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In Hagerstown general election, old and new political eras collide

March 13, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

Tuesday was National Women's Day, and Hagerstown Democrats celebrated by elevating all three women on the City Hall primary ballot on to the May 17 general election.

Penny Nigh, Kelly Cromer, Alesia Parson - all in. Meanwhile, five guys finished out of the money. There are two women on the Republican side, meaning we could have an all-female council. How cool would that be?

Look, we men have had our crack at running things since the nation's birth, and frankly, we haven't done such a bang-up job.

Where two men did tangle - in the Republican mayoral primary - we are left with hard feelings all around. Former Mayor Bob Bruchey is incensed at the campaign run against him by political newcomer Dick Trump. Bruchey says Sen. Don Munson intervened on Trump's behalf after promising to stay neutral. And Bruchey was also understandably upset over an 11th hour mailing that pictured him shaking hands with Gov. Parris Glendening, with the caption "With friends like this, who needs enemies?"

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True, Glendening is a GOP hot button, but the governor had just given the city an $11 million gift of a downtown university campus. What would Trump himself have done in light of such largesse, spit in the governor's face?

Bruchey says he was the victim of dirty tricks. No question Trump played hardball, but that's not the same as dirty.

Several years ago, Bruchey publicly questioned Munson's worth in Annapolis, so he can't be surprised that the man with the legendary long memory got into the fray. As for the postcard, it's a regrettable part of politics, but hardly dirty. Bruchey did indeed cozy up to Glendening - and it paid off big for Hagerstown. If Republican voters believe you should let the downtown rot before you shake hands with the opposition, that's their call to make.

Funny, only in politics could the most significant improvement to the city in a half century be used against the candidate who brought it about.

Bruchey is already rumbling about a write-in campaign which, if nothing else, would allow him to get even with Trump since it could theoretically torpedo his fellow Republican's chances in the general election against Mayor Bill Breichner.

Moderate candidates who lose in a primary always hold out hope for general-election, write-in candidacies because they believe they will draw well from the other party. But they never work. In fact, they frequently ruin the candidate who tries.

Bruchey was a good mayor and, in the university, has a golden legacy. Running as a write-in out of bitterness would tarnish that legacy. Better he should keep his powder dry and his reputation in tact. Losing gracefully, no matter how much he and his followers believe he was wronged, would do more for his reputation and future prospects than taking everyone down in flames.

And, although Bruchey may not count this as a good reason, it would be unfair to Trump and city residents as well. Trump won, and he offers voters a clear choice from the policies of Breichner's administration. It would not be right to muddy that choice. After all, Bruchey's ideas about what's best for the city seem closer to Trump's than Breichner's.

Most notable, of course, is the hospital move, which Briechner doggedly opposes, but Trump and Bruchey do not.

If the hospital brass are sitting around trying to figure out what the primary means for them, I wish them luck. Councilman Linn Hendershot, a leading opponent of the move, didn't make the cut. But Nigh, who has had - oh, let's just call them "strained relations" - with the hospital was the top vote getter. Primary winners and incumbents Kristin Aleshire and Lew Metzner are not hospital rubber stamps, to put it mildly, and the other two primary winners, Cromer and Parson, say they are open minded.

Now comes the Republican slate of five, strongly pro-hospital candidates, to take on the Democrats. With Cromer and Parson willing to listen, the hospital could conceivably win its agenda if only one Republican gains office - but it needs three seats to be sure.

Trump, part of the pro-hospital slate, now faces a real test of his political skill, even if Bruchey does not get involved. The slate was able to use a club against Bruchey and get away with it because Bruchey is himself viewed as a tough cookie, able to withstand the abuse. But a full-scale, frontal attack against the kindly, grandfatheresque Breichner could backfire.

Or not. Trump's win may give the slate heart that it has the right formula, no matter who it faces.

What this boils down to is a rather fascinating fight between modern and old-school politics. The Republicans have money, aggressive advertising and professional operators. The Democrats have unions, friends-and-family networking and neighborhood clubs. The Republicans have science. The Democrats have instinct. The Republicans have proved that Hagerstown is ready for media messaging. The Democrats have proved that in Hagerstown unions still matter. Two political eras are about to clash, and the results are likely to be overwhelmingly inconclusive.

But incredibly fun to watch.

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