CAP Announces 2020 Endorsements

Members of Citizens Above Partisanship voted last week to endorse the following candidates for local offices in the 2020 general election:

Mayor of Hagerstown:

  • Emily Keller

Hagerstown City Council:

  • Brooke Grossman
  • Shelley McIntire
  • Brenda Thiam

Washington County Board of Education:

  • Pieter Bickford
  • Benjamin Forrest
  • Melissa Williams

All of the above races are nonpartisan; however, in keeping with CAP’s mission, the candidates we are endorsing span the political and ideological spectrum. Most importantly, all have demonstrated a willingness to work across divides, partisan and otherwise, for the good of the constituents they serve. Details of the reasons for our support follow.

Emily Keller
Emily is completing her first term as a member of the Hagerstown City Council, and she knows what it takes to get things done in Hagerstown. As a member of the City Council, she initiated Washington Goes Purple in order to address opioid addiction. She has proven she can work across differences to move the city forward. Emily’s bipartisan campaign is an outstanding example of what Citizens Above Partisanship stands for.

Brooke Grossman
Brooke is a resident of Hagerstown’s City Center. She believes in the strength of Hagerstown and its residents. She is a solutions-focused leader who believes strongly in collaboration and wants to make sure that the voices of all Hagerstown residents are heard. She is passionate about ensuring that Hagerstown is poised to attract new economic opportunities that not only benefit the municipality, but also the residents of the city.

Shelley McIntire 
Shelley is a current City Councilwoman who was appointed by the Mayor and City Council in 2017. She owns and runs a small business in the county and believes in helping her community through action. Above all, she believes in transparency and ethical leadership. Shelley has demonstrated an impressive ability to work collaboratively to improve Hagerstown.

Brenda Thiam
Brenda is running for City Council to work alongside the citizens of Hagerstown and to set high goals and accomplish them. She believes in wise spending, citizen empowerment, a safer community, and enhanced economic growth. Brenda’s nuanced approach to complex issues and a sincere desire to work across party lines for the future of Hagerstown is why we support her.

Pieter Bickford
Pieter is a current member of the Board of Education. He has a strong desire to work with his fellow board members and the public to lead appropriately. Pieter understands the challenges to diversifying WCPS staff and leadership and is supportive of efforts to do so.

Benjamin Forrest
Benjamin believes a leader is someone who listens to the people they lead. He is passionate about getting teachers the materials and resources they need and recruiting high quality teachers. He wants to address race and equity issues and talk to those most impacted by these issues.

Melissa Williams
Melissa is a lifelong resident of Washington County and has spent her thirty-five year career in public education in the schools of Washington County. She currently serves as the President for the Board of Education. Her desire to find a way to better serve lower income students and continue to advocate for all students shows that she shares CAP’s values.

Keller, Kifer Discuss City of Hagerstown

On Monday night CAP members heard from Hagerstown City Councilwoman Emily Keller and Chief of Police Joey Kifer about current initiatives, ongoing challenges, and future directions for the city. The conversation addressed topics including economic development, addiction and recovery, homelessness and housing, and the relationship between the city and county governments.

Both Keller and Kifer spoke of positive changes in downtown Hagerstown. Kifer cited an extremely low crime rate, saying that “crime downtown is petty stuff,” and reporting significant decreases in virtually every category over the last five years. Keller added that Hagerstown is “better than most people think we are – we get a lot of bad press.” She mentioned substantial investment in the downtown arts district, including the new Maryland Theatre, an addition to the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, and many new businesses. At the same time, Keller said, bringing more people downtown to live and play will require significant investment in housing and infrastructure, including basic things like grocery stores.

Speaking about challenges in the city, Keller mentioned opioid addiction and the success of Washington Goes Purple in raising awareness about the opioid crisis. Kifer noted the relationship between education and preventing addiction, lauding the recent increase in drug education in the public schools. He pointed to Antietam Academy as a major asset in supporting children who are dealing with issues that are disruptive to their educations. Providing a positive educational environment for those students, he said, helps break cycles that contribute to poverty, addiction, and crime. Kifer added that diversity in the police force has been a priority under his leadership, not only to ensure that law enforcement represents the community, but also to aid in understanding the needs of the community.

Asked about the problem of homelessness in the city, Kifer spoke movingly of trying to protect homeless citizens from risks inherent to their situation, such as harassment and violence. Keller talked about the enormous challenges such citizens face in simply finding food and shelter on a daily basis, leaving little time for job training and seeking employment. Many people without permanent addresses are unable to apply for jobs; others with temporary addresses may not be able to get things like utilities in their own names, making it difficult to establish credit and move to permanent housing. She discussed things the city is doing to try to help, such as the new Bridge to Change program and exploring various forms of affordable housing.

Discussing the relationship between the city and county governments, Keller said that they have a “mostly good relationship,” and that there have been some productive informal discussions between herself, Councilwoman Shelley McIntyre, and Commissioners Cort Meinelschmidt and Randy Wagner. She acknowledged that things like fire & rescue, water & sewer, and resulting tax differentials constitute “pain points” between the city and county, but said, “my job is to protect the citizens of the City of Hagerstown.”

The discussion concluded with a lively Q & A, culminating in the following question from an audience member: “how do we change the narrative of Hagerstown?” Keller and Kifer both expressed frustration over what they consider disproportionate media coverage of a very few negative stories, and agreed that we need to do more to shine light on the many positive things happening in the city.

With that in mind, CAP invites all readers to our Party Above Partisanship at The Flying Camel Café on Thursday, December 19 from 5-7pm!

November CAP Meeting: Keller & Gysberts Say County Needs “Vision”

Many thanks to Hagerstown City Councilwoman Emily Keller and former Hagerstown Mayor David Gysberts for joining us at our November 27 meeting in Boonsboro. In conversation with CAP’s own Chip Cook, Keller and Gysberts discussed the qualities that make a good local politician, the relationship between the City of Hagerstown and the rest of Washington County, the opioid crisis, and their priorities as politicians and as citizens.

Gysberts said that, as a politician, “you have to have something you’re for, not just something you’re against… a vision for where you want your community to go.” He emphasized the importance of fiscal responsibility in achieving that vision. “Budgets are a reflection of… values and priorities,” he said, and it’s the job of the mayor and the council to guide municipal spending in a way that reflects and supports those values and priorities.

Keller talked about the importance of connecting with constituents and trying to stand in their shoes. She recalled doing a ride-along with each city department when she was first elected last year. She spoke of the experience as fun but eye-opening. “How can I make a good decision about what the police need if I haven’t seen what they really do?” she asked. A council member needs to talk to all stakeholders in order to figure out the impact that a decision will have on varied constituencies. She admitted that the job is more time-consuming than she had anticipated, but it’s work that “has to be done. I just drag my daughter along with me,” she said with a smile. An engaged citizen from a young age!

Both speakers reiterated the need to “put in the time” and “do your homework,” themes that emerged during former County Administrator Greg Murray’s visit at our October meeting. Both also decried the lack of action from the County Commissioners on the opioid epidemic facing not just Hagerstown but all of Washington County and, indeed, the entire country. It’s not simply that the commissioners are not dealing with the problem, they said, but that they seem to not even realize a problem exists.

Gysberts recalled a current commissioner remarking at the opening ceremony for the new Washington County Free Library building that it was “the biggest, most expensive homeless shelter we could have built.” It is exactly this kind of dismissive attitude toward fellow citizens that Citizens Above Partisanship seeks to remove from county politics. We thank Keller and Gysberts for their time spent helping us understand how we might best go about doing that.