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Dueling mayors push campus plan

May 27, 1999

He's ba-aaack.

When he was defeated, I predicted that Hagerstown "Mayor for Life" Steve Sager would never be able to keep out of the public spotlight. At the same time, I predicted that Hagerstown Acting Mayor Bob Bruchey would, at some point in his term, implode. But both predictions coming true in the same week? Could we be so lucky? Yes, we could, and here's why.

This winter, the University of Maryland announced plans to build a branch campus (sort of like a branch bank, except that considering today's tuition costs the bandits are on the inside) for, of all places, Hagerstown.

It's hard to figure how the U. of M. believes Washington County could improve on the fact that one in five kids here already choose college over driving forklifts, but why argue?

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After a brief site search in which land next to Hagerstown Community College was rejected because it made too much sense (that and the land was brokered by CHIEF, Motto: Diligently Seeking out Progress for Washington County - And Then Squashing It Like a Bug), the steering committee steered the campus to 20 acres in Allegheny Energy's Friendship Technology Park off I-70.

You can easily pick out the park as you drive up the interstate by looking for all the high-technology corn stalks and superconductor cattle that populate the property.

Allegheny has hopes the campus would jump-start the park's development and provide a wave of high-paying jobs. These positions would require slightly more skill than is needed to string together the six most common job-related words in Washington County: "Do you want bacon on that?"

So the Greater Hagerstown business community assumed this was a done deal, one of those win-win, greatest postwar opportunities, etc., and that would be that.

Not so fast.

Enter Sager, who if anything is more scary operating behind the scenes than he was out in public office where we could all keep an eye on him.

Sager believes this university project can go from a win-win to a Win-Win if we were to locate the branch campus in that old downtown pigeonplex, a.k.a. the Baldwin House, smack dab in the center of town.

Obviously the Mayor for Life is looking to build on his successes with the city parking deck, ice rink, pellet plant and 1st Urban Fiber. And who does Sager bring on board as Promoter A for the project? Why, the man who temporarily defeated him in the last election, Bob Bruchey.

Bruchey (look in the file under Hurt Feelings, Department of) has been doing a slow burn for the past four months because he was left off the steering committee and was afforded no opportunity to push a downtown site for the campus.

The smoldering mayoral tinderbox burst into flame aided by the incendiary Sager and now the two are bestest buddies in pursuit of the Maryland campus - and we're two-thirds of the way to our own trilogy with "Return of the Sager" and "Bruchey Strikes Back."

Personally, I think the idea of a campus in the Baldwin House makes a lot of sense. Heck, hundreds of kids already drive right by its front door every Friday night as part of the brain-dead Dual Highway chrome hubcap circuit.

Q. What do you get when you drive slowly past the University of Maryland?

A. A degree.

That or we'll have the most educated pigeons in the state.

But if Bruchey and Sager can work together who's next? Vikki Nelson and Don Munson? Chris Shank and Bruce Poole? Paul Muldowney and Anybody?

Maybe it's all a set-up. Maybe Sager is shoving Bruchey out on center stage to play the lead in the "Annoy Greater Hagerstown" operetta so the movers and shakers will work for the mayor's removal, leaving Sager free to reclaim his seat.

Wouldn't work? Pshaw. You probably thought 1st Urban Fiber wouldn't work either.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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