Writing about Lennie Thompson this fall, a group called Citizens for Quality of Life said he "can be brash, volatile, arrogant, argumentative, erratic, rude, abusive and even explosive, sometimes treating citizens as personal enemies rather than people with a differing viewpoint."
This was a campaign endorsement.
The pamphlet goes on: "He has been unrelenting in his efforts to stop the county from assisting or underwriting any aspect of development, and he has been steady in his efforts to preserve a livable quality of life for Frederick County."
Thompson, the endorsement concluded, deserved a second term as county commissioner.
He got it, and got it big. John L. "Lennie" Thompson Jr., an ardent slow-growth advocate with a knack for ticking off even his biggest fans, won the most votes of any candidate in the Nov. 5 election, becoming president of the five-member Board of County Commissioners.
Now comes the weird part: How does a man who has built a career on being an unruly, anti-developer maverick fit himself into a role that demands a certain dignity, a levelheadedness, a willingness to compromise?
"I would hope that Lennie will rise to the occasion," said fellow Commissioner Jan H. Gardner. "I will remain optimistic that he will."
In a county where the population grew by 30 percent in the 1990s, to 195,000, a county where schools are crowded and the public-service infrastructure is taxed by the rush of newcomers, Thompson rose to countywide office in 1998 by pledging to wage war on developers. No more breaks for builders, he said. "If developers win, you lose," was his campaign slogan.
He has shouted them down at public meetings, challenged them to legal duels and routinely hurled mild pejoratives at the slightest provocation. "Lowlife scum bucket," for example, is how he described one lawyer for a developer in a recent conversation.
Thompson, 48, served 13 years as a town commissioner and mayor of Walkersville, where he lives with his wife, Suzie, and two children, Jake, 14, and Hannah, 12. A self-described "damn idiot" in high school, he returned to the classroom at age 28, receiving a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in business from Hood College, then a law degree from the University of Maryland in 1993.
Watching his one-acre lot in Walkersville turn from "the middle of nowhere to the middle of everything" because of the area's rapid development, Thompson became more fervently anti-developer each year. His impassioned vow to hold developers in check helped him win a seat on the board of commissioners in 1998.
Now, as head of the county's highest governmental body, Thompson pledges to temper his temper -- and his locally legendary disregard for sartorial norms. No more shoelessness at important public meetings, he says. No more T-shirts. The suits and the ties are coming out of the closet.
"My policy views will not change one iota," Thompson said in a recent interview in his cluttered office. "But I'm in a new role now, and you have to be more conciliatory, a forger of compromises, trader of ideas."
Some have reservations.
"At this point, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt," said Rocky Mackintosh, president of MacRo Ltd., a Frederick company that consults developers. "I think as president, he recognizes the new role he's playing."
In a letter to a local paper last month, Mackintosh called Thompson, a Republican, "a modern-day McCarthy" on a witch hunt for developers. And Thompson fired back with a letter labeling as "extremist," "militant" and "anarchist" a group called Defenders of Citizens Rights, a property-rights group of which Mackintosh is a member.
It is that sort of language that moved Thompson detractors to field several commissioner candidates sympathetic to new growth. Three of those candidates -- Mike Cady, John R. Lovell, and Bruce Reeder -- won on Nov. 5, tilting the new board of commissioners in favor of new development. The previous board generally split, 3 to 2, in favor of slow growth.
The changed direction came, Mackintosh said, from a sense in the community that the previous board "seemed to make up [its] mind on issues prior to things being heard."
"The only thing that I've been interested in seeing is that the board will try to give a fair and balanced ear to the issues," Mackintosh said.
In fall 1998, a phrase from one of Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" sequels provided the final push that got Thompson elected to the board -- a phrase used to great effect more than a decade earlier by President Ronald Reagan in a challenge to would-be tax-increasers.
Standing on the steps of Frederick City Hall, Thompson dared any developer to challenge his public release of a private agreement between developers and Frederick city and county officials.
"Any developer's lawyer that's out there: Make my day," Thompson said.
The Eastwood pose made Thompson a hero to those frustrated by the crush of new development in Frederick -- and it got ample attention from the local press.
Thompson is not shy about making a local media splash; in fact, he seems to savor it. "Front page!" he exclaimed, recalling the local coverage of his Eastwood moment. "FRONT PAGE!"
To commemorate Thompson's electoral victory that year, his wife bought an almost-life-size Eastwood cutout, which stands in Thompson's office in Winchester Hall in downtown Frederick. It is vintage Eastwood from a 1960s Western, wrapped in a wool serape and wearing a big blue Lennie Thompson campaign button.
"Go ahead, make my day!" Thompson says, quoting the cartoon-speech bubble taped to the Hollywood cowboy's face. "Front page!"
The cardboard Clint is the first thing a visitor sees walking into Thompson's office. Walking out, the last things one might see are the dozen-odd local newspaper columns Thompson has taped to the back of his door, chronicling the barbs he has taken over the past four years.
Foes have called him a Stalinist, a dictator and even likened him to a Nazi.
The primary complaint is that Thompson is heavy-handed in public meetings and prejudges all development cases in favor of closing down new construction.
Even Thompson's admirers concede that he goes overboard. But few doubt his sincerity or convictions.
Will his tactics change now?
Thompson smiled, with just a hint of mischief in his eyes.
"You're seeing a kinder, gentler Lennie Thompson," he said.