Despite the absence of a galvanizing issue, Taneytown faces one of its busiest elections Monday with 10 candidates vying for three council seats.
"It's as much a surprise to me as anyone else," said Mayor Henry Heine, whose job isn't up in this year's race. "There's no rhyme nor reason to it, no burning issue to pull all these people in."
Traditional political wisdom says that in times of calm, incumbents win elections. But incumbents James L. McCarron, Jacquelyn J. Boisvert and James A. Wieprecht face a candidate, William Robert Flickinger, who has more experience than any of them. Flickinger served on the council for 20 years and was mayor for six years. In 1999, after announcing his retirement as mayor, Flickinger got within 22 write-in votes of beating Heine, who ran unopposed.
"If I would have got out there and campaigned, I would've whooped him good," Flickinger said after the 1999 election. "But I didn't go out there because I wasn't that much interested."
City residents haven't left him alone since, he said.
"They keep telling me to run, and I still have the town in my heart," said Flickinger, 68, a retired Random House employee who has lived in Taneytown about 45 years.
Most of the candidates say continued development along Taneytown's main corridor should remain the council's chief goal.
"Main Street revitalization is something we've been working on ever since I've been on this council," said McCarron, Taneytown's mayor pro tem and a councilman since 1983. "I would like to see it through to the end."
A district manager for Southern States Cooperative for more than 30 years, McCarron, 53, also says he wants to keep monitoring construction of a police station, renovation of City Hall and the creation of a nature park. He says he sees downtown becoming a bustling area with small shops and easy access to parking and hopes the opening of a coffeehouse at Baltimore and Frederick streets foretells future development. Boisvert shares that vision.
"We have a lot of momentum going on in Taneytown, and I want to keep that going," said the 54-year-old bookkeeper at Taneytown Video, who has spent most of her life in the town. Boisvert has served two years on her current council term and also served six years on previous terms.
"We need to keep expanding the industrial base, because that helps keep property taxes down," she said, stating a theme other candidates echoed.
But, some cautioned, the city should control growth and guard its small-town feel.
Taneytown shouldn't become Westminster, Finksburg or anyplace other than itself, said Sharon "Sharri" Woodrum, a stay-at-home mother.
"What Taneytown is is a nice small town," said Woodrum, 30, a town resident since 1973. "We need to grow, but I want us to control what we're doing and choose the businesses we want here. I want to preserve the character that we have."
Wieprecht, 38, agreed that Taneytown cannot sacrifice its ambience to growth. A project analyst for T. Rowe Price, he has lived in town since 1990 and says he ran for council four years ago because, after attending a few meetings, he thought it seemed "kind of neat."
"I really like being involved," he said. "It feels good having a say."
Thomas J. LeQuire, a 35-year-old manager at Utz Quality Foods and a Taneytown resident since 1990, says he sees himself as "the voice of the people." He would like to see revitalization of Taneytown's downtown move a little faster, saying, "I'd like for us to get a plan, stick to it and move on."
Flickinger says he is not displeased with the job incumbents have done but says Taneytown could use a motel and a family restaurant.
The incumbents and some new candidates seem to disagree on an issue - the amount of activities available to teen-age residents.
"We have to find things for kids to do - because right now, they have to go to Westminster, which is 12 miles away, or do nothing," said candidate Charles Poole.
Poole, 32, has lived in town three years and said he worries that his 13-year-old daughter and her peers loiter for lack of anything better to do.
The city supports an activity center called the Gathering Place and numerous youth sports leagues, but the center doesn't offer enough for older kids, and sports aren't for everyone, Poole and others say.
"I'm not against sports activities, but not all kids are sports-oriented," said candidate Susan Reifsnider, who helped found the Gathering Place.
Reifsnider, 34, has lived in Taneytown 27 years and works for the county school system. The town could provide more activities for its youth, she said.
"We really need to work together in that direction and get more of the town's older citizens involved in these activities," she said.
The town has poured more money into the Gathering Place without seeing a proportionate rise in patronage, Heine countered. If Taneytown can support a larger community center, it must show it, he said. In 2003, the city will gain access to county funds that will help it add a skateboard park.
"I think we can stand to improve the activities for youth some, but we have a real good parks system, and we've increased funding for youth programs," Wieprecht said. "There's a lot more to the city than stuff to do for teen-agers."
The way candidate Lewis F. Wood sees it, Taneytown's teen-agers have plenty to do if they choose. "We have the library, parks, tennis, swimming, basketball," said Wood, 45. "No matter what you do with youth, they're going to find a place to hang out. I don't see anything wrong with that. I think they need that time."
Wood, a lab technician at Knorr Brake Corp., moved to Taneytown from Union Bridge in 1996.
Some candidates said Heine's plan to conduct background checks for all the town's youth-league coaches has been an issue, but all except Poole said they support the plan. Candidate Donald E. Crawford Jr. personally paid the $40 cost of a background check for a coach.
"Like anything else, our children need responsible citizens to guide them," said Crawford, 50, who works as the chief engineer for a video post-production facility.
He's lived in Taneytown on and off since 1978 and said he's running, because "I want to see this town grow. I want to help it grow."