Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Calling New Market’s leaders ‘chumps’ was wrong, Hagen says

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Name-calling is no way to encourage a healthy debate about a community’s future. That’s the stance of New Market Mayor Winslow Burhans III and Councilwoman Rita Mueller after Frederick Commissioner Kai J. Hagen (D) called the town’s leaders ‘‘chumps” while talking on Monday near a microphone he did not know was live.

Burhans, Mueller and New Market businessman Ben Madrid attended a commissioners’ workshop Monday to discuss the possibility of a bypass around the town to alleviate traffic.

They arrived at Winchester Hall a few minutes before the meeting, and each said they heard Hagen speaking with Ballard ‘‘Jim” Jamieson of the Friends of Frederick County near a microphone he did not know was live.

Each said they heard Hagen make a statement to the effect of, ‘‘Well, if they would get rid of those chumps in New Market, they would be a lot better off.”

Hagen admitted Wednesday to making the statement, or one to that effect.

He said conflicts with town officials over development in the last two years have frustrated him. He said he made the statement in an unguarded moment, and that it was ‘‘an ill-advised statement made off the cuff in what I thought was in private.”

‘‘It hasn’t been easy to work with them,” he said. ‘‘The mayor has been determined to do whatever it takes to get a New Market bypass for years. ... He has been willing to support massive amounts of development around New Market if that’s what it took.”

Burhans, for his part, said he was set on getting a bypass around town, because he said it would be the only way to reduce traffic. He said he has tried to work with the county commissioners to find a solution to this problem, and was upset that Hagen would call him and other elected leaders names.

‘‘I always felt like the town has demonstrated a lot of respect for the county. I’ve never stooped as low as name-calling somebody,” Burhans said. ‘‘I don’t know how to deal with that kind of mentality.”

Whatever Hagen’s reasoning, town leaders said his comments were uncalled for.

Mueller said she still hoped to be able to work with the county commissioners, but this remark damaged that relationship. ‘‘It’s not something you say. ... It disappoints me that a person goes down that low and calls people chumps,” she said.

Though Hagen said that this was the first public comment he has made that he regretted, he stands by his sentiment.

‘‘I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same folks that voted against the referendum chose new leadership in the town next year, and elect people who have a different perspective on the issues ... but that will be up to them,” he said.