Ronald N. Young paints his former reign as mayor of Frederick as a "golden age" during which the city reclaimed its historic downtown from the ravages of floods and suburban flight.

That was 15 years ago, after Young made history as Frederick's youngest chief executive and managed the city's affairs for four consecutive terms.

Now, sitting near some of the cityscapes that he has painted over the years and hung in his campaign headquarters on Market Street, the Democrat is again caught up in the last-minute frenzy of rounding up votes for the city's Nov. 1 election. Young, who last week turned 65, said his experience in city hall -- as a high-ranking state official and now part-time town manager of Indian Head in Southern Maryland -- would help him solve the city's problems.

"I'll give you my resume, and you can find out how many people have the background I've got," Young said.

His Republican opponent, W. Jeff Holtzinger, 41, approaches the city with the eye of an engineer, which he is.

Holtzinger, the former city engineer, is credited with making the discovery during the 2001-02 drought that for years, the city dangerously underestimated its water consumption and overestimated its ability to absorb new development. In this campaign, which is Holtzinger's first, he talks infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure -- which can be a dry topic, he admits.

"It is boring," he said in an interview. "But I tell you, besides the employees, the most important thing the city has is its infrastructure. . . . We've got to get going on these things, or we're going into a hole we can't climb out of."

The two men would not be in the race if not for a federal judge's decision to scotch the city's three-year residency requirement for mayoral candidates. Young -- a father to four grown sons -- was living just outside the city before moving back in last year, challenged the provision. After the judge struck it down -- but before the Board of Aldermen could enact a one-year residency requirement -- Holtzinger, a father of four who grew up and has spent most of his life on a family farm just beyond the city limits, entered the race. He has since moved inside the city.

The state's two major-party organizations are watching the municipal elections for signs of how next year's gubernatorial race might go, with Democratic Party officials viewing Frederick as a bellwether.

"What our mission is, without getting too hyperbolic, is to go into the Annapolis and Frederick races and use them as a microcosm as to what will happen next year," Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said Friday. "We're making sure everybody knows all the races are important to us."

Young comes to the race after a difficult primary against Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty (D).

During the primary, Young heaped blame on Dougherty, saying she was the source of city hall feuding. Dougherty attacked Young as a throwback to the days of the old boys network. She said many of the city's problems can be traced to actions in his tenure, such as the annexation of several properties for development. In the primary's closing days, she tried to link him to the black-book scandal involving a prostitution ring -- an attack that members of her party believe cost her the election.

All that is past, replaced by a courtly dialogue about pipelines and parking rates. At candidate forums and campaign speeches, Young and Holtzinger sometimes seem to be mumbling in their sleep as they discuss the city's major issues: managing growth in the face of growing population and limited water supplies, and slowing the rise in taxes and fees without diminishing city services. They acknowledge that it is sometimes difficult to discern differences in their views. The biggest slaps land on each other's back.

"You're not supposed to be saying these things in politics, but Jeff is a good guy, and I think if he gets in, he'll do a good job," Young told members of the Frederick County Builders Association during a forum recently.

Holtzinger and Young talk of streamlining government to control costs and of making the budgetary process more open to citizens. They support the concept of adopting an adequate public facilities ordinance, known as an APFO, that would require a thorough review of each building project to ensure that adequate roads, schools and other services exist to accommodate new development.

Likewise, they agree that the city's strict water-allocation ordinance -- which was adopted in response to the drought and requires a thorough accounting of available water supplies before approving new projects -- needs further review.

"I think it may be overkill," Young said.

"I do think it's a cumbersome document," said Holtzinger, who said other zoning and planning tools should be used to better track water supply and new development.

Their sharpest disagreement occurred over Holtzinger's interest in creating a lighted regional park that would alleviate the shortage of playing fields.

Young said the city has plenty of parkland that needs to be apportioned more reasonably.

He said he thinks it's "crazy" when people who gripe about traffic want to build a park that would require people to drive to reach it.

Young, who grew up in the city, was instrumental in building support for a flood-control project on Carroll Creek and in conceiving of the waterway as a site for recreation and development that is taking shape.

In addition to his four terms as mayor, Young served as deputy secretary and acting secretary of the state Department of Planning, as well as deputy secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, while promoting then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening's "smart growth" initiatives.

"I feel good," Young said in an interview. "We have a full-court press. The response is good."

He has raised significantly more money than his opponent. According to campaign finance documents filed this month, Holtzinger had raised $9,000 since August, compared with Young's nearly $50,000.

Holtzinger declined to say how many staff members or how much money the state Republican Party is contributing to the effort in Frederick.

Young said the state Democratic Party has contributed about $10,000 to his campaign. He said the state organization might have been putting more campaign workers on the street, but he has not seen any.

Young's major concern is that turnout will not be as high among Democrats, who were energized by the hard-fought battle between him and Dougherty.

He acknowledged that some ardent Dougherty supporters will refuse to turn out, or perhaps will vote against him because they are angry he challenged her. He has seen pro-Holtzinger signs in some of their front yards.

Holtzinger, who left his job as the city's chief engineer in 2002, said he has been pleased by the campaign's civility but has worried that it might lull residents into not voting.

He seemed unruffled by the spending gap between himself and Young, saying Friday that he had raised enough money to buy radio ads.

His opponent in the Republican primary, veteran Alderman Joseph W. Baldi, also raised substantially more than Holtzinger. Holtzinger, however, wound up winning by 35 votes.

The victory surprised many political observers in the city, who told Holtzinger that he didn't have the name recognition it would take to win.

"I didn't let it deter me," he said. "I'm going to keep trying and give it my best shot."

Republican candidate W. Jeff Holtzinger.Democratic candidate Ronald Young.