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GOP official: Snyder was vulnerable before DUI charge

August 26, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A Berkeley County Republican official says he believes it will be difficult for Sen. Herb Snyder, a Democrat, to pull off a victory in his re-election bid next year after being charged with driving under the influence last Thursday night outside the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

"I think he was vulnerable already," said Jerry Mays, chairman of the Berkeley County Republican Executive Committee.

Mays said he believes Snyder's chances for re-election already were being hurt by his effort to bring a NASCAR-style racetrack to Berkeley County.

Last year, Snyder said he knew of investors who were interested in backing a racetrack in Berkeley County and said up to 3,000 acres were available in the Inwood, W.Va., area for the project.

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Some Inwood-area residents were worried about how a racetrack would affect the area, and the majority of an estimated 100 people who attended a public meeting on the proposal at the Berkeley County Courthouse last year said they opposed the idea.

On Monday, Snyder reacted to Mays' speculation that the NASCAR proposal would hurt his re-election bid.

When it became clear Berkeley County did not want the track, Snyder said, he backed off.

"I said 'fine. We'll take it someplace else,'" said Snyder, who said he is working on a plan to establish a track in Flatwoods, W.Va.

Mays said that after Snyder was charged Thursday, he figured Snyder would drop his bid for re-election. At a meeting of the West Virginia Republican Executive Committee in Charleston, W.Va., over the weekend, the consensus of the group was that Snyder would not run, Mays said.

Although Snyder hinted last Friday that he might change his election plans, he said Monday he is still running. Although Snyder said he is running for his Senate seat, he also said he filed "open candidacy" papers, which allow a candidate to run from everything from governor to county surveyor.

"It's all open. After 14 years, I don't want to cease public service," said Snyder, who represents Berkeley and Jefferson counties in the Senate, along with Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Department Deputy William Parker pulled Snyder over at about 9:40 p.m. last Thursday as Snyder was leaving the Jefferson County Fair, Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober said.

Snyder was pulled over in a black Lincoln Continental after a fair official and other people alleged to Parker that Snyder appeared to be drunk, police said.

Snyder's face was red, his eyes were bloodshot and his breath smelled like alcohol, Parker alleged.

A bag containing four empty Coors Light cans, two empty beer bottles and an empty bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade were in the car, and Snyder failed four sobriety tests, police and court records alleged.

Snyder was taken to the Eastern Regional Jail and released Friday on $3,000 bond.

Snyder said after his arrest that he was taking "100 percent responsibility" for what he did, and said he plans to go to Eastridge Treatment Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., beginning today, for a six-week alcohol abuse treatment program.

Snyder said Monday he has no legislative meetings until October, which gives him about six weeks to deal with the fallout from the drunken-driving charge.

Snyder said he was worried about how he would be treated in the court system.

Because his will be a high-profile case, Snyder said he fears he will be treated more harshly.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson said Monday that Snyder has nothing to worry about.

"He won't be treated any differently than anyone else," Thompson said.

Mays said the charge against Snyder and Gov. Bob Wise's recent admission of infidelity are illustrative of problems that are "bedeviling the Democratic party." Mays said he hopes the trend will parlay into success for the GOP in next year's elections.

Others say it's unclear what the fallout will be.

"You never know how the voters will respond to this," said Jefferson County Commissioner Greg Corliss, who lost to Snyder in the 2000 state Senate race.

Tee Rowe, chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee, said Jefferson County Republicans have strong candidates for Snyder's 16th District Senate seat, although no Republicans have filed.

"This really doesn't change anything for us," said Rowe.

Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, declined to comment on the effect of the DUI charge because he said he might run against Snyder in the Democratic primary.

Manuel, who said he also is considering a run for the county commission, said he considered running for the Senate seat before Snyder was charged.

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