2 running for mayor differ in approach

But Heine, Flickinger share similar priorities

Both back downtown renewal

Taneytown

April 20, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

After almost winning Taneytown's top job without even running in 1999, former Mayor W. Robert Flickinger is challenging incumbent Henry C. Heine in the May 5 election.

Flickinger, 70, has served on the City Council for the past two years but says he wants to be mayor again, prompted by many residents who have told him they want him back.

Heine, 56, says he deserves to keep the job because he has brought new professionalism to town government and helped lead a thriving downtown revitalization effort.

When asked about the town's top priorities, the two men offer nearly identical lists. But they bring vastly different styles to a race that many expect to produce a tight result.

Heine is a Baltimore engineer who usually speaks formally and maintains a tight administrative grip on City Hall.

Flickinger has lived in town his whole life, is a master of casual dialect and prides himself on digging weeds in city parks and driving sick neighbors to a doctor.

Though the men refuse to disparage each other directly, they don't pretend to have a warm relationship, either.

Asked why his administration should continue, Heine said: "Four years ago, the city did not have any direction. There were not goals. The comments were that downtown was dead and nothing could be done about it."

Flickinger was the mayor at that time.

Asked whether a personal touch is a necessary part of being a small-town mayor, Flickinger said: "I think it's got a lot to do with it. I think you should be with your people."

It's an idea that rings true for Heine's critics, who say his businesslike demeanor makes him hard to approach at times.

City Council members who have served with both men say they're torn.

"They both work hard for the city, but they have very different personalities," said Councilman Jim Wieprecht, who is running for re-election.

"Bob is more physically hands-on, out there in the park digging weeds and stuff, while Henry is a lot more involved in the office. They've both done things I've liked, and they've both done some things I haven't liked. It's a tough one."

Heine is hanging his re-election campaign on the notion that the city has improved noticeably since he took over. During that time, state officials lauded Taneytown for having one of Maryland's best main street revitalization programs.

The city refurbished an aging downtown building into a new police station and commissioned a mural of an old Zile's Ice Cream advertisement for the side of City Hall. Several businesses opened along the main drag, and several others upgraded with eye-catching facades.

The mayor also points to less visible policies he has pushed, such as a requirement that all youth league coaches be screened for criminal backgrounds.

Heine faced unrest last year when he and the council fired the police chief and town manager within six months of one another. Noting confidentiality requirements, Heine never explained why the men were dismissed but said recently that the firings are no longer an issue. Other town leaders agreed.

Heine said that if re-elected, he would continue to focus on downtown improvements and an aggressive effort to update the town's 50-year-old sewer pipes.

"We set goals and directions and proceeded to work on those goals," Heine said. "Some we have completed, like the police station, and others we are still working on. ... If re-elected, I will do this again."

Flickinger agreed that downtown revitalization and an improved sewer system are the two top priorities for Taneytown. He noted that the regular meetings of business owners, who drove the downtown improvement effort, started when he was mayor.

A lifelong resident who retired eight years ago from his mechanic's job at Random House, Flickinger said he would be the same leader people have always known. He lost to Heine by only 22 votes in 1999, when residents organized a write-in campaign on his behalf.

"I'm not saying I can do a better job than him or anybody else, but people seem to want me in there," he said.

In the council race that will accompany the mayoral vote, three candidates, including two incumbents, are running for two seats.

Wieprecht, 40, has served on the council for most of the past seven years as the result of one election victory and two brief appointments. The stay-at-home father said he's running again because he brings financial acumen and enthusiasm for downtown redevelopment to the council.

"I'm pretty psyched right now about some of the good stuff that's happening on main street," he said. "I would like to keep that going."

Wieprecht said he wants the town's main street, called Baltimore Boulevard, to retain its architectural character but with cleaner sidewalks and more amenities. The key, he said, will be persuading landlords to invest in improvements to their buildings.

"That's the toughest thing, selling the profitability of those investments," the former banker said. "But I think we're starting to get a few on board, and we just have to keep delivering the same message."

Incumbent Darryl G. Hale, 36, said he brings an unmatched drive to the council. The top vote-getter in the 1999 council election, Hale promoted his hands-on work for the city's elderly and disabled residents. He said he wants each neighborhood in the city to have a voice in government and would spend a new term working to strengthen community activist groups.

A sales and service representative for a Westminster contractor, Hale agreed with the mayoral candidates that sewer repairs are a high priority.

"We have to really button down and improve our infrastructure," he said. "We have our new treatment plant, but we have to get the product to and from it."

The incumbents face a challenge from Richard L. Hess Jr., 49, who works at Random House in Westminster.

Hess said his top priority as a councilman would be to improve the city's neighborhood watch program. He said he doesn't see any other burning issues for Taneytown.

"Things are going well in town. I'd like to keep that going," he said.

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