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Familiar faces hold on in primary

September 17, 1998

Bob MaginnisAfter all the anger over sewer rate hikes and all the talk about tossing out the incumbent Washington County Commissioners, when faced with a group of unfamiliar faces, the voters in Tuesday's primary elections went with the names they knew.

How else can you explain Tuesday's vote? All the winners except Sue Tuckwell and William Wivell are either incumbents - like Greg Snook, Ron Bowers and John Shank - or are familiar to the public - like Linda Irvin-Craig, Jack Corderman, John Schnebly or Paul Swartz - either because they've run previously or held other offices.

Were the issues unimportant to voters? Both Bowers and Irvin-Craig were in office when the decision was made, against their consultant's advice, to go ahead with the Conococheague sewer plant. And while Snook and Shank can truthfully say they weren't in on this deal from the beginning, they've both had 10 years in office - a decade during which the county's water-sewer debts debt piled up to its current $50 million-plus level.

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The current county board also left the Economic Development Director's post vacant for more than a year, and reneged on a deal made with the business community to share that function. As a group, they've tended to follow the "any jobs are good jobs" philosophy, as if with a record low employment rate, it still isn't safe to hold out for something better than a plant that burns medical wastes.

If this sounds bitter, it isn't. I'm just puzzled by the electorate's forgiving nature. It may just be that as one candidate told me, that the voters have realized that there is no "magic bullet" to fix the sewer debt, making revenge at the polls a useless exercise.

Besides, as so many people have told me, usually in relation to Bowers, "I don't agree with everything he's done, but when I call him, he always gets back to me. I may not always like what he tells me, but he does call me back."

Attending to one's constituents is of great importance, apparently. And the voters may reason that someone unfamiliar might not do it with such care.

That said, how do we account for the wins by Tuckwell and Wivell? Tuckwell got organized early with the help of veteran campaigners Betty Smith and Randy Changuris, and knocked on plenty of doors. And like Wivell, she took advantage of The Herald-Mail's offer to write about their ideas. They made themselves familiar to the voters, in a positive way.

And there's Mary Kline, who may not survive the absentee ballot vote - John Munson is only 25 votes back in the GOP race with 300 ballots to count. She's certainly got a well-known county name, but her appeal may be to county employees and their families who feel put-upon by current county supervisors.

In her announcement story in March, Kline said she would make herself directly available to employees, so they could bypass the administrator and the personnel director.

Turnover of county workers is a problem, she said, because "they get stomped on, and then they leave."

Is Kline's appeal as the candidate of the discontented, or does she have something more? We'll see.

Other thoughts:

- On the District 2C race which saw state Del. John Donoghue hold off former delegate Paul Muldowney, the challenger had a nearly impossible task - expose the incumbent's weaknesses without appearing to run a "negative" campaign. The one issue that might have given the challenger some traction - Donoghue's practice of awarding legislative scholarships to people outside his district - surfaced too late to get voters' attention.

That left the two waging a contest over who's nicer. In such a race, Donoghue will win every time, and this time he had the help of local teachers, who can't forget Muldowney's role on pension reform, which cost him his General Assembly seat in the mid-1980s.

It's time for the teachers to start asking those who have been in office for the past 12 years while Muldowney has been a private citizen what they've done to improve teacher pensions. Beating on Muldowney may serve to rally the troops, much as invoking the name of Herbert Hoover still rouses national Democrats, but what does it really accomplish?

If the primary piqued your interest, there are a series of candidate forums coming up that you'll want to attend. They include:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> On Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 7 a.m. at The Venice Inn, the Hagerstown/Washington County Chamber of Commerce will hold a forum for county commissioner candidates. Cost is $12. For more, call the chamber at (301) 739-2015.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> On Thursday, Oct. 1 at the Elks Lodge on Robinwood Drive, the County Council of PTAs, with the help of the League of Women Voters, will hold a dinner and school board candidates forum from 7 to 10 p.m. For tickets, contact your local PTA officials.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> Also on Oct. 1, at the Hagerstown Four Points Hotel, there'll be a $12 chamber breakfast at 7 a.m. for General Assembly candidates.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> On Friday, Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m., Hagerstown Community College professor Spring Ward's government class will hold a county commissioner forum with the League of Women Voters' Help in the HCC office at Valley Mall.




Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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