By C.J. LOVELACE
6:04 PM EDT, October 14, 2012
In a rematch of their 2009 face-off for mayor of Hagerstown, Republican incumbent Robert E. Bruchey II is vying for his third elected term in office, while Democratic challenger David S. Gysberts is hoping for a different outcome when voters hit the polls next month.
Among other issues, the hot topic swirling around the Nov. 6 general election for city voters is that of the city’s proposed downtown multiuse sports and events center.
Bruchey, 54, has been a vocal supporter of the proposed $37 million project as an effort to help revitalize the city’s struggling core, create a downtown destination for the future and provide a new home for the Hagerstown Suns baseball team.
“Never in Hagerstown’s history have we been in this position,” he said at an Oct. 10 candidate forum at Hagerstown Community College.
Preliminary funding plans for the project include an unconfirmed $15 million private donation from an individual who has yet to be identified, which would allow the city to seek state funding of about $10 million, Bruchey said.
With Washington County and city officials approving a funding formula earlier this year that could contribute $16 million over 20 years toward local debt share of the facility, Bruchey said the project has “so many ancillary benefits” to the downtown area that the city cannot afford to miss such an opportunity.
“We will never get this chance again,” he said, noting that the support for the project from the county, state and private donor has come because it would benefit downtown Hagerstown.
A new long-term lease with the Suns, a low-level Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, still is pending, but it is expected that the team would contribute about $6 million in rent payments over the course of a 20-year deal, city officials have said.
Gysberts, 34, has said he supports the Suns and the effort for a new city-owned stadium, but has raised questions about the process through which city officials have arrived at the current proposal to build near the corner of West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue.
“This is like one of those word problems in high school in math where you have to answer ‘not enough information,’” Gysberts, a five-year member of the city’s planning commission, said at the Oct. 10 forum. “I do believe the process affects the product.
“What we do know is that 15 or so people were appointed to a project committee, not one of which is a tax-paying citizen of Hagerstown who does not also collect a paycheck. And I think that is the most egregious error that has been committed in this whole process.”
A former Suns bat boy, Gysberts said he thinks the stadium project needs to be a piece of a broader vision for the city, and because the renovation of 82-year-old Municipal Stadium was never really considered as a possibility, it seemed like an afterthought in the Ripken feasibility study conducted earlier this year.
“I think the city has tried — in a limited way — to get public input from this, but I think the reason there is so much opposition is because this stakeholder feedback was never part of the process from the beginning,” Gysberts said.
Both candidates said they feel the city’s tax rate — which is the lowest it has been since 2004, Bruchey said — is fair, and sound fiscal management will be crucial to the city moving forward. Maintaining or adding public safety personnel is a top priority for both candidates.
Bruchey, a resident of 905 Woodland Way, has served in his current post for a total of 10 years, behind only Winslow F. Burhans (1953-65) and Steven T. Sager (1985-97), who held the office for 12 years.
If re-elected and he serves out the entire four-year term, Bruchey would become the longest-serving mayor in Hagerstown history.
First elected in 1997, Bruchey lost re-election bids in 2001 and 2005, the latter to Richard F. Trump, who resigned a year later. Bruchey was appointed mayor in 2006.
Bruchey earned his second elected term in 2009, defeating Gysberts by 1,647 votes to 1,116.
“It has been an honor to serve the citizens for the past 3 1/2 years, and also to serve with this administration,” Bruchey said. “As we use fiscal sense to guide us to a better fiscal future, this administration worked very hard and diligently to make sure that we were able to supply the services needed, keep our costs low.”
A resident of 795 Hamilton Blvd., Gysberts, who turns 35 later this month, said he would bring a fresh, unified vision to the mayor’s office and that he “still (believes) Hagerstown’s best days are ahead of us.”
Many of the same issues and problems continue to present hurdles for the city, the challenger said, adding that his candidacy represents a different perspective.
“I’m not running against any one person,” Gysberts said. “I’m running for the citizens of Hagerstown.”
Several years ago, Hagerstown decided to move municipal elections to coincide with the presidential election cycle as a way to boost voter turnout. A referendum on the issue appeared on the 2009 ballot and voters overwhelmingly supported the change.
A nonvoting elected official, the mayor of Hagerstown serves a four-year term and receives an annual salary of $28,000.
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