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Why we won't endorse anyone in city election

March 27, 2005|By JOHN LEAGUE

This year's mayoral and council elections in Hagerstown pose some unique challenges for The Herald-Mail and our endorsement process.

As a result, we won't be endorsing candidates this year. Let me offer some background and an explanation.

Newspapers have taken a number of different approaches to newspaper endorsements, the practice by which a newspaper, though an editorial, recommends to its readers a candidate or candidates for support.

Some newspapers offer endorsements for every election in all races. Some never endorse. For the past few years, we've struck a middle ground.

We don't endorse for the presidential race. Why? We don't have the opportunity to meet the candidates. We don't have any more insight that any of our readers. We know what we read and watch on TV, just like you. So we leave that one to you.

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Generally, we do offer endorsements on the local, county and state level because we cover the candidates and often get to know them, particularly our local elected officials. The newspaper also knows what the local issues are.

We endorse in the general election only. We don't get involved in the primary, feeling that's up to each party to make its best case to its own party members.

Our formula for endorsements essentially is the same for all races. In this case, we would attempt to endorse the candidate who, we believe, would do the best job for the city, regardless of party affiliation.

We look for common sense, practical ideas, creativity, communication skills and leadership skills. And we look for those candidates willing to accept the responsibility of the job and are willing to work hard in the best interest of the city.

You can develop a pretty good sense of that when you cover a campaign, and when you cover the city council daily.

Ordinarily, our endorsements would appear a week to 10 days before the May 3 election, to give the candidates time to rebut in The Herald-Mail our endorsements and the reasoning behind them.

But that won't be the case this year.

During recent elections, our editorial board has been Editorial Page Editor Bob Maginnis, columnist Tim Rowland and me.

Over the years, Bob has been one of the more thorough reporters and editors I've worked with. But like all of us, we make mistakes from time to time. Bob made a mistake writing about Democratic council candidate Alesia Parson and her primary campaign. To avoid the perception that Bob will be unfair, he has decided not to write about the council races, in either signed columns or editorials. That would include endorsements.

Tim Rowland also finds himself in a curious position. His wife is on the editorial staff of a magazine published by GOP mayoral candidate Dick Trump. Do I believe that Tim would unfairly give Trump and the slate he's running with the benefit of the doubt because of that relationship? No, I don't. Is there an appearance to our readers that he may bend one way more than the other? Absolutely there is. Tim has decided that he won't be writing about the campaign or the election until it's over.

While I have complete faith in both Bob and Tim to cover all of the candidates fairly, I can see where there would a perception, by some, if not most, of our readers, anyway, that we would not be able to do so.

So The Herald-Mail, in one of the few instances I'm familiar with, will not be endorsing candidates for the city election this year.

An overreaction? Perhaps.

But there's only one decision to make when your credibility is on the line, and that's the decision we've made in this case.




John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7073, or by e-mail at jleague@herald-mail.com.

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