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Race relations, pandemic and mayoral term highlight Havre de Grace City Council candidate forum

A candidate forum was held Tuesday night for the four people running for three seats on the Havre de Grace City Council in the June 23 election.
A candidate forum was held Tuesday night for the four people running for three seats on the Havre de Grace City Council in the June 23 election. (Screenshot from City of Havre de Grace YouTube page)

The four people running in this year’s race for Havre de Grace City Council faced questions during a candidate forum Tuesday on a host of matters that have been issues for city leadership and residents over the years, such as infrastructure maintenance, environmental protection, economic development and the pending closure of Harford Memorial Hospital.

Historic issues sweeping the nation as well as the globe in 2020, such as race relations, policing and the COVID-19 pandemic, have hit home in Havre de Grace, too, and those issues became pertinent topics of discussion during the two-hour forum.

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Incumbent Council President David Glenn, incumbent council members Casi Boyer and James Ringsaker, plus challenger Richard Wehner Sr. participated in the forum, which was held in City Hall and shown live online via the city’s YouTube channel. It was hosted by the Ontario-Otsego Positive Action Committee, and OPAC President Dr. David Jaffe served as moderator — his wife, Brenda, was the time keeper.

Jaffee asked the candidates questions that had been submitted to OPAC by local residents.

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The election is scheduled for Tuesday, June 23, after being postponed from early May because of state restrictions in place at the time to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. State restrictions have since been relaxed.

The election will be held in City Hall at 711 Pennington Ave., and the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters can choose their top three candidates for the three seats on the six-member City Council

They will also be asked to vote either for or against a charter amendment extending the mayor’s term from two to three years. A sample ballot, along with additional details about the election, is available on the city website.

The video of the full candidate forum is available on the city website or at the City of Havre de Grace YouTube channel.

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Tuesday’s candidate forum happened just two days after about 200 people gathered in front of City Hall and the police station for a protest in support of Black Lives Matter. Similar protests, all of which have been peaceful, happened throughout Harford County all last week as people expressed their outrage about the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, and called for changes in police-community relations at the local level.

“What happened to Mr. Floyd was a horrible, deplorable disgusting act by a corrupt officer and should never happen to any human being,” Ringsaker said.

Floyd, 46, died after former Officer Derek Chauvin restrained a handcuffed Floyd by holding his knee on the victim’s neck for nearly nine minutes, despite Floyd’s cries that he could not breathe and shouts from bystanders to remove his knee.

“In Havre de Grace, our officers don’t use that technique — they’re trained not to use that technique,” Ringsaker said.

He was responding to a citizen’s question posed by Jaffe, in which the person discussed how the murder of Floyd “has opened up wounds and exposed raw issues of inequity around the nation, and not just in policing.” The candidates were asked about the issues of concern they hear about from residents in terms of education, housing and health care equity.

Glenn talked about how he has developed “an extended family” of more than 1,000 people with whom he has worked in his more than 30 years as a youth sports coach.

“In coaching those young men and women, color was never an issue for me,” he said. “It’s all about coaching kids all the same and respecting one another.”

Glenn has been on the council since 2012 and been a forceful advocate — along with many other city leaders and members of the new community — to build a replacement facility for the aging Havre de Grace High School and Havre de Grace Middle School. The state and local governments have provided the funding and the combined middle and high school is on track to open for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

“This council went to bat for a new school, a replacement school — for all kids, to give them opportunities that they weren’t getting in the current arrangement,” Glenn said.

He also praised how the city has funded placing school resource officers from the city police department in all four Havre de Grace schools.

“To see the interaction with the school resource officers with our kids on a daily basis in the school system, shows that it’s working,” Glenn said. “It’s a great interaction; does that mean that we can get complacent, absolutely not.”

Boyer, who also has been an advocate for a new school, said she has heard many residents “talk a lot about futures or opportunities for their kids.”

“What I hear throughout [the community] is a lot of concern in regards to the hospital,” she said. “I am very concerned that we’re losing acute care capabilities.”

University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health received state approval this spring to move ahead with its plan to consolidate hospital services in Harford County by closing Harford Memorial, opening a free-standing medical center with an adjacent special psychiatric hospital in Aberdeen in its place, and shifting the medical and surgical beds in Havre de Grace to an expanded Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.

Upper Chesapeake Health officials have said Harford Memorial will remain open while the Aberdeen medical facility is under construction. That facility is expected to open in two-and-a-half to three years.

“The void that’s left there [by closing Harford Memorial] is the void that is the same of most rural communities and that is the lack of primary care, and we don’t have access to good primary care in Havre de Grace,” Boyer said.

“What we need is to get creative and look for ways to encourage more primary care in Havre de Grace,” she added.

Wehner said he has heard people talk about “pay disparities” as an issue of concern.

“From what I have seen of the Floyd incident — pretty much what everybody else has seen by video — that it appears that a wrong happened and that there is a legitimate complaint,” he said, noting that he is “at a loss” as to how Floyd’s death translates into other issues affecting society.

Jaffe said the video of the candidate forum will be online through the election, and he encouraged people to watch it. He also urged people to vote on June 23.

“Voting is the major power that we all have in this democracy, and it is our power at the local level, at the state level and at the national level,” he said. “And, there is nothing more important that any of us can do, than exercising our right to vote.”

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