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Strauss reflects on tenure as Berkeley County commissioner

November 30, 1999|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. ? Berkeley County Commission President Howard L. Strauss owes the discovery of his adopted home in West Virginia ? at least in part ? to McDonald's.

The year was 1980. Strauss, now 52, was an assistant manager of a fast-food restaurant near Laurel, Md., where he grew up, when he was tapped to be the manager at McDonald's near Valley Mall in Halfway.

His move to Berkeley County shortly thereafter signaled even more change was in store for Strauss, who still was a registered member of the Democratic Party, just like his father, a "Kennedy Democrat."

Ronald Reagan's rise to national political prominence that year coincided with Strauss' move to the Mountain State, and when he registered to vote, Strauss switched parties.

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"The national Democratic Party, at that time, had become more liberal," Strauss said earlier this month, the last of his six-year term on the commission.

He had become a "Reagan Republican," and with his move to Berkeley County, switched over into the land management and development business.

"I was the black sheep in the family," Strauss said, smiling.

That also meant numerous heated political conversations with his father, who would be upset to learn Strauss would run for elected office.

"If you want to see change, you have to participate in that change," Strauss said of his philosophy for seeking election, first in 1996, then again in 2000.

Though he has endured more than a few political battles since first being appointed to the Berkeley County Planning Commission in 1990, Strauss is quick to note political affiliation isn't important to most county residents.

"What I found in Berkeley County is the citizens vote for the best person, not by party," Strauss said.

As he leaves office, Strauss likes to promote his, not the party's, accomplishments.

He listed four goals ? improved public access to county government via the Internet and other technologies, consolidation of government operations into the renovated Blue Ridge Outlets complex, revised subdivision regulations, and quality-of-life enhancements to parks and recreation and recycling programs.

"When I walk out the door at the end of this month, all four goals will be accomplished," Strauss said.

"Six years ago, all of the county offices were in very poor condition," Strauss said, recounting a campaign promise to improve and expand government operating conditions to accommodate the county's rapid growth.

"With the completion of the (Berkeley County) Judicial Center, that promise will be fulfilled," Strauss said.

After he walks out of his corner office in the commission's new home in the Dunn Building off West Stephen Street for the last time, there's no telling whether Strauss might want to walk back into the political arena.

"I've never closed the doors for running again in the future to any office," Strauss said.

After first being appointed by two Democratic commissioners in 1992 to complete one year of an unexpired term on the commission, Strauss was elected in 1996.

But he wasn't allowed to take office after officials determined that he resided in the same magisterial district as another commissioner, a violation of state code that was overlooked before Election Day.

Strauss contends the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals "overruled the will of the people," and still believes the high court's ruling allows commissioners who are elected now to move to Maryland or some other jurisdiction the day after the election.

Strauss defeated Democrat C.B. "Butch" Pennington in 2000, and one of his first recommendations after taking office in 2001 was to appoint William Stubblefield, to the county's public service water district board.

Stubblefield, also a Republican, defeated Ryan B. Frankenberry in the November general election this year to take Strauss' seat on the commission.

"I'm very fortunate that I'm going to have a successor that is going to step up to the plate on Jan. 1," Strauss said.

"Obviously, I'll miss the people who have been the strength of the county," Strauss said. "Commissioners have come and gone, but the staff have been instrumental in running the offices."

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