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A thankful ending to a marriage not made anywhere near heaven

November 30, 1999|By Tim Rowland

Decades hence, Dick Trump will best be remembered as the answer to this Hagerstown trivia question: What mayor's greatest achievement while in office was to leave it?

That's not necessarily faint praise. Plenty of politicians who have made poor public servants will go decades without figuring it out.

But from the day Trump unveiled his sophomoric campaign slogan a year ago (Git 'er done) you knew this had the potential to be a train wreck. Trump ran on a slate with five decent Republican candidates who by campaign's end appeared to be doing their best to distance themselves from Trump ? particularly after Trump alienated well-respected former mayor Bob Bruchey in the Republican primary.

Ironically, it was Bruchey's anger at Trump's attacks that prompted him to initiate a write-in candidacy after he narrowly lost to Trump in the primary. And Bruchey's candidacy split votes between himself and incumbent Mayor Bill Breichner ? propelling Trump into office.

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Today, Bruchey says he'd be "honored" if the council picked him as Trump's replacement, which it might. This is a double helping of irony that it would be a shame to pass up. Bruchey effectively handed the office of mayor to Trump, and now Trump may have effectively handed it to Bruchey.

Trump blamed irreconcilable differences for the resignation, the same empty, get-it-over-with phrase you use on divorce papers even though there's always so much more to it than that.

No doubt poor relations were part of it, though. Trump never seemed comfortable as a campaigner and he never seemed comfortable in office. He split his time either scrapping angrily with council members or quietly hunched behind a microphone that all of a sudden seemed way too big, staring with owl eyes out at a scene that was entirely beyond his control.

The pity is that Trump's ideas and visions were often good ones. But by the mere fact that he would suggest something, the council was disinclined to act upon it. So the council cannot walk away blameless in this whole mess either. A majority of council members were determined from Day 1 to make Trump's life miserable.

Council members expressed shock this week, saying they thought relations had improved. No, badgering a man into permanently shutting his pie hole does not fit the dictionary definition of improved relations.

Trump might even have been an asset to this council. Instead of searching for ways to make an idea work, this is a council that searches for reasons why an idea won't work. It's cautious, small-picture and detail oriented. Trump possessed the progressive, big-picture pro-business mentality that the city needs right now. But his agenda always took a back seat to messes of his own creation, mostly involving a hot temper, lack of patience and an aborted attempt to do city business behind the council's back.

And beyond the council, Trump made a bad spokesman for good ideas. If a cat has nine lives, Trump had nine feet and he was all the time shooting one of them off. His public performances were often awkward at best, embarrassing at worst. People with business dealings downtown had to walk a fine line between not alienating the mayor, but not being too closely associated with him, either.

But Trump's worst enemy might have been the 21st Century, the same enemy, not coincidentally, that is so often battled by Hagerstown itself. Trump might have been a splendid mayor pre-1960, when a pol could rule with an iron fist and a hot temper in private, show a beaming, benevolent face in public and wisecrack with the boys in the back room about the little ladies in the kitchen.

A council with a majority of women is a welcome byproduct of a modern age, but Trump either didn't like the idea of strong females, or he tried to like it and couldn't. Almost from the beginning, councilwomen were complaining of disrespect and inappropriate comments.

Trump frequently appeared as if he'd just been beamed in fresh from the 1940s. He'd make a comment or tell a joke tailored for a room filled with cigar smoke and muttonchops, then seem to be baffled when, instead of guffaws, he was greeted with looks of horror.

He seemed equally puzzled and angry when his edicts were not followed or his decisions were questioned. He blamed his many problems on ye olde muckrakers in the press.

So began the snowball. When people don't do as you say and when the challenges are bigger than you are, stresses take over that magnify every personality flaw and accentuate every shortcoming. These flaws give your adversaries all the more reason for defiance, significantly worsening the stresses you weren't equipped to deal with in the first place.

During the campaign, Bruchey and Trump were not all that far apart on the issues. Both of them like to think big. Both have tempers. But Bruchey came into office understanding that he didn't know everything. For most of a year, he attended meetings and said nothing, to the point some of us were wondering if we had elected a sphinx. But when he finally did open his mouth, he knew what he was talking about and he knew the personalities he was dealing with. Bruchey went from car salesman to co-architect of the splendid university campus downtown.

And now, as of this writing, he's the leading candidate as Trump's replacement, proving once again the power of listening and the power of patience. With skill, Trump might have made Bruchey an ally, not an adversary. But it was a skill the ex-mayor didn't have, that being, the ability to make friends faster than he made enemies.

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