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In this election, it's good to be boring

May 17, 2009

o If you like reading Tim Rowland, you'll love watching him. See what else Tim has to say

In Hagerstown election circles, 2009 may be remembered as the year that the primary was more important than the general. Who wins on Tuesday? Who cares? Assuming no write-in surprises, the triumvirate of incumbents who provided us with the greatest cringe factor over the past four years were summarily dispatched by the electorate in March.

Public tantrums, unprofessional behavior, the browbeating of staff and people with business before the council, and/or minor brushes with the law will do that to a political career.

After years of watching the florid spectacle unfold through televised council meetings, city residents are hungry for calm, dull and boring. What a great year to be Bill Breichner: Competent and colorless, that's all we ask.

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Don't do anything to get us on Washington or Baltimore news broadcasts, or ESPN. Don't treat developers as if they are Guantanamo detainees and you are Dick Cheney. Keep in mind that, from time to time, a closed mouth can be an asset.

Primary voters were also unwilling to assign blame equally: Incumbent council members Lew Metzner, Marty Brubaker and Mayor Bob Bruchey lived to fight another day, largely because they resembled Captain Sulley bringing a crippled jet down into the Hudson. It wasn't pretty, but there was no loss of life.

And, while this may have been a dysfunctional council, it was not necessarily a failed council. Many projects lagged and some developers gave up on the city altogether, to be sure. But this council did preside over a new parking deck, ongoing renovations downtown by private developers, the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts and widened sidewalks that allow outdoor dining on Potomac Street. Because of the council or in spite of the council, the city did move forward.

With the council situation cleared up for the most part, the race for mayor looks to hold the most drama. Bruchey has been criticized in some circles for gavel paralysis - failing to keep the council in line on the frequent occasions when it turned into a zoo.

It is true there were times that he looked like a tired boxing referee who was too timid to step in and stop a fight when one contestant was getting pummeled. Perhaps he could have run a tighter ship. But perhaps he didn't want to.

I can't recall a time that Bruchey, for better or worse, didn't know exactly what he was doing. So I seriously doubt that his hands-off approach toward unruly council members was facilitated by his appreciation for high-volume yak.

Keep in mind, Bruchey is running on two different records: That of his high-flying first term, when he landed the university campus downtown, and that of his second when, well, you know.

During his first term, Bruchey was confident and swashbuckling; this time around, he's been more testy and defensive. Considering the circumstances, that's understandable. This has been no easy ride.

When Bruchey was appointed to finish out the brief and bewildering term of Dick Trump, the council was already showing signs of becoming unglued. For three years, Bruchey has used duct tape and bailing twine to keep the wheels from falling off.

For help - or at least rationality - he had Metzner and Brubaker, and before Brubaker, Kristin Aleshire. That still left Bruchey a vote short of a council majority.

You don't have to be Dale Carnegie to figure out that if you publicly discipline or otherwise scold a council member, you can probably forget about getting that council member's vote ever again. Bruchey could have run the council with an iron fist - and all it would have cost him were the initiatives he wanted to move the city forward.

But there was one more long-term advantage to, as Bruchey euphemistically put it, allowing council members their right so speak. Or shout. Or whatever.

Intended or not, the phrase, "Give 'em enough rope ..." comes to mind. The three incumbents who lost, lost mainly because an increasingly horrified city audience could listen to their every tirade on cable television. By lying back, Bruchey effectively (and rightly, I would argue) allowed the voters to see their elected representatives' true colors.

And the results became clear in March.

For results, Bruchey's first term has bested his second. But, as they say in baseball, given what he has had to work with, his second term may have been the best managerial job he's ever done.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video at www.herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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