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Can Trump and his backers resist temptation?

April 20, 2005|by BOB MAGINNIS

Political columns, at least the ones I write, turn out better when I use the Mount St. Helens method. For a time I do research and think about the issue, while the ideas heat up like a lava flow trying to find its way to the surface.

Then, as deadline approaches, the column erupts. And while it still may need editing, the outline of what I want is fully formed, like a boulder coughed out of a fiery hole in the earth.

Not so with this column on the Hagerstown mayor's race. This is my fourth rewrite, usually a sign that I need to think more about the subject, or give it up altogether.

But that's no option now. Despite the fact that Hagerstown has a "weak mayor" system, in which the city's chief executive doesn't have a vote - or much administrative power - the post is important.

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Think about how past mayors -Pat Paddack, Don Frush and Steve Sager, to name a few - shaped city government during their terms.

This year's contenders for that post are Republicans Richard Trump and Robert Bruchey and Democratic incumbent William Breichner. So far, no one is setting the campaign trail on fire.

Trump is the newest flavor in this political pop stand, pledging to approach issues with an open mind. There might be disagreements between officials, he said, but after the issue is resolved "we will continue to honor and respect each other for our perspectives."

Trump promised to listen to all sides before talking and respect all points of view. That's why the last-minute tactics of his supporters in the city primary came as such a surprise.

They sent out - unbeknownst to him, Trump said - a postcard showing Bruchey shaking hands with former Gov. Parris Glendening, no favorite of Republicans. What the card didn't say was that the governor was in town to seal the deal for the new downtown campus of the University System of Maryland.

Instead of disavowing the postcard, Trump said it represented the truth. Bruchey was upset and launched a write-in campaign.

Even if you believe that this was just political hardball, it's hard to dispute that Trump has made an enemy who might have been an ally. And, having beaten Bruchey by fewer than 100 votes, a split in the party ranks is not what Trump needed.

In the first few versions of this column, I tried to split my criticism of the contenders equally. For example, Bruchey has a talent, so to speak, for making remarks that come back to hurt him.

Witness Bruchey's recent reference to Trump's stutter on his Web site. The reference played on Trump's joke that he only stutters when he lies, but it boomeranged.

And Bruchey is still paying for the remark he made about state Sen. Don Munson at the 2000 State of the City event.

To get money for the downtown University System of Maryland campus site, Bruchey told the crowd, "you have to shut Munson up." The remark drew applause, but Munson never forgot it and worked against Bruchey in the city primary.

Breichner's problem hasn't been that he's too assertive or quick to anger. Quite the opposite. Too often he seems content to let councilmembers ramble on, trashing people on or off the agenda.

Given what the city pays in health-care costs for its employees, inquiries into the Washington County Hospital's proposed move to Robinwood were legitimate. Breichner made it personal, however.

When given a chance to get some concessions for dropping opposition to the move, he allowed the council to assemble a laundry list of items, some of which had nothing to do with the project.

But both Bruchey and Breichner have a record of service to the city, Breichner for most of his working life. Trump does not and therefore has something more to prove.

That does not mean he could not make a good mayor, but his actions so far - or those he's allowed to be taken on his behalf without protest - show me that he may not understand that if the final leg of the campaign is a scorched-earth effort to win at any cost, his administration will begin with a handicap.

Why? Because Bruchey, Breichner and their supporters won't go away quietly if they feel their guys were treated unfairly. Like Munson, they will remember and could nit-pick Trump's every move.

Whatever you think about Bruchey and Breichner, they know many people, some of whom could help Trump if they're so inclined.

Here's my suggestion to Trump and company: Resist the temptation to use the thousands of dollars accumulated on more postcard-type tricks. Run on the issues and treat opponents as if they'll be your next-door neighbors after the election.

Then pledge to donate what's left of the war chest to a scholarship fund for the University System of Maryland's downtown campus.

If you win, it will be easier to govern. If you don't, you won't have any regrets about the campaign you ran.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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