He’s lived in Mount Airy since his first birthday. His small town upbringing was calm, pretty relaxed. He and his family frequented Watkins Park, he said, sitting beneath one of its pavilions. Seventeen years later, and fresh off graduating from South Carroll High School, Matt McDonough was looking at different adventures.
But if you thought an adventure involved traveling the globe, checking into a college dorm or leaving Mount Airy, you’d be wrong. The 18-year-old chose a different route: McDonough is one of three candidates running for the Mount Airy Town Council seat vacated July 9 by former Councilman Scott Strong.
The special election is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 10, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Mount Airy Volunteer Fire Company Reception Hall at 1008 Twin Arch Road.
McDonough’s bold decision to run has impressed some residents.
Rick Blatchford, a 14-year Mount Airy resident who’s been on multiple commissions and task forces, said he was impressed by McDonough’s performance at the Special Election Candidate Forum Aug. 16.
“He’s pretty well poised,” Blatchford said, adding that he appreciated the high school graduate’s quip about his parents funding his campaign.
Kristine Keck, McDonough’s German teacher for four years at South Carroll High School, also noticed McDonough’s sense of humor, adding that he is opinionated.
“He says what he feels, in a good way,” the teacher said.
But Blatchford rules him out because of his relative youth and inexperience, he said.
“I’ve been 18 years old. I don’t want an 18-year-old councilman,” Blatchford said. He’s mature for his age, but “he doesn’t have the experience or maturity” requisite for town council.
McDonough isn’t running on experience, though. He’s never campaigned before, his local government knowledge built upon the two years of town council meetings — roughly 24 videos — he watched on YouTube after he decided to run.
But he’s also something of an old soul. His message, he said, resonates with the residents of the town of 10,000 that prides itself on history and small-town charm. The message boils down to: Keep Mount Airy the same.
“I want to support our local businesses — no major corporate development,” McDonough said in an interview with the Times. “I basically want to keep the small-town charm of Mount Airy.”
McDonough wants the population to remain in the region of 10,000, he said. “I like walking down Main Street and saying ‘Hi’ to people I know.”
The recent high school graduate enrolled at Carroll Community College for the fall. He will study business administration, before transferring in a couple years to University of Maryland or Towson University to get a degree in sports management.
His dream, he said, is to be an athletic director for a college.
Sports have always been a passion of the young council candidate. He referees basketball games and umpires baseball games in Howard County. He was never good at either sport, he said, “but I like watching, I like analyzing.”
McDonough cites umpiring and refereeing as examples of his leadership.
“As an umpire, I’m in charge of the game,” he said. “To me that’s leadership as well because I’m expected to make decisions on the fly, basically, balls and strikes.”
The 18-year-old candidate didn’t profess his work ethic. Keck, the German teacher, did on his behalf.
She taught McDonough in German all four years of high school where he had to overcome some challenges, Keck said. Being a speech-oriented class, the teen had to work through a speech impediment, she added.
He grew over the four years, Keck said. “By senior year he was a very hard worker. He prepared twice as hard as everybody else.”
In his high school days McDonough also participated in the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, a federally sponsored program that claims to teach leadership, teamwork and service, among other focuses.
“What JROTC taught me, is one of the most important things in life is human relations — basically how to start a conversation, how to fix an issue in a group setting,” McDonough said. “I feel like, out of all the candidates, I’ll be the best at that because of JROTC.”
He’s been applying his conversation-starting skills on his maiden campaign, where he’s walked door-to-door in various Mount Airy communities.
“Speaking to the residents is great. It really gives me a new perspective about how the residents feel,” McDonough said, “like there’s some issues they tell me that I didn’t even know about in town. So I had to research that, come back with answers.”
He’s talked with residents whose stays in Mount Airy ranged from years to a few that have lived in town for a century, learning about the town’s rich railroad history and the other industries, like poultry, the train town supported, he said.
“Mount Airy has changed a lot,” he said. “Now it’s a bedroom community to Baltimore and (Washington) D.C. commuting.”
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But McDonough wasn’t just learning, he was fielding concerns from residents and doing his best to provide answers — what he would do about those concerns if elected as town councilman.
Traffic, the flat iron building, speeding, the water supply. You name it, McDonough heard about it.
“Connecting Center Street is a priority for me,” he said. “Some people want more traffic lights at the intersections, I say that’s something we can definitely look into.”
McDonough is staunchly opposed to residential development and big corporations coming to town.
“Development is just going to smack us right in the face,” McDonough said, explaining his opposition to some proposals for vacant spaces.
A community center in the bank building? Nope, that would draw people from outside of town and exacerbate the parking problem, he said. A Goodwill store in town? No way, there’s a thrift shop on Main Street and a Goodwill would hurt its business, he said.
“Every time I’m on Main Street I see someone I know,” the council candidate said. “If we make Mount Airy big, allow more developments, I think we’ll lose that. That’s what the small town charm is about, the community being a whole.”