Revitalizing downtown, helping residents survive a sour economy and ensuring that the city has the infrastructure it needs when growth returns are among the issues being raised by five candidates running for the Hagerstown City Council.
Kristin B. Aleshire, incumbent councilmen Martin E. Brubaker and Forrest W. Easton, Penny M. Nigh and Jeffrey Coney were among six candidates that The Herald-Mail was unable to reach Wednesday as the deadline passed for filing to run.
The sixth candidate, Jonathan R. Burrs, could not be reached again Thursday.
There are 12 candidates running for the five at-large council seats.
Six Republican candidates for council will square off in a primary election on April 3. The top five vote-getters from that race will face five Democrats and one unaffiliated candidate in the general election on Nov. 6.
The top five vote-getters from the general election win the council seats.
• Kristin B. Aleshire, 36, is a former member of the Washington County Board of Commissioners and the city council.
Aleshire, who lost his re-election bid for his commissioners seat in the Nov. 2, 2010, general election, said he has much to balance in his life but he still enjoys public service.
After a lengthy consideration with his wife, Aleshire said he decided to return to politics.
“I’ve always enjoyed local government and municipal government the most,” Aleshire said.
He said no candidate should run on one issue, and a vital factor in an election is how well-rounded candidates are on many topics.
Aleshire said he thinks most people know he has a well-rounded background and understands how government works on a city, county and state level.
He said the issue facing downtown, where at least 11 businesses have left in the past year, is “certainly something we need to focus on.”
Aleshire said the council also needs to pay attention to the Hagerstown Suns. Suns minority owner Tony Dahbura has said the minor league baseball team has an active offer to move to another city.
• Martin E. Brubaker, 65, was appointed to the council in 2006 to replace Aleshire, who left to become a county commissioner.
Brubaker said he has a proven track record of being a “constructive and practical” decision-maker.
He also cited a key role in helping the city through a volatile period during the last two years in which it lost millions of dollars in revenue.
Brubaker said he has a good perspective on the city and region due to his work on the Hagerstown Planning Commission, the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission and a local metropolitan planning organization.
He said his work on the council is based on the interests of a cross-section of groups and citizens, and he doesn’t give “knee-jerk support” to any one entity.
• Penny M. Nigh, 64, served two consecutive terms on the council before losing her bid for re-election in 2009.
“There’s still a lot of things that need to be done,” said Nigh, noting that the plight of downtown is on the list.
In a series of recent newspaper interviews with downtown merchants about shops leaving town, one business owner said “the rats are leaving the sinking ship.”
When asked how the city went from a thriving shopping district to one plagued by commercial exodus, at least a few pointed fingers at City Hall.
Nigh said the city’s problems started when the downtown area started losing department stores, and malls became a popular way to shop. There was no vision to recoup what the city lost, she said.
• Forrest W. Easton, 37, who was elected to serve his first term on the council in 2009, said he is running for re-election because plenty of work remains to be done.
Easton said the current administration’s record has been impressive during the tough economic period. The city is doing the job with fewer staffers, with 40 to 50 positions having either been eliminated or unfilled, he said.
“I think City Hall works completely different than three years ago when we took office,” Easton said.
He said one of the challenges that has been tougher to resolve than he first envisioned was rebuilding trust between the city and other community leaders and groups. The problem stemmed from a lack of civility, but now the city and other groups are working better together, Easton said.
• Jeffrey Coney, 50, said he was among the people considered for appointment to the mayor’s job when former Mayor Richard F. Trump resigned less than a year following his election in 2005.
Coney, a program manager for the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, said he is running to help residents survive the struggling economy.
“Things are pretty bad right now, and I don’t think they’re going to get better soon,” Coney said.
He said it is important to create incentives to attract new businesses to the vacant storefronts downtown, to make sure the city has the infrastructure it needs when growth returns, and that the city hires the right people.