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tim rowland 2/4/01

January 31, 2001

Hungry for leaders? Try this city election smorgasbord



Twenty candidates will be running for office in Hagerstown's city elections. Normally you're lucky if that many people turn out to vote.

What's more, these candidates are good.

Washington County's infamous political rumormongers - who routinely whisper lies and scare-stories about the best-qualified candidates - won't know where to start.

You could easily fabricate two good councils out of this group. Maybe even three. There are candidates who live and work in the city center. There are candidates with business experience, with serious educations, with proven track records of helping people, with past and present government experience - whatever is important to you in a candidate, you will find here. Put the names of all 17 council candidates in a hat, draw out five, and you could be virtually guaranteed of a good council. (I know; I'm scared too).

There is age and wisdom as well as youth and exuberance. Nine council candidates are under 50. Two candidates are in their 30s and two more in their 20s.

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Here's a contrast of two great candidates: Carol Moller is 65 and lives in the South End. The former owner and proprietor of the Carol and Co. gift shop and former Economic Development Commission member, there's nothing she doesn't know about the needs of downtown merchants.

If Moller knows the city's business needs, John Budesky knows its social needs. The 28-year-old North End resident is executive director of the Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families. He works with troubled families and children, of which there is no small number downtown.

Then there is Vicki Bodnar, who lives in ground zero downtown and has been tireless in her volunteer work for the improvement of city neighborhoods. And Linn Hendershot, who penned one of the smartest op-ed pieces on the future of the city ever to appear in The Herald-Mail.

Not to be forgotten, the three incumbents running for re-election - Al, Boyer, Lew Metzner and Susan Saum-Wicklein - aren't exactly chopped liver. And of course if there is a God, we will elect former mayor Steve Sager, whose absence from governmental position has left me personally withering on the vine.

Of the incumbents, only Wally McClure will not be running for mayor or council. McClure, whose satellite has apparently instructed him to run for some higher office in two years, was viewed with circumspection in some quarters for singing his way into office and later getting into a Tar Baby tiff with council candidate Larry Vaughn over a section of red curbside - a curious spat, since McClure and Vaughn share much of the same constituency.

But no one responds to citizens' concerns more conscientiously or cares more for downtown than McClure - to the point where he led a broom-wielding band of volunteers around town on Saturdays to sweep up. Wally deserves a heartfelt tip of the hat for his public service.

Incumbent Bill Breichner will also leave the council to pursue the mayor's job held by Bob Bruchey. He'll probably win the Democratic primary against perennial candidate Buddie Morris.

Bruchey is running for re-election, and Bruchey-Breichner could be an interesting race. Breichner is smart and solid as they come. He has the further advantage of good relations with the County Commissioners. The concept of s good city-county partnership is a little too theoretical for me to address at this time, but stranger things are said to have happened, not that I can think of any.

Still, folks who underestimate Bruchey generally regret it. Ask Sager, whom he defeated for mayor. Ask the business community, from which he wrested the university branch campus site for downtown.

Abrasive at times? Occasionally deceptive? Highly touchy? Well, sure. But scrape away this baggage - some, but not all of which can be excused because he was a political newcomer - and his policies of the past four years haven't been half bad.

Both mayor and council races should provide us with an interesting spring. Candidates should realize that in a large field, good ideas alone are not enough. The spoils generally go to those who work the hardest and are the best-organized.

For progress, three things are necessary: 1. Smart candidates with good ideas. 2. The realization on their part that these good ideas are of little use without the work necessary to be elected to office. 3. Recognition of quality on the part of the voters, and the motivation to actually show up at the polls.

We're a third of the way there.

Tim Rowland is Herald-Mail columnist.

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