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Hancock candidates forum canceled

January 14, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HANCOCK -- A proposed candidates forum that stirred up controversy and accusations has been canceled.

Penny Pittman, the wife of Hancock Town Council candidate Randy Pittman, said Wednesday that "a lack of interest" was the reason -- only two of six candidates in the Jan. 26 municipal election were going to attend.

Penny Pittman also is the president of the town's Chamber of Commerce, which was hosting the event.

Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy and his two running mates in the election declined to participate in the Jan. 20 forum, citing short notice and an "obvious conflict of interest" on the part of the chamber.

Penny Pittman and two other of the Chamber's four executive board members have displayed yard signs supporting Randy Pittman and Dr. Ralph Salvagno, who is running for mayor, according to a letter Murphy and his running mates, Nigel Dardar and Dennis Hudson, wrote to the Chamber.

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The Chamber never contacted Murphy or his running mates to ask if they wanted to participate or to coordinate a date that would suit them, Murphy said. Instead, the Chamber invited the candidates to the forum in a letter dated Jan. 9, which they received by registered mail, he said.

"It was like a summons coming to the court, announcing this forum and inviting us in a very polite manner to be part of this forum less than two weeks away," Murphy said.

Dardar is not available on the date the Chamber chose, he said.

The Chamber also announced the forum in The Hancock News before the candidates had responded, Dardar said.

In a letter to the Chamber dated Wednesday, Murphy, Dardar and Hudson suggested the forum be rescheduled for another date, with a different venue and alternative sponsor.

The Chamber had arranged for the forum at the Hancock American Legion to be moderated by Art Callaham, executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee.

In their letter, forum opponents said it should be held in a neutral location where no food, alcohol or gaming exists, so no residents would be excluded. They requested a moderator more knowledgeable of the town than Callaham and suggested The Hanock News' editor, John Douglas, or, with input from all the candidates on formulating questions, the Washington County League of Women Voters or a Hagerstown Community College professor and her political science students.

Murphy said that in his six terms as mayor and one as council member, there has been only one candidates forum, and that was before the Chamber existed.

"There has not been a tradition of the Hancock Chamber of Commerce staging debates or forums for the candidates ever, and now here comes this one," he said.

-- Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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