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Bruchey II: Hitting the ground running?

November 30, 1999|By Bob Maginnis

The last time I spoke to Hagerstown Mayor Dick Trump was on a sweltering day at the city's Augustoberfest celebration. He introduced me to his wife, we exchanged pleasantries and as we crossed Potomac Street together he said, "It's going to be fine. Stick with me."

I thought about that when I heard the news that he had resigned. It was a surprise because things seemed to be going better with the council, the county government had taken over the contentious hospital issue and tax revenues were rising after a long period of stagnation as new investors discovered the city.

Now the former mayor has said he quit because of "irreconcilable differences" with the council, adding that he didn't believe that he was having "a positive impact at all with this council and the visions of planned growth."

What that means, I'm not sure. If Trump is now speaking in favor of planned growth, that's a change from his one-time stand, which seemed to be "let's approve the project, then figure out what roads and infrastructure we need to serve it."

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Here are a few thoughts on the change of leadership and what I believe it will mean:

When Trump entred the race, he should have known that he might not get a council that shared all of his views ? and that he might have to work to win them over. That would have been difficult, but in the words of Finley Peter Dunne, a Chicago Tribune writer who was contemporary of Mark Twain, "Politics ain't beanbag."

The current council will choose former Mayor Robert Bruchey II to replace Trump. They may grill him a bit just to demonstrate who is in charge, but the charter requires them to replace a Republican with a Republican. He's one GOP member who some council members know and the others will tend to trust because he's not part of the bunch that put together a slate to try to sweep them out of office.

If Bruchey is named, that would put the Greater Hagerstown Committee in a tough spot. Ruth Anne Callaham, wife of GHC Director Art Callaham, ran on the slate and Bruchey claimed that Callaham tried to talk him out of running. (Callaham denied that, saying he only told Bruchey he didn't believe the former mayor could win back his seat.)

If Bruchey becomes mayor again, Greater Hagerstown might have to choose between hoping for a change years down the road or changing its director now.

Bruchey can be feisty, although he has told me he's just passionate about the city. In 2000, when state Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, was seeking a study to reconsider the suitability of a downtown site for a new campus of the University System of Maryland, Bruchey criticized Munson at the annual State of City breakfast.

Bruchey said that to secure the campus, a plan is necessary. To make that plan a success, money is needed, Bruchey said.

"And to get the money you have to shut Munson up," said Bruchey.

The mayor got a big round of applause for that, but Munson was not amused and has not supported Bruchey since then. What that would mean for a city government headed by Bruchey is unclear now.

Sen. Munson may want to confer with Bruchey before he writes him off. When Bruchey told me the story of how Art Callaham allegedly tried to persuade him not to run, the former mayor said that Callaham told him that if he sat out the city race, money could be raised so Bruchey could run against Munson.

If Callaham said that, he probably knew that Munson would easily defeat Bruchey. But the senator treats every opponent as if he were running against Franklin D. Roosevelt and might not appreciate Callaham's "recruiting effort."

Bruchey is passionate about increasing city tax revenue, as those who fought his effort to locate a Wal-Mart on Edgewood Drive might remember. But the current council should temper any inclination to say "full speed ahead and to heck with the consequences." The council members, particularly Kristin Aleshire, a land-use planner by trade, know that every development triggers costs that developers won't necessarily pay.

Bruchey did have a good idea for improving the downtown business climate. Hire a recruiter, he said, and pay him or her strictly on commission. If the person didn't produce anything, they wouldn't get paid.

Downtown needs businesses that will provide foot traffic for restaurants and shops there, but there must be some incentives to get them to choose downtown over, let's say, Eastern Boulevard, or some other suburban site. Someone whose paycheck depended on putting more bodies downtown would be eager to find such incentives.

The son of a city police officer, Bruchey is a strong backer of that department. He would push hard for an a fully-staffed police department and for a central booking center that would put arresting officers back on the street sooner.

On the hospital issue, Bruchey said in a mayoral forum last May that a move to Robinwood was up to the Maryland Health Care Commission. But he also said Hagerstown citizens shouldn't pay for Robinwood area road improvements.

Since the resignation was announced, several people have told me that that "this gives the newspaper something to write about." Personally, I would rather write about a success story about a local man or woman who has that combination of leadership, intelligence and interpersonal skills that being an accomplished great elected official requires.

Over more than 20 years, watching local government has been like scouting each year's crop of Little Leaguers and hoping one of them will emerge as a great player. I've seen many good elected officials, but few I'd classify as great. And, unlike errors in a ball game, local government's failures are not something to chuckle about, but losses we all share.

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