- The Washington Times
Thursday, August 27, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

“This city can be so much better,” said former Marine Corps Sgt. Chris Huckenpoehler, a Republican candidate for alderman in Frederick, Md. The 42-year-old Gulf War veteran is one of 20 candidates, 11 Republicans and nine Democrats, running in the Sept. 15 primary election. The general election will take place Nov. 3. The Board of Aldermen consists of five persons who serve as the legislative body of the city of Frederick; the mayor is the chief executive officer.


“We already have the infrastructure. There is a lot of great stuff here. We can be a great destination,” Mr. Huckenpoehler said in an interview. “I get passionate about it because this is my city. I want people to wake up and say, ‘Let’s go to Frederick today.’ ”

Mr. Huckenpoehler can often be seen in front of his restored 1876 row house in Frederick dressed in a flowered “aloha-style” shirt. The shirt has become part of the campaign, as a number of people have identified him as the “tall, good-looking candidate in a flowered shirt.” He said it has become one of his trademarks.

Mr. Huckenpoehler has deep roots in Maryland. His father graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis and later was a professor there. The candidate still mows his 89-year-old mother’s lawn every week.

At age 19, he joined the Marine Corps. He was a drill instructor in the Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company. He stills bears a thick scar on his neck and chin from wounds he incurred while serving in the first Gulf War. He stepped on a land mine while on a reconnaissance patrol. His legs and arms were peppered with fragmentation.

Mr. Huckenpoehler’s quest for office began with a challenge. While he was involved in local civic organizations, he said often that he thought the town was not realizing its true potential. A friend replied: “Don’t just complain, do something about it.” Mr. Huckenpoehler filed his application for the election the next day. “Well, I’m trying to do something about it,” he said. He then drafted his friend as his campaign treasurer.

“I wasn’t used to knocking on doors. It was tough,” he said. “But I have met a lot of really great people.” He is especially grateful that the Marine Corps taught him perseverance. “The Marine Corps developed my ability to identify an issue, find a solution and get it done. I thank the Marine Corps for that,” he said.

He recently stepped up to a door of a house flying a Marine Corps flag. “You have ten seconds to give me three reasons why I should vote for you,” a gruff owner said. Mr. Huckenpoehler sang part of the Marine Corps hymn, smiled and asked, “Do you really need two more reasons?”

“The most fun part of this process is meeting people and understanding what concerns them,” he said. “We all have the same issues: less crime, lower taxes, better street repair and less government. I don’t want a nanny state; I want people involved in their own communities.”

He became active in community affairs by joining the Neighborhood Advisory Council, in which residents interact with police at meetings to share information and concerns. “The aldermen should be pushing for people to be involved in these types of groups,” Mr. Huckenpoehler said. If Frederick [were] a safer city, more people would come here and spend money.” Mr. Huckenpoehler has scheduled a meeting with the chief of police to address those concerns.

He also is committed to lowering property taxes. “We pay 65 cents per $100 of assessed value. The current administration cut taxes twice, bringing taxes down from 69 cents, and we still balanced the budget. Ocean City is at 39 cents. We can do better. Ocean City benefits from tourism dollars, and we can, too,” he said.

His plan for victory is to win the support of voters one at a time. He recently sat down with a wheelchair-bound resident while walking on Market Street. “I learned what his concerns were, and then he told me he doesn’t vote. I brought him a voter registration form and a stamped envelope.

“This is exhausting and frustrating, but it is a lot of fun, too,” Mr. His campaign is self-funded and staffed entirely by volunteers. He recently spent Sunday morning at Carroll Creek with a pocketful of pennies. “People were walking their dogs or getting a cup of coffee. I said, “I’m running for alderman. I’m here to make a wish, would you like to make a wish, too?” He said this approach gets people to talk about the town.

Local residents are becoming aware that if a stranger in a flowered shirt approaches and extends a hand, it is Chris Huckenpoehler, who is asking for votes. “I’m not a politician, but I am a man of my word,” he said.

• Lt. Col. Bill Card is retired from the Marine Corps. He and his wife live in Dumfries, Va.


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