Stephen Joel Trachtenberg will step down as someone who put GW on the map institutionally. But others see him more as someone who altered the Foggy Bottom map detrimentally.
In the 18 years that Trachtenberg has stood at the helm of GW, he has transformed Foggy Bottom from a primarily quiet residential area to a booming center of activity, much to the dismay of residents who view their neighborhood as a historic district.
Foggy Bottom Association President Joy Howell said Trachtenberg will be remembered by the community for his “insensitivity to his neighbors, a complete disregard for the Campus Plan and for not living up to his word.”
Howell said she thinks Trachtenberg is responsible for destroying the residential character of Foggy Bottom and said that after the community worked with GW in the early 1990s to create the current Campus Plan, a legal agreement between the University and the community, Trachtenberg and his administration started trying to retract all their promises.
Others in the community said they admire Trachtenberg’s drive to better GW, but still said that his brazenness has cost him goodwill with the community.
David Lehrman, a longtime member of the Foggy Bottom Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which makes zoning recommendations to the city, called himself “a patient friend” of the University. He acknowledged that Trachtenberg’s policies have “also made him some enemies.”
“I sometimes compare to him to Ronald Reagan as a president,” he said. “He knew where he wanted to go and was not concerned with his critics.”
Michael Thomas, another ANC member, said that while he thinks Trachtenberg has been consistent in going after what he’s seen as the best future for GW, it has been to the detriment of the community.
Thomas, who worked with GW in planning the current Campus Plan and the new GW Hospital, said Trachtenberg “really doesn’t leave a great legacy as far as relations with the community go” and has made enemies with some of the neighbors.
“I think a number of people have taken offense when things he said that he thinks are humorous come across as arrogant,” Thomas said.
Some city leaders said they respect Trachtenberg’s accomplishments.
Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans said in an interview Wednesday that he’s enjoyed working with Trachtenberg during the 15 years he has been on the D.C. City Council.
Mayor Anthony Williams’ press secretary Vincent Morris said Wednesday that the mayor was “very surprised” about Trachtenberg’s announcement.
“He’s going to be sorely missed,” Morris said. He said the mayor hopes that the next president will do “a lot of the same” things that Trachtenberg has done over the past 18 years.
Evans said that a new University president, however, could help ease the poor town-gown relations Trachtenberg is accused of fomenting.
“You will always have the town-gown issues, but the new president will have a new slate in developing a relationship with the community,” Evans said.
Thomas agreed that a new president could pave the way for a fresh start for GW-residential relations.
He said, “I personally wish him well and hope for a better relationship with his successor.”