Candidates questioned at forum

February 27, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- Ten of 12 candidates running in contested races in Hagerstown's March 10 primary election participated in a forum Friday morning at The Academy Theatre Banquet & Conference Center.

The event was sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

The candidates were asked to answer a variety of questions - some that audience members wrote on cards before the event began.

Only the Republican mayoral and Democratic City Council candidates were invited to participate because they are running in contested primaries.

Four Republican council candidates, one Unaffiliated council candidate and the lone Democratic mayoral candidate automatically advance to the May 19 general election.

Each of the five seats on the council are up for grabs.

All three Republican mayoral candidates - Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, Jonathan R. Burrs and Ann Holtzman - participated in the forum.


The Democratic council candidates who attended the event were R. Noel Brady, William M. Breichner, incumbent Martin E. Brubaker, David A. Lidz, Joseph A. Marschner, incumbent Lewis C. Metzner and incumbent Alesia D. Parson-McBean.

Incumbent council members Kelly S. Cromer and Penny M. Nigh did not participate.

The winner of the GOP mayoral primary will face Democrat David S. Gysberts in the general election.

The top five vote-getters in the Democratic council primary will square off against Republican candidates Patrick N. Crist, Forrest W. Easton, Jeremy L. Manford and Don Mohar, and Unaffiliated candidate Ashley C. Haywood.

Below is a list of some of the questions that were asked at the forum and their responses by the candidates.

Mayoral candidates

Question: Why should someone in the business community vote for you?

Incumbent Robert E. Bruchey II, R, 50

Bruchey said he believes the city already is working diligently to help established and new businesses succeed.

He said a new marketing initiative, called Hagerstown Advance, will help reach out to bring businesses to the city.

In December, Bruchey successfully pushed a proposal through the City Council to hire four local businesses to market Hagerstown. The slogan Hagerstown Advance is part of that marketing effort.

Question: What communities will you look to as a model in dealing with issues in Hagerstown?

Jonathan R. Burrs, R, 38

Burrs said that three years ago he started looking into ways the city could copy programs other municipalities have used to attract disposable income.

He used Lancaster, Pa., and Asheville, N.C., as examples.

Asheville, for example, has the Biltmore House, billed as the largest privately owned home in the United States.

The city needs to find something unique in the community and build around it to create a similar effect, he said.

Question: What should the city do to encourage critical commercial services, such as dry cleaners and grocery stores, to the downtown area?

Ann Holtzman, R, 65

Holtzman said she would give businesses a three- or four-year break on their property-tax assessments and eliminate parking meters.

People shouldn't have to pay to park to shop downtown, she said. In addition, the city should offer a mentoring service for people who want to start a business.

Council candidates

Question: How should the city increase home ownership?

R. Noel Brady, D, 68

Brady said too many property owners are out-of-towners who don't have a vested interest in the city.

Officials can attract homeowners to the downtown area, he said, by continuing to support plans to improve the Washington County Free Library and the Arts and Entertainment District.

Question: What should happen to the site now occupied by the Washington County Hospital?

William M. Breichner, D, 77

Breichner said he has no doubt that the hospital would be razed and the property would be sold.

Ideally, the site would be developed for residential use and a clinic opened to serve residents who live in that area, he said.

Question: What can the city do to eliminate barriers to the development of downtown buildings?

Incumbent Martin E. Brubaker, D, 62

Brubaker said the city should look for ways to attract developers and business owners to the downtown area.

One of the ways, he said, is to monitor historic development.

Brubaker said committees that are required to approve renovation plans to ensure that developers adhere to historic standards need to make decisions on a case-by-case basis and "within reason."

Question: What resistance have you heard from businesses you've tried to attract to Hagerstown?

David A. Lidz, D, 43

Lidz said the return on real estate in Hagerstown is marginal.

In addition, the city has a code-enforcement office that might be a little too assertive, he said.

"There's a perception out there it isn't business friendly," Lidz said.

Question: What would be your top priority if elected?

Joseph A. Marschner, D, 41

Marschner said there is more to Hagerstown than just the downtown area.

If elected, Marschner said, he would make the entire city his top priority.

Question: What is this body going to do to help nonprofits?

Incumbent Lewis C. Metzner, D, 56

Ensuring public safety is the main priority of the city government, Metzner said. City officials should worry about maintaining the strength of the fire and police departments - not nonprofit organizations.

Nonprofits should be funded by the private sector, he said.

Question: Are there opportunities for consolidation of local government?

Incumbent Alesia D. Parson-McBean, D, 44

Parson-McBean said the city and Washington County governments already have consolidated to some degree by creating an emergency dispatch center that, when operational, will improve communication among first responders at the city, county and state levels.

She said she wasn't certain how cost effective it would be to the city to further consolidate services.

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