One of Tim Bruer's favorite lines to colleagues on Madison's Common Council is: "I've seen this movie before; here's how it's going to end."
Ald. Mark Clear says the line was always a warning about unintended consequences: "He could be very persuasive and make you see the long-term consequences of a particular action."
Bruer, who has served on the council since 1984, has seen just about everything. But he didn't likely anticipate the abrupt end of his long tenure when he lost his reelection bid last week to newcomer John Strasser.
Bruer did not return calls for comment. The veteran councilman is not returning calls even from friends like Clear. He has given a couple of interviews, including one to the Wisconsin State Journal in which he says he would consider running for the south-side District 14 again.
His absence on the council is sure to be felt. "The biggest loss is the institutional memory," Clear says. "Tim is able to remind his colleagues when the council has gone down a particular road before, and it keeps us from spinning our wheels."
But some are not sad to see Bruer leave. Ald. Mike Verveer, the second-longest-serving councilman, says: "I very much respect his long record of public service for the community."
Then he adds: "We never established a good working relationship over the 18 years that I served with him. I'm not going to lie and say I'll miss him terribly."
Verveer's gripe is that the guy played favorites. "He was very effective at moving mountains if he liked you," he says. "If he didn't care for you or didn't know you, he didn't seem to have a strong interest in helping you."
There were numerous times when people in Bruer's district - unable to get a response from Bruer - would reach out to the council as a whole for help, Verveer adds.
But Verveer and others say Bruer was wildly successful at bringing in money for his district.
"He brought in a lot of resources, primarily through the [Community Development Authority], but also city aid and block grants," says Stu Levitan, chairman of the Landmarks Commission and a member of the CDA committee.
"He had an overbearing style," Levitan says. "People took his style - his old-school smother-you style - and thought there was something sleazy in it."
But, Levitan adds: "I've never heard anything about Tim doing something to benefit himself on a personal level. I've never seen any indication he used his power for anything other than his district."
With Bruer gone, the council will be without any strong leaders, says Ald. Larry Palm.
"We also don't have as many standout leaders, an Austin King or a Zach Brandon, people who took us by the belt and pulled us along. Tim was maybe the last one of those," Palm says, but adds: "I did not like [Bruer], nor did I like the direction he was pulling me."
Palm says that Bruer seemed to have lost some of his fight in recent years. He didn't get along with Mayor Paul Soglin, who kicked him off the influential Board of Estimates.
"Tim lost a lot when Paul became mayor," Palm says. "It seemed to me that his love of the game disappeared. It was much easier for him to work with [former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz].... At the end of the day, it's a whole lot easier to convince one guy to put something in his budget than convince 10 other [alders]. He lost that mojo."
Clear says he's not worried about how Bruer will handle his forced retirement from the council. Bruer treasures his day job as executive director of Energy Services Inc., a nonprofit that helps the poor and elderly pay for their energy bills.
"He raises a lot of money to help heat little old ladies' houses, basically," Clear says. "That's a side of him that he keeps relatively quiet."