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Bruchey, on the mayor's race

April 20, 2001

Bruchey, on the mayor's race



By Bob Maginnis


Just how did Maryland's governor decide that downtown Hagerstown was the right place for a new University Systems of Maryland campus?

According to Mayor Bob Bruchey, during the time Gov. Parris Glendening was mulling over the various sites, he called the mayor and asked him how he'd feel about the new campus going to Hagerstgown Community College if downtown got the Board of Education offices as part of the deal.

Bruchey says he told the governor that unlike the Board of Education, the new campus would "open a doorway for economic development" as businesses move downtown to serve the needs of the institution and its students.

Then, said Bruchey, he said he asked the governor:

"Why can't I have them both?"

The anecdote was just one of several interesting tidbits Bruchey offered during in a two-hour interview this week. The first-term mayor, who knocked off veteran Steve Sager in 1997, faces another seasoned hand in the May 15 election in Councilman Bill Breichner, who's served the city as an employee and a member of the council for 45 years.

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In two letters to The Herald-Mail, Breichner said he was running because the city government has failed to draw private investors to the city, doesn't communicate well with citizens and doesn't have a good relationship with other local governments.

Breichner says his top priority will be pumping up the tax base, which has been flat for several years. He suggests the city needs a tax-credit program for those who renovate city properties, a feature added during the first term of Mayor Donald Frush and later eliminated during Sager's reign.

Breichner also questions whether the 1988 decision to create a historic district downtown had paid off and says some selective demolition might not be a bad thing.

Bruchey says that "I've got nothing bad to say about Bill," but questions why it's taken so long for the councilman to promote these ideas.

"When you look back at the last 45 years of his history, you don't see a lot of what he tried to accomplish. His literature mentions that he was the city administrator, but it doesn't mention that he was the only city administrator fired," Bruchey said.

On the communications issue, Bruchey says that after crime control and prevention, communicating with citizens has been his top accomplishment.

He opened his City Hall office on some nights just to listen to citizens' concerns and said that in four years, he's gotten fewer than a dozen phone calls at home, which he attributes to his practice of returning all calls he gets at the office.

"I've been in touch with the people and address their needs on a daily basis," Bruchey said, adding that "my day doesn't stop when everyone else's does."

In an interview with me four years ago, Bruchey promised to revitalize the revolving-loan fund and now says there'll be $400,000 in loans written by June. His proposal to reinvigorate Frush's Commercial-Industrial Commission hasn't moved as quickly, but Bruchey said he's put $100,000 in the budget to hire a business recruiter.

"We can ill afford to just wait for businesses to find out about us. We have to go out and recruit them," he said.

Now that the city has technology in place - a fiber optic cable runs through downtown - Bruchey said it should be possible to recruit high-tech start-up companies to fill the second and third floors of downtown storefronts.

"All we need is somebody with the wherewithal to get on the World Wide Web and start looking. We've got low taxes and great amenities," Bruchey said.

To enhance revenues, Bruchey said the city has to develop an aggressive annexation policy, in which city sewer is used as an incentive for developers.

At the same time, he said there must be some relaxation of the historic guidelines, to make renovations affordable. Like Breichner, he supports the idea of some selective demolitions. The South Potomac Street properties that developer Marc Silverman wants to raze - a house owned by Joseph Walker, the old Tri-State building and the former Doubt T Lounge - would be no big loss. The Schindel-Rohrer Building, however, should stay, he said, since it's attractive and structurally sound.

Another key to revitalizing downtown is tourism, which attractions like Discovery Station and the proposed Civil War Museum would bring in abundance, he said.

"It's one industry that benefits everybody," he said.

Bruchey, whose campaign treasurer is Ted Bodnar, spouse of council candidate Vicki Bodnar, said that he backs the Bodnars' proposal for tougher code enforcement, but also said that citizens have to want a cleaner city for it to happen.

"If we're going to see real changes, citizens will have to participate," he said.

If someone told you that they could guarantee the success of one project during your next term, what would you choose?

The Southern Boulevard, that would take traffic around the East End of the city and open up land on the city's east side for annexation and development. It's going to take a partnership of all local governments to make that happen, he said.

Asked about reports that state Sen. Don Munson had put a Breichner sign in his yard, Bruchey chose his words carefully:

"I would only hope that the No. 1 ranked Republican officials in Washington County would support my re-election," Bruchey said.

While acknowledging that they haven't seen eye-to-eye in the past, Bruchey said it's not because he's abrasive, but because he's passionate about what he believes is needed for the good of the city. In the short time left before election day, this promises to be an interesting race.

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

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