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News Maryland Politics

For Young family, politics is a pastime

Frederick voters may notice a theme to their primary ballots next month: Young for state senator. Young for county executive. Young for county school board. Young for state delegate.

Politics, after all, is the Young family business.

"I was driving the other day, and I literally saw all four of their campaign signs on the same corner," said Todd Anderson, a federal contractor who lives in the city of Frederick. "I guess we've got kind of a Kennedy clan here."

The family's dominance in city and county politics is measured in decades. Collectively, Youngs have served more than 50 years in elected office, but June's primary marks the first time four family members are running concurrently.

If all prevail in June's primary and November's general elections, it would mean a Young would be the first-ever Frederick County executive — and he would have a brother on the school board, as well as a father and step-mother in the statehouse.

Over the years, Youngs have run City Hall, led the City Council, overseen the county Board of Commissioners, weighed in on school policy, shaped state legislation, written newspaper columns and directed the county's Democratic Party.

They have publicly disagreed over policy — the patriarch is a Democrat and his most prominently known son is a Republican. They've seen political friendships turn into rivalries, and faced a backlash for their political success.

Del. Galen R. Clagett, who is retiring from the legislature, is openly campaigning against having a Young succeed him, saying, "I think there are too many." And for a time, a city resident produced bumper stickers that read "Don't let Frederick get any Younger."

Still, the Youngs — Ron, Karen, Blaine and Brad — continue to wage competitive campaigns.

"They're good at it. They're natural leaders," said longtime family friend Bert Anderson, who owns several downtown Frederick businesses. "And even more than natural leaders, they're smart politicians."

On a recent afternoon, Karen Lewis Young and her husband, family patriarch Sen. Ron Young, both Democrats, walked through the city's historic district discussing the benefits and drawbacks of having Frederick's most well-known political name. Her first name dominates her campaign signs in a font big enough to make her husband tease that she runs as simply "Karen."

"I'm trying get my own identity," she said.

"What, like Madonna?" he joked. "What are you trying to do, be a rock star?"

"There's more to me than just being a Young," she shot back.

They married in 2006, at a time Ron Young had taken a break from public office. She ran for alderman in 2009, and as a first-time candidate got more votes than any of the others elected to the City Council that year.

Two years later, Ron Young was elected to the state Senate, ousting a three-term incumbent Republican. The same year, one of his four sons, Blaine R. Young, secured a second term on the county Board of Commissioners as a Republican, winning more votes than any of the other candidates. And son Brad W. Young won his first term on the county school board by a landslide that year, collecting 40 percent more votes than his closest competitor.

A third son, Brian, has served on the county's Democratic Central Committee. Blaine Young calls his brother "the smart one" for getting out of politics.

Only the youngest son, Alex, has never run for public office. But Karen Lewis Young says, "Give him time."

The dynasty — though the family dislikes that word — began with Ron Young's stint as mayor of Frederick.

Over four terms, Ron Young became best known for launching programs to revitalize the city's downtown core in the 1970's. He laid the groundwork for the landmark linear park that runs along the banks of Carroll Creek, serving as an attraction and a way to mitigate devastating floods.

He made the call, controversial at the time and celebrated in hindsight, to move city offices out of City Hall and into the county's Civil War-era courthouse, which needed new tenants to stay afloat. The old City Hall now houses the popular Brewer's Alley Restaurant and Brewery.

Blaine Young, president of the County Council, hosts a weekday afternoon radio talk show and briefly flirted with seeking the Republican nomination for governor. He has drawn fire for some policies, including backing the local sheriff for aggressively enforcing immigration laws.

For all his bluntness and controversy, Blaine Young remains popular. As the Frederick News-Post's editorial board put it in January: "While we have our criticisms of Young's policies, we'll give him this: He does what he says he'll do. He's never ducked the media or offered a no comment or failed to call back a reporter and answer questions, not on the most controversial issues. He engages directly, forcefully and unapologetically, sometimes too much so."

Blaine Young said that even though he's a Republican in a family dominated by Democrats, he offers what he described as the Young brand: getting things done, whether [people] agree with it or not. He added, "People will say, 'I'm supportive of all the Youngs, can I just have one sign that says that?' "

The Youngs are so ubiquitous in elections that residents frequently mix up family members.

"I've been called Ron, I've been called Blaine," said Brad Young, who is running for a second term on the nonpartisan school board. "Half the time, I don't even correct them. Most of the people involved in the political scene know which Young is which."

Political rivals have criticized the family's political power so often that Blaine Young asked his pollster to determine the prevalence of "Young fatigue." He said the issue didn't even register, though he declined to share his polling data.

"So far, knocking doors, I've had two people slam the door and say 'No more Youngs.' " Blaine Young said. "And I've had three people say, 'I'll vote for all of you.' "

Janis Judson, a political science professor at Hood College in Frederick, said she had not followed the Young family, but, in general, family dynastys are only dangerous if each candidate thinks alike: "Ideally, when you have people in the same family, they should have independent ideas and independence of thought," she said.

The Youngs don't win every contest they enter. Ron Young and Karen Lewis Young have each lost bids for mayor of Frederick. And all the Youngs have kept day jobs while in office: Ron, now retired, was a government worker, Karen is a financial services executive, Blaine is a radio host and small business owner, Brad is a financial planner.

Jennifer Dougherty, a former Frederick mayor, holds the distinction of being endorsed by a Young (Ron) and over the following decade running two unsuccessful campaigns for mayor against family members — losing a primary to Ron and finishing second to Karen in a three-way race. Dougherty, who owns and operates a downtown pub, argues adamantly against electing any more Youngs.

"We lose a lot of independent thinking and ideas when we focus myopically on one family," she said, objecting especially to electing a husband and wife to represent Frederick in Annapolis. "We are wasting a vote, because we might as well elect Ron to both jobs."

Legislative researchers say the couple would be the first husband-wife team to serve in the General Assembly.

Clagett said he's campaigning against Karen Lewis Young in the race for his old seat because he doesn't think the city will benefit from having a Young in each chamber of the legislature. "It's really not giving Frederick another Democratic voice; that gives [Ron Young] two votes: one in the Senate and in the House," he said.

The Youngs dismiss the criticism as sour grapes for past political defeats, notably Clagett's loss to Karen Lewis Young in the most recent Democratic primary for mayor.

"He's still bitter that he lost," she said. Her husband added: "Very bitter."

Family members say they don't coordinate campaigns, strategies or plans for the future, although Ron Young says he campaigns door-to-door on behalf of his wife a lot.

Blaine Young said the biggest misperception about the family is "that we meet together in some back room and plan the future of the county."

Ron Young laughs about the idea of executing a grand conspiracy.

"If we were," Ron Young said, "we wouldn't tell you."

ecox@baltsun.com

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The Young family

•Ron Young, Democrat from Frederick, state senator, seeking re-election

•Karen Lewis Young, Democrat from Frederick, former alderman, running for state delegate

•Blaine R. Young, Republican from Frederick, president of county Board of Commissioners, running for county executive

•Brad W. Young, Democrat from Walkersville, member of county school board, seeking re-election

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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