Town's mayor-elect wins by just 22 votes as only listed candidate

Many Taneytown voters heed write-in campaign for outgoing city leader

May 05, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

At 7 a.m. Monday, Henry C. Heine Jr. was the sole mayoral candidate on the ballot in Taneytown's municipal elections.

By the time the polls closed 12 hours later, he had won by a narrow margin.

The popular outgoing mayor, W. Robert Flickinger, got 107 write-in votes. Heine got 129 votes.

"If I would have got out there and campaigned, I would've whooped him good," Flickinger said. "But I didn't go out there because I wasn't that much interested."

In this small but growing town of 5,000, a revolution occurred with this election. For the first time, no one on the five-member council or in the mayor's seat is a Taneytown native. Both Heine and Flickinger wonder whether the election results weren't an effort by the establishment to keep at least one native in office.

"I'm sure that influenced a lot of people," said Flickinger, 66, gratified by such a strong showing when he wasn't even trying to win.

Heine, 52, and his wife, Linda, moved to Taneytown from Baltimore in 1975 shortly after their marriage. The city's population was about 1,800 then, Heine recalls. So, of the current 5,000 residents, most were probably born elsewhere or are the young children of transplants, Heine said.

"At the same time, a lot of the children of the established residents have grown up and moved away," Heine said. "I think if you did a demographic survey, you'll find the larger segment of the population is people who have moved to Taneytown because we see something here we didn't see elsewhere. And we want to keep it going."

Heine has been on the City Council for 10 years, and was on planning and zoning boards for years before that. In fact, it was Flickinger, as acting mayor during a government transition in the 1970s, who approached Heine to serve on those boards.

Compared to Flickinger, a Taneytown native with a well-known last name, Heine is still a newcomer.

Most people in town say the results are not so much a rebuff to Heine as they are homage to Flickinger, a hometown boy who grew up to have his hand in most everything that goes on around town. His wife, Fairy, a retired teacher, is also well-known.

"Bob's a good man," said Charles Barnhart, deacon at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Some say the write-in campaign was born across the street at Grace United Church of Christ, where Flickinger is an active member and his wife is the organist.

"That just stands to reason, because Bob is active in the church," said Barnhart, who recently moved just outside city limits, so he couldn't vote.

"I probably would have flipped a coin," he said over lunch at the Country Kitchen restaurant on East Baltimore Street.

Heine will have big shoes to fill.

Flickinger, a retired Random House worker, was always around town, cruising from one project to another in his Burgundy pickup truck and often hauling a lawn tractor or load of topsoil.

"He's the only mayor we had where you would actually see him around town doing stuff," said Shane Fitzgerald, owner of Bow Hunter's Den on East Baltimore Street. "He's planting trees down in the park, he's always out around mowing, he's putting flowers here and there. Half the mayors, you never see them anywhere. At meetings. That was it."

Fitzgerald said he prefers Flickinger, but voted for Heine. "He was the only one running."

Flickinger was a councilman for more than 20 years before being elected mayor four years ago. He chose not to run again because he said his 26 years in public office was enough. But he gave his supporters just a hint of affirmation, and that was enough to fuel a substantial write-in campaign.

"If people wanted me that bad, I couldn't let them down," Flickinger said. And although he wasn't interested enough to file to run for the office, had he received a majority of votes, he was prepared for a fight.

Taneytown's charter makes no provision for a write-in candidate to win an office. Had Flickinger gotten more votes than Heine, the City Council would have had to choose a winner. Heine said he would have launched a protest if the council chose Flickinger. Flickinger said he would have gone to court if they didn't.

"I didn't expect him to just go quietly," said Melissa Harris, who owns an upholstery shop in town and serves on the Taneytown Economic Development Commission.

She said Flickinger was such a devoted and admired mayor that a clean break was not likely.

But she said she looks forward to Heine bringing in fresh ideas.

"He's younger, he's energetic," she said. "I'm hoping that things we've wanted to get going in town, he'll be able to help with. I'd like to see things happen a little faster. We need a rec center for our children. I'd like to see the downtown get cleaned up a bit and get prettier.

"I would have been happy with either one. It would have been horrible if I had to choose between them," Harris said. She lives in Union Bridge, and therefore didn't have to choose.

It seemed like overkill when Heine campaigned door-to-door in Taneytown in the last few months. On election day, he was out in front of city hall, his $25 solicitor's permit paid for, urging voters to support him.

But the rumor that had made its way around town manifested itself that morning: a man was handing out fliers supporting a write-in campaign for Flickinger.

The person did not have a permit, and didn't want to buy one, so City Clerk Linda Hess asked him to leave.

That didn't stop 107 Flickinger fans from penciling in his name. One of them was Jim Sell, who lives across the street from the popular mayor.

"My wife and I both wrote in his name -- I assume she did," said Sell. "We've been friends for 40 years. I trust him and he's just a real nice guy."

Sell, 63, and Flickinger went to the same school -- Taneytown used to have just one for first through 12th grades.

"I knew what I was getting with Mr. Flickinger, and I don't know Mr. Heine," Sell said.

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