A week ago at a government convention near Baltimore, Michael L. Gudis, the newly elected president of the Montgomery County Council, buttonholed County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist in an attempt to "heal the wounds" caused by two years of personal and political feuds between Gilchrist and the majority faction that has controlled the council, Gudis said.
Conversation over a cup of coffee may have produced a truce of sorts, but it was one as short-lived as the chat itself. Less than a week later, in his first news conference as council president, Gudis denounced Gilchrist and a top aide as "forces" who were trying to turn a relatively minor squabble over the local ethics commission into a "racial issue."
Gudis, one of three council members who had rejected Gilchrist's appointment of the first black candidate for the ethics board, said it was "unacceptable and irresponsible" for Gilchrist aide Odessa M. Shannon to send a letter to black organizations criticizing the rejection.
Shannon's Dec. 6 letter pointing out that the council had rejected a black person marked "a low point on the county's otherwise impressive road to interracial progress," Gudis said.
For observers, the dispute this week was an echo of earlier battles between Gilchrist and council presidents Esther P. Gelman and David L. Scull, both longtime friends and political allies of Gudis.
But this most recent tempest was noteworthy for two reasons: It happened so soon after Gudis' installation as the council's 35th president, and it may have soured his relationship with Gilchrist already.
". . . It was certainly contrary to the way I wanted to do things," Gudis said after the news conference. "I was not happy doing what I had to do. . . . But I didn't think I had any choice."
No one familiar with seven healthy egos on the council and Gilchrist's relish for the executive's job expects a permanent honeymoon between Gudis and Gilchrist. But staging a news conference to excoriate the county executive marks a dramatic departure from Gudis' customary style as a council member.
In his six years on the council, the Burtonsville resident generally has shied away from the limelight. By his own reckoning, Gudis' major accomplishment since 1978 has been the founding of Sensitivity Awareness Day, an annual symposium to combat bigotry. It is a program he believes will be emulated throughout the region.
Today, however, at age 48, Gudis finds himself head of what is, in effect, the local legislature of one of the most affluent jurisdictions in the country, one known for setting trends in government and education. It is an unlikely role for the mild-mannered, pipe-smoking Brooklyn native, who says he "does things behind the scenes rather than coming out front."
"I don't get my kicks out of confrontation," he said, but now "I have a responsibility as council president to protect -- to at least defend -- the council. I would much rather be a nice guy and get things done. But if I'm put up against a wall . . . I'm going to fight."
As council president, Gudis, a Montgomery resident for 24 years -- and a wealthy tax accountant who will give up his business for the coming year -- will earn $40,060 annually and oversee a staff of 46.
Some local Democrats believe it is unlikely that relations between Gilchrist and the council will reach the low ebb of this year, when Gilchrist sued the Gelman-run council over a $1.5 million budget appropriation. Gilchrist and his aides insist that the dispute over the ethics commission does not necessarily presage an era of bad feeling.
Gudis, meanwhile, said his goal is to "resolve the kind of petty issues that have been coming up in the past couple of years and really sit down . . . and get some things done."