The elections were over and so were five exhilarating and exasperating years for Takoma Park. Sammie A. Abbott, the 77-year-old activist, organizer and cantankerous mayor who had come to personify this small, unusual Maryland city, was voted out of office and a 34-year-old lawyer prepared to take his place.
Stephen DelGiudice, the new mayor come Nov. 18, promised to spend more time with problems like traffic and less time with issues like nuclear arms that consumed his predecessor and gave this city more publicity than its 16,500 citizens might otherwise have enjoyed.
Citizens around town yesterday disagreed on whether this was good or bad -- but there was no dispute that the city will be different without Abbott.
Abbott supporters Travis and Jeanne Price, who run a solar architecture business, were having lunch on a balcony of their offices. Without Abbott, Takoma Park "is an empty shell now," Travis Price said. He said the election pitted the "flower children versus the flower box children," and the flower box children won.
"Sam really led the fight on international issues," Jeanne Price said. "It's going to become much more introspective now."
It was "the abuse factor" that defeated Abbott, many political activists said. Dolores Milmoe stood up at a candidates' debate a week ago and demanded of Abbott: "If you call yourself a man of peace, why aren't you a man of peace in your own community?" The question was greeted with loud applause.
Abbott's defeat "feels like a tremendous weight off our collective backs," Milmoe said yesterday. If you crossed Abbott, she said, "he would call you names, he would make jokes about you, he would denigrate you. Who wants to put up with that?"
The victor, DelGiudice (pronounced Del-JU-diss) said his first priorities will be to develop a sound financial plan for the city, tackle traffic problems and the revitalization of the Takoma Junction business area, and attempt to bring Takoma Park, which now straddles the boundary between Montgomery and Prince George's County, into Montgomery.
But the defeat of Abbott won't mean the end of the city's spirited activism, he said. "Our community is one of activists," he said. "Sam is one of them, but there are many of us -- myself included -- who will remain active.
"As mayor, I may not place as high a priority as Sam on some of these issues, not offically, but as a citizen I will work with fellow citizens to do what is possible."
This is the man the city needs, William E. Strum said yesterday at his graphics business on Carroll Avenue "You have a person who is a problem solver, not a problem maker," he declared.
" . . . With Sam Abbott as public official, the city has been polariazed into two basic camps: You were either an Abbott supporter or you hated Takoma Park. DelGiudice's election, he said, "will allow middle ground."
Elsie McNamara, a retired government worker who lives on Carroll Avenue, said she never was caught up in the nuclear arms issues that concerned Abbott and left them to his judgment. But she credited him with fixing up the city's business area on Carroll Avenue, and said the fact Abbott always remembered her name impressed her.
"I'm heartily disappointed" by his defeat, she said. "We all feel very badly about it . . . . He's rambunctious, but you have to be."
Abbott was unrepentant yesterday about his abrasive political style. "Regrets? Hell no," he said. "It doesn't bother me at all that I don't have suburban decorum. I don't give a [expletive deleted] for it."
Abbott said he, too, will devote himself to the battle for the unification of Takoma Park after the new mayor is sworn in.
"I'm going to be Citizen Abbott," he said. "And I figure the words Citizen Abbott are just as honorable as Mayor Abbott. I'm going to be the same."
If he remains in good health and there are no other good candidates, he said, he may consider running for mayor two years from now.
Rino Aldrighetti, a city councilman who did not stand for reelection, said many voters misunderstood Abbott's anger.
When Abbott became involved in the city politics, he said, the anger was needed: "This was a city on the edge of becoming a garbage dump. They were going to build a highway through it and take away the school. That's changed."
With those battles won, he said, newcomers couldn't see the point of Abbott's anger.
"It's a time when a guy with a hell of a history is going to be leaving political office," Aldrighetti concluded. "But it's not the end of an era. I think the Takoma Park spirit will continue. Because it's in its people."