Bruchey defeats Sager in mayoral race

May 20, 1997



Staff Writers

Republican challenger Robert E. Bruchey II upset incumbent Democrat Steven T. Sager's bid for an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in Tuesday's general election.

Bruchey defeated Sager by 550 votes, capturing 57 percent of the vote, according to complete, but unofficial results. There were eight write-in votes.

"They wanted a change and that's what they'll get," said Sager at Twilight's Gourmet Deli, where he had planned to hold a victory reception. "I'm glad for the opportunity to serve for 12 years."


At the downtown election office with his wife, Susan, Bruchey said he was relieved and tired. "I've been up since 4 a.m. putting up signs and going to polling places and talking to people."

"Definitely it was going door-to-door and talking to people and relating to them and finding out their concerns and knowing someone's going to address those concerns" that put him over the top, said Bruchey, 38, of 905 Woodland Way.

Sager, 43, said he was disappointed, but added that he's proud of achievements that include a sound water and sewer system, the construction of Eastern Boulevard and building the East End fire station.

Bruchey made a big issue out of crime and Sager said fears of violence probably played a role in his defeat. Although the overall crime rate is a little lower than it was in 1985, Sager said concerns about drugs and youth gangs are legitimate.

Sager pointed to a series of changes that have been made to address crime, including from transferring desk positions to street officers. The latest change, a crime impact team, will hit the streets later this year.

To those who feel he was slow to react he said: "We made a lot of changes, but more was necessary. That became obvious this winter. And the time to make those changes is with the budget."

Sager also may have been hurt by a lingering perception that the county's problems - including the water and sewer debt - were related to the city.

Sager also had to battle the fact that some voters were simply tired of the same face in city politics.

"I joked last week that if everyone who's gotten a curb and sidewalk notice in the last 12 years votes for Bob, I'm in trouble," he said.

As for his future, Sager said he has not given it a thought, adding: "But I will be."

A more immediate concern was comforting his two young daughters, who cried as they learned their father was losing the election.

"My daughters have only known me as mayor," he said. "So this is very upsetting for them."

Sager learned of the upset from radio reports, at times acknowledging his impending defeat. Once he said, "I'm history" and later signaled a thumbs down to a supporter.

While Bruchey expected to be victorious, he said he was amazed at by how many votes he won.

"I figured it'd be closer than this," Bruchey said.

According to the election office, 3,707 people, or 22 percent of registered voters, cast a ballot in Tuesday's general election.

Bruchey said if he saw Sager he would congratulate him on a well-run race and hope he could call Sager if he needed advice.

Downtown, police protection, economic development and citizen involvement were Bruchey's main campaign issues.

"I apparently had the answers they wanted to hear," he said.

Bruchey, who plans to be a full-time mayor, said he still plans to give up the $4,000 a year raise the council approved for the next mayor, who will be sworn in on June 2.

"I'm a man of my word and I don't break my word," he said.

He said he would meet with Hoffman Chevrolet officials today to find out whether he will be able to return to work. He hasn't been working at Hoffman since mid-April.

Bruchey is Hagerstown's first Republican mayor since Sager defeated Republican Donald R. Frush in a landslide in 1985. Frush had been seeking a second term in office.

Before Tuesday, the closest general election race Sager participated in was his last. In 1993, Sager defeated Republican challenger Leon Fearnow in a three-way race by 392 votes.

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