, she told him: Run for mayor. It didn't matter that he had no experience in elected office, she told him. And -- because of a fight that erupted over the city's residency requirement and temporarily removed the provision -- it ultimately didn't even matter that he wasn't living within the city limits at the time.

Now, as of last Tuesday, Holtzinger -- a former city engineer conversant with water flow rates and traffic studies, a father of four who grew up in Frederick despite living just outside its borders and a lawyer who actually described himself as "your average meathead" in an interview -- is the Republican mayor-elect in a city of about 60,000 people.

After beating an experienced and well-financed opponent in the GOP primary, Holtzinger, 41, defeated former four-term mayor Ronald N. Young (D) by 358 votes Tuesday. Holtzinger received 4,740 votes, or about 52 percent, to Young's 4,382.

This may illustrate the gap in their experience: While Holtzinger was wandering the city's streets on foot -- arriving at a precinct to find he had lost it to Young by 100 or so votes and unable to reach anyone because his cell phone had died -- Young was already making his way to Holtzinger's election night reception to concede the race.

Using poll watchers, Young already knew that his comeback had failed. Holtzinger, meanwhile, was rummaging through his pickup for a battery-charging cord. His 13-year-old daughter left him an exasperated message: "You might want to call me back since you were in the race. We think Ron Young has conceded."

"I had no clue what was going on," Holtzinger, 41, recalled.

Clearly, Holtzinger is not afraid to poke fun at himself. But Tuesday's result suggests that voters believed the department head who oversaw the city's roads and water may be the best bet to deal with the strains brought on by a decade of rapid growth. As city engineer during the 2001-02 drought, he assumed responsibility for the technical details of the crisis.

"I think Jeff is the right person for this job at the right time," said Michael Cady (R), vice president of the Frederick Board of County Commissioners. Cady, who lives in the city, said voters opted for more than a new face. "I think they wanted a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy."

Even late in the week, though, a sense of shock lingered around town. "I'm quite surprised," said Robert "Boe" Walker, who owns Boe's Strings Inc. "Evidently, Jeff Holtzinger is surprised. I thought Ron would be a lock for it."

There are several theories for Holtzinger's victory upset. Some cited low turnout: 32 percent of the city's 29,033 voters cast ballots. Young's supporters, this argument goes, had thought him so likely to win they believed their votes weren't needed. Holtzinger's forces, fighting with underdog spirit, turned out in force.

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