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Pecoraro: Partisan column out of place in local election

In this space in Monday’s Carroll County Times you may have seen a very targeted, highly partisan attack on my candidacy for re-election to Westminster’s Common Council. Since originally allowing it to run, the editors of the Times have decided it was inappropriate to have done so the day before the election, and they have (temporarily) cut most of the text from the online version. Unfortunately, the print edition lives on in many homes and businesses around town.

The editors have offered me a chance to respond in today’s paper, which some of you may be reading after the polls have closed or you have voted. For those reading this with your morning coffee, I hope you will take Monday’s column in the hyper-partisan spirit in which that gentleman offered it, and pay it no attention. That kind of partisan attack, filled with insinuation, should have no place in Westminster’s elections.

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I have lived in this community all of my life, and have been active in civic affairs since high school. It may surprise a few people to learn that I am a Democrat, but not many. However, I think it more likely people know me for my contributions to a better Westminster. I am proud to have been the elected official in Westminster principally responsible for the city’s purchase of the old Carroll Theatre as a home for the Arts Council. I am also proud to have led the push for Westminster’s two downtown parking garages. I played an active role in the city’s purchase of the old Farmer’s Supply property and stone building, which we successfully redeveloped into O’Lordan’s Pub, as well as high-end condominiums and office space, and a garage.

When one of our older neighborhoods faced classic challenges from crime and inattentive landlords, I led the Pennsylvania Avenue Task Force in response. We brought together Avenue residents and businesses with city, county, and state agencies to work together on these problems. Out of those efforts came the city’s first real Property Maintenance Code aimed at improving the quality of our rental housing stock, the community building on Union Street that first housed the Boys & Girls Club, better street lighting, and many other improvements in the Pennsylvania Avenue streetscape.

I have also worked to support our older neighborhoods and commercial areas in other ways, including tax credits for historic properties, façade loan programs, and access to state revitalization and rehabilitation funds. I was one of the founding members of the Greater Westminster Development Corporation, and the Westminster Town Center Corporation, through which we engaged the business community and managed some key redevelopment activities. I am sorry to say that both groups fell by the wayside during a time I was not on the Council.

Over the years I have been on the Council, I have actively encouraged our efforts to build a great network of parks, trails, and other recreational venues, as well as organize a year round series of great downtown events. These facilities and activities improve our quality of life, and do much to promote our local businesses.

My current term on the council has been focused on fiber, water, and public safety. Westminster’s Fiber Network is one of the jewels of our city, and I was an early enthusiast for bringing fiber to Westminster, as well as supporting the effort led by Dr. Robert Wack when I returned. It’s not just about fast downloads for movies — it’s going to be a great economic development tool for the city. I have also played a key role in managing the city’s water supply as well as the search for new sources or additional resources. I am excited to see public confidence in a safe downtown increase under our new police chief’s community-policing initiatives, long overdue in Westminster.

Westminster covers nearly 6.5 square miles with a population of almost 19,000 residents, and 14,000 outside the city limits but in our water and sewer district. Westminster’s General Fund Budget amounts to a little more than $17 million, with separate water and sewer enterprise funds. With those funds we manage all those activities on which our residents depend … police, street maintenance, trash removal, snow plowing, parks and recreation, support for the fire department, and many other things large and small that make it possible for so many people to live so close together. While over time, we have both raised and lowered property taxes to pay for all the services that are necessary, our tax rate has not changed in seven years, and I do not expect to see it increase any time soon.

It takes a lot of work to oversee all of this activity and represent the interests of our citizens. I like to think I have done so fairly, thoughtfully, prudently, and with a vision of what a better Westminster could be. For the last 30 years, Westminster has been a forward-looking community that steps up to face challenges — not ignore them. If I have played any positive role in this, it was time well spent.

I am proud to place my record before the voters and let them make a judgment. There are some other fine candidates on the ballot as well, and I would be happy to work with any of them. However, I will not sit by and let some partisan columnist from outside our community try to inject their personally vicious politics into our city without speaking out. Many people tell me that one of the charms of Carroll County’s municipal elections is that they are largely free of the constant partisanship that characterizes our national and state politics. Let’s not start now.

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