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Candidates: Is Hagerstown's downtown viable?

February 06, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Hagerstown's downtown was the topic that dominated the Thursday morning discussion at a forum for candidates running for the mayoral post and City Council seats.

The lively discussion followed after a woman said the city had spent enough taxpayer dollars on downtown and asked why anyone would want to go there anymore.

One mayoral candidate suggested that downtown be razed.

Mayoral candidate Joseph H. Walker, a Republican, said downtown should be torn down "in an organized fashion." He said later he would leave The Maryland Theatre standing.

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Republican mayoral candidate Robert E. Bruchey II disagreed. "I believe in keeping the historic structures we have here and renovating them," he said.

Bruchey said he doesn't believe in spending more taxpayer money on improving Public Square.

More police protection is needed to make downtown safe, said Bruchey, who said he doesn't want his family to go downtown because of drug dealing, prostitution and vandalism.

Mayoral candidate Dennis L. Duffey, a Republican, said downtown was unsafe.

"The downtown is finished. It's dead," said council candidate Larry A. Vaughn, a Democrat. "It's been redone time and time again."

"Downtowns are a thing of the past," Vaughn said. "There's nothing to go downtown for anymore."

"Downtown's not dead," said Republican mayoral candidate Leon C. Fearnow.

Competition brings business, said Fearnow. "We've worked on the outskirts. Let's work on downtown ... It will grow," he said.

"You can't have a dead city. We don't have a dead city," said incumbent mayoral candidate Steven T. Sager, a Democrat.

Some properties downtown still need to be improved, he said.

For every $1 of public money that has gone into revitalizing downtown, $10 has come from private sources, Sager said.

Don Allensworth, the only Democratic mayoral challenger to Sager in the primary election, said the city should be involved in the real estate business downtown.

But, he said, the time between when the city buys a property and when it is fixed up is too long.

Council candidate Paul H. Toothman, a Republican, said the city needs to spend some money on the downtown area to attract tourists.

All six mayoral candidates attended the forum held by Associated Builders and Contractors at its West Howard Street headquarters.

Of the nine candidates for the City Council, three attended - Vaughn, Toothman and incumbent William M. Breichner. The other council candidates are Democrats Larry W. Craig, Eugene E. "Buddie" Morris and incumbent Lewis C. Metzner and Republicans Alfred W. Boyer, J. Wallace "Wally" McClure and incumbent Susan Saum-Wicklein.

The city's primary on March 11 will determine the Democratic and Republican candidates for mayor in the May 20 general election. There are not enough Democratic and Republican candidates to require a council primary.

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