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Candidates address housing, hate mail at NAACP forum

May 03, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Affordable housing, jobs, hate mail and Willie Mays were issues that took center stage Monday during the latest round of Hagerstown political matchups.

Inside the gym at St. Maria Goretti High School, the 13 candidates for mayor and City Council used the booming public address system to speak to about 25 audience members.

The forum was sponsored by Washington County Branch 7030 of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The slate of Republicans - mayoral nominee Richard F. Trump and council candidates Ruth Anne Callaham, the Rev. Haru Carter Jr., Scott D. Hesse, Dan G. Kennedy and Torrence M. VanReenen - focused their efforts on the affordable housing issue in their opening statements, which also asked the candidates to list their top issue.

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"We want fair and affordable housing," Callaham said in her opening salvo.

Housing prices are "skyrocketing," Hesse said.

"We need to work on work force housing," Trump said.

"The people that work here, live here, ought to be able to buy a house that they can afford," Kennedy said.

"We need to look at making housing affordable," Carter said.

"Affordable housing is definitely an issue," VanReenen said.

The focus on issues broadened among the nonslate candidates.

Alesia D. Parson, a Democrat running for council, said affordable housing, gentrification and jobs were her top priorities.

Incumbent Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said moving "health-care facilities" out of city limits at the expense of its neediest customers is a no-no; parks, annexation, water and sewer, and jobs also were on his list.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh, a Democrat, said in the first term, "I used my voice to be their (voters') voice," and with voters continuing to do so, "all the issues will fall in place."

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, a Democrat, used his time on the opening statements and a later answer to attack the slate's stances on affordable housing and other issues.

In a round on the question of affordable housing, Metzner mentioned the responses of his "esteemed colleagues" and said, "I haven't heard a single one of 'em give you a solution of how they're going to take care of it."

Incumbent Mayor William M. Breichner said his priorities were to improve residential neighborhoods and reduce the perception that downtown Hagerstown is dangerous.

Controlled growth and a clean, safe city were the priorities for Robert E. Bruchey II, former mayor of Hagerstown who is running a write-in campaign after losing to Trump in the March 8 primary.

One written question from an audience member asked about hate mail, Willie Mays and how the candidates would promote cultural diversity.

Among the responses, the question elicited two revelations from candidates that they had received hate mail, and two stances on where, if anywhere, Mays' name should go.

Parson said the threats were sent to a friend of hers, but were aimed at her. However, "I will not be deterred as an African American. I will not be deterred as a woman."

On Mays, Parson said: "I want something named for Willie Mays. I don't think it should be in the black community ... but I do believe that we owe him that much."

Nigh said she and her daughter also were recent targets of hate mail.

"I didn't like it, but I've learned. ... It's hitting all of those that somebody has a problem with," Nigh said.

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