Want to run for commissioner? Get in line

April 19, 1997


Staff Writer

Ask Leon Seidman why he has already decided to run for election to the Washington County Commissioners - more that 18 months before the general election - and his answer has all the subtlety of a runaway freight engine.

"I can't continue to sit by, and watch these people destroy my community, without getting involved," said Seidman, co-owner of Cosmic Pet Products in Hagerstown.

Seidman has never before run for public office. But the turning point for him came last year when the current County Commissioners' solution to $54.8 million in water and sewer debt was to increase rates. Seidman bristled that the commissioners didn't care how the rate hikes would affect people's lives.


"The only thing I could think of was Marie Antoinette saying, `Let them eat cake.' I mean, the arrogance of these people," he said.

Seidman is just one of at least 17 people who have publicly said they are already at least pondering a bid for the five commissioner seats. Political observers said the actual field of candidates could be as much as 30 - if not more - by the time the campaign is in full swing more than a year from now.

"I think there will be a lot of people running and I'd suspect a lot of people voting," said Charles F. "Skip" Kauffman Jr., the mayor of Boonsboro and a potential County Commissioner candidate.

Several would-be commissioners said the time is right for a bid - especially given the controversies the current commissioners have found themselves in.

"If someone wants to enter the political world in the County Commissioners area, now is the time to do it," said Paul Swartz, who ran unsuccessfully in the 1994 commissioners race and is considering another bid.

Julianna Albowicz, vice mayor and sewer commissioner in Clear Spring, said she repeatedly hears criticism of the commissioners from customers at the liquor store she owns with her husband.

"I would say that 95 percent of them hope to see five new commissioners the next time around," said Albowicz, who has announced she will run for commissioner next year.

But Albowicz said it isn't just the sewer crisis that has voters upset, citing other issues, including a vote by the commissioners in March to strip county employees of collective bargaining rights.

"I think a combination of everything has everyone feeling they don't have faith in (the current commissioners)," she said.

But Vikki Nelson, a potential candidate, said while the commissioners' woes make it very enticing to run, there is also "a lot of luggage to consider" in the problems the next group of commissioners would inherit. That would place a newly elected commissioner in the same situation as the current group, she said.

"That's a strong consideration for me," said Nelson, president of the county Republican Women's Club and a member of the Republican Central Committee.

Current commissioner James R. Wade agreed, pointing out that it is much easier to criticize than to come up with solutions.

"I would encourage all these people to run, but let's have some answers," Wade said.

Another issue potential candidates will have to consider is cost. If past elections are any indication, getting the word out in a successful campaign might require raising tens of thousands of dollars.

"It's going to be an extremely expensive campaign because of so many people running," said Martin L. Radinsky, a member of the county's Democratic Central Committee.

Some potential candidates are already dreading the idea of having to ask for dollars.

"That would be part of the election that I would not like," said Edward H. Lough, a Hagerstown businessman who is considering a bid next year.

Such a crowded field could put those who already have name recognition, like two-time House of Delegates candidate Bertrand L. Iseminger Jr., at an advantage, some believe. And people like Albowicz and Kauffman can tout their experience in running a local government.

"That might be something that voters are looking for - someone who has run a governmental body successfully," said Terry L. Smith, another member of the Democratic Central Committee.

Smith said the election could be an opportunity for the Democrats to retake the majority of the commissioner seats, which they lost in 1994.

But Clint Wiley, who owns New Frontier Internet Service in Hagerstown, said the election could come down to something more basic - voters unhappy with the status quo.

"I think people are tired of the same, old politics as usual," said Wiley, who is leaning toward running next year.

Meanwhile, the rumor mill of possible candidates is churning along at full tilt, and it's not always accurate. Maryland Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he is not interested in running for commissioner - a persistent rumor - and a former state official said he, too, is not a candidate.

"Some people want me to run. I said, `No way,'" said former Del. Peter G. Callas, who served in the House of Delegates from 1983 to 1994.

While Callas said he believes the county is "in fairly good hands," he recognizes there is enough voter dissatisfaction to cause people to consider filing for office.

"I think you are going to have a pretty good turnout of candidates," he said.

They have plenty of time to mull it over. The deadline for filing is July 7, 1998.

The primary election is Sept. 15 and the general election will be held Nov. 3.

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