Mayor, critics to face off at B-L ballot box

The Nov. 3 ballot in Batesburg-Leesville is a showdown between Mayor James Wiszowaty and two political foes.

Town Councilman Steve Cain is running against Wiszowaty, while Pansy Buzhardt is seeking to oust one of the mayor's allies from Town Council.

Cain's and Buzhardt's challenges to Town Hall focus lately on a plan, which Wiszowaty favors, to build a regional water plant on Lake Murray.

Their persistent complaints are bringing the western Lexington County town of 6,000 the wrong kind of attention, Wiszowaty said.

"I always thought whatever publicity we could get for the town was good," the mayor said. "Now I get lots of questions about what's going on. It could become a black eye for us."

Cain and Buzhardt say questions never get answered to their satisfaction.

Their styles of attack are different.

During four years as a council member, Cain rapped police, firefighters and town staffers, fought a crackdown on abandoned homes and railed against the lack of salaries and expense accounts for town leaders.

Those differences erupted into shouting matches, angry e-mails with other town leaders and even a misdemeanor assault charge after a confrontation with another council member - a charge which a magistrate's court jury found him not guilty of Oct. 12.

But state ethics officials rejected Cain's contention that Wiszowaty is acting out of self-interest in the regional water plant project.

Wiszowaty owns a convenience store in the area where Cain says development could ensue.

Cain also is attacking a Web site critical of him and Buzhardt as part of "an escalation in cyber-bullying and hate activities in our community."

He and Buzhardt regularly assail extra fees on new homes and businesses to pay for water and sewer improvements, often using public forums to lobby for repeal.

Buzhardt, a real estate broker, said the move discourages development such as a neighborhood she was unable to start.

She wants to halt the water project and repeal the fees. "We've got to deal with this foolishness one by one," she said.

Mark DeLoach, the council incumbent who faces her in a district on the west side of town, said both steps are vital in upgrading utility service to lure jobs.

If Cain becomes mayor, he wants to put the partnership with Saluda County for the water plant on the lake on hold while other options are studied.

But Wiszowaty says the lake deal is the best among possibilities explored, including some Cain suggests.

The project means a utility rate increase for homeowners of up to 28 percent spread over three years. The new plant would replace a pond that sometimes produces foul-tasting water.

County Councilman Billy Derrick,who lives near the town, said plans other than the lake project are "pie-in-the-sky" ideas.

The election is a two-way race for Cain.

Besides running for mayor, he is seeking re-election to his current council seat representing the southwest corner of town. He faces an organized write-in challenge from longtime teacher and athletic coach John Burgess.

Cain can only hold one post if he wins both.

Burgess said he is offering voters a choice after other would-be candidates didn't materialize.

"I don't have a close relationship with anybody (at Town Hall)," Burgess said, saying he is running out of a sense of public service.

If Cain becomes mayor and Buzhardt wins, the pair will be at odds with a majority of the nine-member council.

But the duo will be in position to better influence decisions.

Past conflicts will fade, Cain said. "After the election, we start off with a clean slate."

Wiszowaty, mayor since 2001, is seeking a significant victory at the polls to suggest Cain and Buzhardt are extremists.

He approaches the ballot with a lopsided advantage in endorsements and fundraising but says those don't guarantee success.

"You can't take anything for granted in politics," Wiszowaty said.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC