Kristin Harty Barkley
CUMBERLAND — By most accounts, the atmosphere at the downtown pedestrian mall has been improving over the past several months, and the three candidates running for Cumberland City Council have noticed.
David Caporale, John Cline and Nicole Wagoner, who are vying for two open council seats in the Nov. 6 election, are expected to sound off on a variety of topics during an Oct. 22 forum, co-sponsored by the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce.
But last week, they shared some thoughts with the Cumberland Times-News about problems downtown — including loitering, drug use, foul language and inappropriate behavior — that have been discussed by community leaders and residents recently in a number of well-attended forums.
Though she hasn’t attended any of the public meetings, Wagoner said that police patrols, which have increased significantly since July, have made a difference.
“If you walk downtown you’ll see it yourself,” said Wagoner, sales manager at Fairfield Inn & Suites. “ ... I’m very proud of what our police department is doing. But it goes beyond what the police can do.”
During the initial public forum in July, some suggested de-veloping a code of conduct to be posted at both ends of the mall, encouraging civil behavior.
Wagoner, who is vice president of the Downtown Cumberland Business Association, said she’s not sure that’s the answer.
“I don’t think we can make codes and rules and ordinances to fix everything,” Wagoner said. Rather, she believes that business owners and citizens, who are the “pulse of the community,” must “lead by example.”
“I don’t think it’s the government’s job to regulate everything,” Wagoner said.
Caporale said he thinks city officials should consider posting a code.
“I was actually going door-to-door in the past week or two, and a voter gave me a list that they have posted in Station Square in Pennsylvania — a code of conduct,” Caporale said. “It lists a lot of the issues we see here in our town. If it can work there, I don’t see how it couldn’t work here.”
Vice president of Caporale’s Italian Bakery near downtown, Caporale said that a number of his elderly customers have told him they don’t attend Friday After Five at the pedestrian mall anymore because of concerns about safety and civility.
“That’s not good for anyone,” Caporale said, adding that it’s a minority of individuals causing problems.
“I think the majority of people want to keep the mall safe,” he said. “ ... I know they’ve increased the patrols through there. I wouldn’t even be opposed to having someone walk through there with a dog once in a while. I think we have to protect our morals.”
Cline, a retired Cumberland firefighter, said that he is sometimes uncomfortable taking his grandchildren downtown — and he’s concerned that “probably 30 percent of the buildings are vacant.”
“I don’t like it for visitors coming in,” he said.
But, Cline said, “my personal feeling is we’ve got bigger problems than the people who are hanging around downtown.”
“Our economy is in the slump. People are losing jobs. ... Our senior citizens are hurting as far as the gas prices, food prices.”
Cline said he supports the city’s recently updated economic development plan, though he’d “like to see more reports at city council meetings.”
Asked to comment on a new report that shows Cumberland as No. 9 on a list of America’s poorest cities, Cline said: “Isn’t that sad?”
Using 2011 U.S. Census Bureau data, 24-7 Wall St. analyzed median household income, unemployment rate, and number of households below poverty line to create the Top 10 list. The report shows Cumberland’s median household income as $34,819 and unemployment at 8.2 percent. Median household income nationwide was $50,502 in 2011, the report shows.
Other towns on the Top 10 poorest list include Monroe, La., Hot Springs, Ark., Gadsden, Ala., and McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, which was No. 1.
“All of my children have actually moved out of town,” Cline said. “My two sons left the area to get higher paying jobs ... It’s unfortunate because we have such a great community here to raise a family in.”
Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at firstname.lastname@example.org.