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Incumbent council member faces election-day challenge

May 15, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The race for the Ward III City Council seat in Charles Town is heating up with the incumbent claiming he is "the best man for City Council" and saying it would be a step back if voters elect his challenger to office.

Council member Matt Ward says his challenger Don Clendening is a "fine, respectable" man, but claims Clendening was recruited by "cronies" who are in favor of development and want to control City Hall.

Ward says Clendening has stated he is for open government, but Ward said Clendening has turned down two requests to participate in election forums being sponsored by the local chapter of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County.

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"I hope that's not a sign of the openness he will show," Ward said Sunday.

Clendening declined to comment on Ward's statements in detail, saying he does not want to get into an argument with Ward.

Clendening said he turned down a request to participate in election forums because there is no use to "go down there and argue with people."

Clendening said Ward's comments are an indication of his mannerisms that have turned off some residents.

"That's why they want him out of there," said Clendening.

On May 22, Ward and Clendening will square off for the Ward III seat, a job that pays $1,200 a year but will increase to $2,400 a year when the new term begins. The race is citywide.

Ward has repeatedly stressed the importance of revitalizing existing commercial areas instead of gobbling up valuable agricultural land in outlying areas of the county for development.

Ward has worked to secure $2.5 million for the town, which will be used to revitalize a string of abandoned commercial buildings near the Charles Town-Ranson line, renovate the Charles Washington Hall building downtown and restore the historic Fisherman's Hall building, which used to house a self-help organization for blacks starting in the 1800s.

"I have a track record of success," said Ward, an attorney with the Spiegel and McDiarmid law firm in Washington, D.C.

Ward said he has the skills needed for the job because of his career background. Ward said he assists cities with revitalization projects and has helped funnel millions of dollars into cities across the country.

Ward repeatedly has warned against rapid, sprawling growth in Jefferson County and said he, along with help from citizens, worked to stop proposed annexations that would have been hurtful to the town.

Ward said he wants to return to council to work on opening new recreation areas in the city, finding new soccer areas for youth and improving dilapidated housing in town.

"We've got a lot to do," said Ward of 218 S. Samuel St.

Clendening, a retired plant engineer for the former 3M plant in Middleway, W.Va., and active community member, said he decided to run for council in hopes of resolving problems some people are having with town government.

Clendening said there are town residents with various problems who do not get the attention they deserve.

He said the problems are usually minor in nature, ranging from poor lighting on city streets to stray animals.

"I'm not real happy with what's been going on in the city in the last couple of years," said Clendening, who was the president of the Independent Fire Co. in Ranson, W.Va., for 27 years and was a member of the Charles Town Police Commission for 15 years.

Clendening said he had to step down from his police commission post to run for council.

The police commission interviews and tests people who apply for officer positions at the Charles Town Police Department.

Clendening said he has no problem with the projects under way in town, including the downtown revitalization project. Although Clendening said the exact results of the revitalization "remain to be seen," he said it makes sense to support those efforts because city officials believed they were important for the town.

"My whole objective, if I'm elected, is to be cooperative with the rest of the council," Clendening said.

Clendening said his effectiveness on City Council will be determined by how he works with seven other members of council, not in how he debates Ward.

"For me to go down there and profess about what I'm going to do doesn't accomplish anything," said Clendening, of 533 Brooke St.

Clendening said he has dedicated more than 40 years of service to the community, including serving as a Scoutmaster, president of the Jefferson County Jaycees, president of the Jefferson County Civitan Club and completing a number of degrees for the Masonic Lodge.

Clendening is a lifelong resident of the county and has lived in Charles Town since 1955.

Clendening said he served a four-year term on City Council about 15 years ago and did not seek re-election.

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