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Cramer says county needs jobs, limits on development

October 22, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of profiles of the 10 candidates seeking election to the Washington County Board of Commissioners. Tomorrow: J. Herbert Hardin.

What does Washington County need?

"It needs jobs. It needs work," county commissioner candidate Constance Cramer said. "I took a pay cut when I moved up here, but I could afford it."

Development - residential and economic - is the keystone in Cramer's campaign.

In 1997, while she was living in Frederick, Md., she ran for city alderman for a similar reason.

"I felt the need to keep Frederick affordable," she said, noting that the city issued more than 2,000 building permits in the 12 months before she ran. "I saw Montgomery County was flooding into Frederick County. Homes went up; my wages didn't."


She lost that primary, but not her motivation. Cramer senses that a rash of subdivisions is on its way to Washington County, where she has lived for a year-and-a-half.

To those who say she added to the county's growing pains by moving here, Cramer stresses that she moved into an existing house and she didn't add any children to the school system.

When Cramer hears about 900 homes in one proposed building project and 600 in another, she thinks it's too much.

"The development is almost becoming like a little town in itself," she said.

If she loses this latest battle, Cramer will have to move even farther west, she joked.

Cramer grew up in Newark, Ohio, east of Columbus. She said her family came to this area because of her father's job in the aluminum industry.

When her marriage ended after 24 years, she was on her own for 10 years. She remarried a year ago. Her sons are 34, 30 and 22 years old.

So, when people talk about some of life's hardships - say, putting a child through college as a single parent - Cramer can empathize, she said.

"I've worn people's shoes," she said.

For the last 25 years, Cramer has been a licensed cosmetologist, most recently at JC Penney in Valley Mall. She said it's a great way to hear people's ideas; they share their thoughts as she works on their hair.

She stopped working in July - partly to run for office and partly to improve her health insurance coverage by joining her husband's plan.

If elected, Cramer would treat the county commissioner position as a full-time job. This would let her devote time to issues she's concerned about, particularly development.

Cramer said the 600- and 900-unit subdivisions, which were proposed by Manny Shaool, shouldn't be allowed. "That is a greedy amount," she said. (Shaool has withdrawn the larger plan.)

Cramer suggested 100 or 150 as a fair maximum number of units in a subdivision.

She'd also like to limit the number of building permits issued annually by the county. Six or seven hundred isn't bad, but 1,000 is too many, she said.

Commercial development should be limited, too, she said.

"I say, 'Fill those existing buildings first or tear them down,'" Cramer said.

Hagerstown Community College or the Washington County school system could set up educational or after-school programs in empty commercial buildings, she recommended.

"Mostly, Hagerstown, the city, is deteriorating," Cramer said. "There's not enough attention. We need to go for outside help, too. Get a plan. Get a focus."

Cramer favors imposing a tax on Washington County residents who work outside the county.

She would also like to start "Take Your Elected Official to Work Day" for public safety employees, so government leaders would understand their work and boost their pay. It's an issue near to her because her son was a corrections officer in Frederick County, she said.

Cramer called for cuts to wasteful educational spending, but said she hasn't examined the school budget closely enough to offer examples.

Asked to name her best quality, Cramer immediately replied, "People."

"I usually look at what somebody does for a living and it tells you where their interest is at," she said. "Mine has been serving and serving. ... I roll my sleeves and I work."

She talked about some of the challenges of being a stylist, when "someone with 10 hairs comes in and everyone runs away."

"Everyone wants to look like Farrah Fawcett," Cramer said. "I make them look like Dorothy Hamill and they feel like Farrah Fawcett."

Cramer said her experience as president of her current townhome association and her Frederick condominium association has prepared her to be a county commissioner.

Finally, Cramer suggested one idea that combines public safety and economic development - sort of. The former Army base at Fort Ritchie could be set up as a military boot camp for local jail inmates, she said.

"When a conflict in the Middle East erupts, they're the first to go," Cramer said, "and if they defect, they have a new home."

There are 10 candidates for five county commissioner seats in the Nov. 5 election. Each term is four years.

The next commissioners will earn $30,000 a year and the commission president will make $33,000.

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