BATTLE CREEK, MI—In what had originally been intended as a brisk, businesslike trip to the urinal, Calhoun County executive hopeful Phil Hecht spent seven minutes working the Battle Creek Sheraton men's bathroom Monday.
"That politician guy didn't seem to realize how weird it was in there," said David Muntz, a local orthodontist. "I don't know... It was like he couldn't turn it off."
"I had to wash up an extra time after he glad-handed me," Muntz added.
Hecht's unplanned bathroom tour took place several minutes after his remarks at the Battle Creek Rotary Club's annual Unsung Heroes luncheon, held this year in honor of Jefferson Middle School principal Phyllis DeVreaux. Observers speculated that Hecht "got carried away" by both the generous applause following his address and the large number of people in the men's restroom.
"When he came toward me, I was in line for the urinal," said Aaron Barker, a local bank executive. "At first, I had no idea what was going on. I didn't know if he wanted to get to the mirror, or what."
"He must not have had to go too bad, because he kept letting people skip him in line," Barker added. "He really got on a roll, there."
After individually greeting each person waiting for the urinals, Hecht moved on to the sinks.
"He's a real live wire, that Phil Hecht," said Tate's Tavern owner Alan Tate, who met the county-executive hopeful beside the paper-towel dispensers. "He came up to me, introduced himself, and said, 'I care deeply about maternity-leave issues... Wait, who'm I kidding? It's just us guys in here. Hey! Put 'er there.'"
Many others said they were confused by Hecht's restroom schmoozing.
"I had just come out of the stall, but I really didn't expect Hecht to make a joke about it," said Werner Neumar, who was approached by Hecht as he attempted to pump liquid soap from an empty dispenser. "He kept saying 'Get a load of this guy' to [County Democratic Chairman] Frank [Willison], and belly laughing. And then he said I should do a fundraiser for him, like I'm his best friend all of a sudden."
"That guy gives me the creeps," Neumar added.
Hecht made light of the illustrated instructions on the bathroom's air dryers, saying they demonstrated the lack of focus on basic reading skills in county schools. While his comments provoked nervous laughter among some in the bathroom, school-board member Travis Keyes was not amused.
"Reading scores have gone up three out of the past four years," Keyes said. "[Hecht] was just going for the cheap laughs, grandstanding for votes."
Added Keyes: "Plus, he wasn't even rubbing his hands like the instructions showed. He was just shaking them, and then he had to wipe them on his pants, because they weren't dry."
Monday was not the first time Hecht has campaigned in what some might deem an inappropriate place. Last week, he was ejected from a high-school softball game after handing out literature from row to row in the bleachers. In May, he was criticized for stationing himself outside of a church and buttonholing potential voters as they left a funeral.
Hecht defended his aggressive campaign style.
"I'm unorthodox, but I think Calhoun County needs an executive who doesn't settle for politics as usual," Hecht told a reporter. "What would you rather have—a guy who never takes a break from serving his constituents, not even a bathroom break, or a two-term do-nothing freeloader who sits in his office all day planning his summer vacation?"
"Let me give you a refrigerator magnet," Hecht added. "And here's one for your freezer. It's got my whole platform, right on it."