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Former Hagerstown mayor roasted

June 27, 1997

Editor's note: Because Herald-Mail columnist Tim Rowland typically roasts politicians in his newspaper column, it seemed only fair he write a commentary about Thursday night's roast of former Hagerstown mayor Steve Sager.

Some months ago, Steve Sager and I were having a perfectly civil discussion over coffee in a downtown deli.

Cathy Ashley-Cotleur happened through the door, saw us talking and did one of the more impressive double takes you're ever likely to see. Didn't say anything though.

Still silent, she placed her carry-out order, affixing one eye on the menu and fastening the other on us. Order filled, Cathy was halfway out the door when she could stand it no longer. She took two steps back into Harry's and said in an incredulous voice: "Can I watch?"All right, ex-mayor-for-life Steve Sager and I went around more times than Commies about a Maypole, but on Thursday night everyone else had their turn and perhaps had a little sampling of how much fun it has been to be me over the past several years - poking fun at a good guy.

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During the event, Sager was bid a fond, stinging, irreverent farewell from public life at a Chamber of Commerce roast at the Hagerstown Four Points Hotel on Dual Highway.

Former City Manager Steve Feller said Sager insisted the ceremony be held at the just-across-city-lines hotel because he didn't want to submit the audience to "the vacant storefronts and high crime rate of downtown."

It was at that instant I knew I was in trouble, because everyone else's Sager jokes were going to be funnier than my Sager jokes. So do not expect me to print the best ones here. It does my career no good to publicize the fact that there is far more fertile dirt on the former mayor than what I already have spaded.

Although roundly jousted, Sager was clearly the hero - the more culpable villains, Pat Wolford, Ron Bowers and oh, all right, me, got their due as well.

Paul Pittman, a Washington County Democrat activist, suggested that Wolford and Bowers soon would be knocking on Steve's door with job opportunities. Sager openly wanted a job at the Maryland Theatre and Pittman said board President Pat Wolford was ready to oblige. "It may not be the job you wanted, but I can assure you that selling popcorn is one of the biggest fund-raisers of the year."

As for Bowers, Pittman said the feisty county commissioner was offering employment at his Mack Trucks company as a crash test dummy.

Pittman concluded that he was ready to give Sager the key to his St. James subdivision, but couldn't because he had already given it to County Commissioner Jim Wade. A gesture he hoped would relieve him of the burden of paying for his kids' textbooks.

Sager's bullheadedness and conviction of the rightness of his ways got top billing, both as an asset and a liability. Fellers reported the City Hall bathroom graffiti that made hay of Sager's self-purported openness to opposing opinions. The poem concluded:

"It's just as I supposed/his door is always open/but his mind is always closed."

But perhaps it was Del. Sue Hecht, who arguably has known Sager the least amount of time, who encapsuled him the best.

She recounted an anecdote about the time when, as a freshman delegate, she was packed into a bus with about 30 other legislative newcomers for an orientation trip across the state.

It was designed to be a low-key, warm and fuzzy schmooze - which it was, until the group got to Hagerstown. After an elegant, refreshing lunch at Hagerstown Junior College, Steve Sager took the podium. A Steve Sager who was enraged over what he believed to be a patently unfair new state law requiring developers to plant trees.

The more he talked the madder he became, the redder his face turned and the more awe-struck the green (and clueless about laws of past sessions) lawmakers became. For the rest of the bus ride, all the delegates could talk about was that wacked out Hagerstown mayor.

But there was, and is, good in this.

"Whenever I think of Steve Sager I think of the passion. Never lose that passion," Hecht said, turning to the former mayor, "because that is what truly is Steve Sager."

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