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Handicapping Hagerstown's council race

March 08, 2001

Handicapping Hagerstown's council race



In more than 25 years of watching Hagerstown city politics, I've never seen a stronger field of candidates for the city council. That said, electing the wrong combination could lead to four years of quarrels and infighting, which is why it's important for voters to choose well in the primary on March 13.

Here are the candidates I've been impressed with. First, the Republicans:

- Vicki Bodnar. She and her husband Ted bought two houses on East Franklin Street downtown, with the idea of living in one and running a business out of another. Instead, they found problems in the neighborhood - drugs and the weekend roar of the "cruisers" - and were active in founding the downtown chapter of Neighborhoods 1st. They also put together an Easter Parade, Festival 2000 at the fairgrounds and a project to put up flower boxes in windows to brighten up downtown.

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Articulate and intelligent, Bodnar can disagree without being disagreeable. And what she and her husband are trying to do is just what the city needs to increase property values. However, while some of the medicine she proposes - inspection of rental properties - might improve the quality of tenants living in the city, it would be hard to swallow for a city government that's always been timid in dealing with landlords.

- Al Boyer. This incumbent recently said we must "encourage more upscale residents in our city," an end that will require a couple of things the current council has resisted, like vigorous enforcement of the property code. He also proposes more help for city police, which may be at odds with his desire to keep down taxes.

- Carol Moller. The former owner of the Carol & Company gift shop has worked on a ton of city-related projects and knows what it takes to get businesses into the downtown area.

On the Democratic side, I like the following:

- Kristin Aleshire, a city planner who works in Frederick County, he's pledged to give away his $8,000 council salary for scholarships. He also says he's determined to be the best-prepared member of the council, doing as much or more research than anyone who comes before him. He'll find, if elected, that he can't always do that, because so much of what's proposed never comes close to being enacted.

- John Budesky. As the director of the Washington County Partnership for Children and Families, he helps non-profits work together for the good of the community and says he could work with just about anyone. He may have to excercise that skill to the fullest, but his knowledge of budgets and grants and his ability to get people with different agendas to work together will serve the city well. He promises to pursue annexation as a way to increase the city tax base, but not without considering the impact on neighbors of the land to be annexed.

- Linn Hendershot. The director of communications at Western Maryland Hospital Center, he impresses a wide range of people with his intelligence and determination. A recent letter to the editor indicates he's interested in improving the city by strengthening programs for seniors and youth. He's one of the few candidates to draw readers' letters of endorsement, the latest from County Commissioner Paul Swartz.

- Lew Metzner. This incumbent says he won't spend any money defending his seven-year record, which may be a mistake. His Tuesday speech, which turned the tide of favor of city funding for Community Rescue Service, made me sorry he hadn't filed for mayor.

Question marks in the council race include:

- Ira Kauffman. The former councilmember is back with a message that says that the city is spending too much and has incurred too much debt. His message would be a stronger one if he were emphasizing ways to grow the tax base and merge city and county services to save cash.

- Larry Vaughn. Vaughn, interestingly enough, is proposing some consolidation of city-county services. But Vaughn has been prevented from holding any city post - appointed or elected - for so long, that he's missed years of working with others on official city business. I blame those who held city office for that. If his vote totals in losing efforts through the years didn't justify being named to the council when vacancies opened up - and Vaughn and others would argue they did - his public support should at least have won him a seat on the city parks board, for example.

- Steve Sager. The former mayor, now a state employee, was a major force in lobbying Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening to move the University Systems of Maryland campus from Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park right off Interstate 70 to the old Baldwin House complex downtown. Either that move will revitalize downtown, or the difficulty of getting in and out at rush hour for evening classes will stifle the potential of the campus. Another question mark: After being mayor, can Sager take a subordinate role on the council?

If you're a registered voter living in the city, don't forget to vote on Tuesday, March 13.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.
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