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And then there were five: City interviews candidates for vacant 1st Ward seat

The 1st Ward seat that Patrick Hathaway never got to occupy was a big presence in the chambers of Morgantown City Council on Tuesday night.

Hathaway ran unopposed on April’s ballot, but a job opportunity for his wife in Illinois before he took the oath of office required his relocation out of state.

In a special session before Tuesday’s regular meeting, councilors spent close to two hours interviewing five possible replacements.

Council opted to take applications, conduct interviews and appoint a replacement, rather than holding a special election at taxpayer expense.

Mayor Jenny Selin said council will vote to appoint Hathaway’s replacement when it next meets July 27.

Seth Collins, Jenny Thoma, Michael Bradley, G. Darren Taylor and M. Joe Abu-Ghannam are all seeking that seat.

The five fielded questions on subjects ranging from diversity to homelessness and recreation.

The student

Collins is a Morgantown native pursuing a graduate degree in public administration from WVU.

His daily walk to class during his undergraduate days on the Morgantown campus took him by the now-shuttered Warner Theater, which was an art deco showplace for first-run movies.

He was part of a group that wanted to purchase and restore the Warner. While that venture fell through, he still believes urban revitalization can take a starring role here.

“I want to see downtown thriving,” said Collins, who is constantly canvassing business owners and townspeople, asking them how they’d like to recast the University City in the future.

He wants to stay in his hometown and home state, and he wants to work for opportunities so his WVU classmates will too.

The attorney

It didn’t take long for the verdict to come in for Thoma.

She came to Morgantown for college 13 years ago — and promptly fell in love with the place.

Thoma is a research and writing attorney in the Federal Public Defender office of the North District of West Virginia.

She’s also a homeowner in the 1st Ward who loves her neighborhood and wants to work for that segment of the city’s population that doesn’t live under a permanent roof due to poverty and other circumstances.

“I’d like to do what I can,” she said, “on a local level.”

The reporter

Bradley, a retired journalist whose career took him from WAJR-AM in Morgantown to ABC News in Manhattan, came back home to the 1st Ward after 30 years to care for his elderly parents.

The once-and-former Gotham-dweller knows all about big-city traffic and how it’s present, in microcosm, in Morgantown.

As a council representative, he’d give some thought to reconfiguring some Morgantown streets from two-way to one-way, to alleviate gridlock.

Mainly though, he said, he’ll do what reporters do: He’ll ask questions, listen and learn. Even if it gets contentious.

“After a while, the rough edges get worn down,” he said.

The advertising man

Taylor would also bring his resume with him — he’s an account executive with a local cable provider who has long made a pitch for quality of life in his hometown.

He would work, he said, to sell people on the idea that city government, and entities such as police, are there to serve the citizens.

“I feel like we’re all connected because Morgantown is a small town,” said Taylor, who is married with young children.

As a salesman, he said, he’s long gotten with the art of pragmatism, a staple of politics on all levels.

“It’s not going to be rainbows and sunshine all the time,” he said, “but you can work out a


The teacher

Abu-Ghannam is a teacher at Morgantown High School, but like most public educators, his day doesn’t end at the ringing of the dismissal bell.

He coaches wrestling and has long worked with at-risk kids in the district.

When it snows, he shovels the sidewalks and driveways of his 1st Ward neighbors, some of whom are wheelchair users.

He would treat his council seat, he said, just like the one behind his desk in the classroom: That is, he would use it to bolster people and help add to their quality of life, riffing on his outreach for students from households not as prosperous as others on the block.

“In the school setting, it’s hard to remain calm when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from,” he said.

And the (other) seats keep right on coming

In the meantime, Selin said the city is looking for citizen representation on several municipal boards, from health and wellness concerns to historical landmarks.

“It’s a great way to get involved,” she said. “You can see city government up close.”

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