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Some candidates pass on Suns' pitch

"Meet the candidates night" is getting a chilly reception.

"Meet the candidates night" is getting a chilly reception.

July 30, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown Suns baseball team is trying to organize a first-ever "meet the candidates night" at the stadium next month, but some candidates are balking at having to pay for face time with fans.

Suns management sent out letters to those seeking various offices, from governor to school board member, inviting them to participate in the Aug. 27 event.

The Suns are trying to sell various packages to candidates.

For example, the $500 "Grand Slam Option" allows a candidate to set up a table on the concourse to meet and greet voters.

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It also gets the candidate 100 tickets to the game, scoreboard recognition, public address announcements throughout the game and the chance to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

For an extra $300, the candidate will be able to give a two- to three-minute speech before the game.

"Free speech isn't as free as it used to be," said Don DeArmon, a Democrat who is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who holds the 6th Congressional District seat.

The Suns aren't making any bones about the fact the team is trying to make money from the marketing ploy, said Brent E. Kahuda, a college intern in the Suns business office.

But they also want to provide a forum for voters to learn more about their choices this fall.

"It will be a fun and informative night of both baseball and politics, unquestionably two of the most debated items that people can't stop talking about," according to Kahuda's letter to candidates.

Originally, the least expensive candidate package was the $250 "Home Run Option." For that price, the candidate gets a table on the concourse, 50 tickets and scoreboard recognition.

When some of the candidates complained that they don't have a lot of money to spend on their campaigns, Suns management added a pared-down $150 option that entitles candidates to a table on the concourse but nothing else, he said.

As of Monday, no one had officially signed up for anything.

Rick Hemphill, chairman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee, said the Suns should allow all candidates to participate without paying.

"Politics is not supposed to be a profit-making enterprise. To me, a public forum should be an open forum," he said.

Republican Central Committee Chairwoman Mildred "Mickey" Myers said she doesn't fault the Suns for trying to make a profit.

"It is unusual, but then again the candidates have a choice. It's an interesting concept," Myers said.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, hadn't yet seen his invitation, but said candidate forums generally are free.

"They're being very entrepreneurial," he said.

Washington County Commissioner Paul Swartz, an outspoken supporter of building a new stadium using hotel-motel tax money, said he was a little miffed that the Suns asked him to pay.

Swartz said he'll probably attend the game that night as a season-ticketholder and mingle with fans on his own as he usually does. Swartz is one of eight Democrats running in the race.

Other candidates have chosen to boycott the event because they don't want to be perceived as supporting a new stadium.

"I don't want to ever be construed in any way to support that enterprise," said Harold "Hal" Phillips, one of 13 Republican candidates for Washington County Commissioner.

J. Wallace "Wally" McClure, another Republican commissioner candidate who is opposed to a new stadium, said he will boycott the event.

When he was on the Hagerstown City Council, McClure was heckled by the fans on opening day.

"I'm just not comfortable going on that side of the fence and enduring what I believe will be a lot of criticism," he said.

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