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Montco’s Bruce Castor and Madeleine Dean bring very different approaches to Trump’s impeachment trial

Madeleine Dean, a second-term Democratic congresswoman, is one of nine House impeachment managers prosecuting the case. Bruce Castor was enlisted as Trump’s lawyer less than 10 days ago.

Former Montgomery County District Attorney and Commissioner Bruce Castor, left, and U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D., Pa.).
Former Montgomery County District Attorney and Commissioner Bruce Castor, left, and U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D., Pa.).Read moreAP; Kriston Jae Bethel / File Photographs

They both grew up in Montgomery County in the 1960s, their childhood homes just miles apart. They both pursued careers there in law and politics. He once served as her county commissioner, and she now represents him in Congress.

But despite traveling in similar circles for decades, Madeleine Dean and Bruce L. Castor Jr. have never met. Their paths will finally cross Tuesday when they sit on opposite sides of Donald Trump’s second Senate impeachment.

Dean, a second-term Democratic congresswoman, is one of nine House impeachment managers prosecuting the case that the former president incited last month’s deadly U.S. Capitol attack.

Castor was enlisted as Trump’s lawyer less than 10 days ago. Since then, he’s blazed a trail across right-wing media, dismissing the proceedings as “unconstitutional political theater.”

That two Montgomery County natives would face off in the historic Senate proceeding this week — the first impeachment trial for a former president and the only time a holder of the office has faced a second trial — is not altogether surprising.

After all, Pennsylvania has been at the center of Trump’s attempts to overturn his election loss. And Montgomery County was key to President Joe Biden’s victory in the state, delivering a 134,000-vote margin, the biggest Democratic gain in the state compared with 2016.

But Castor and Dean have blazed strikingly different paths to reach this moment on the political stage.

Friends and family describe Dean, 61, as composed, studious, and careful. She was part of a wave of Democratic women elected as a rebuke to Trump in 2018 and now hopes to hold him accountable for his final days in office.

» READ MORE: The 2020 election established Montgomery County as a powerful Democratic stronghold in Pennsylvania

Following advice from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, she often wears a brooch to send a subtle message — like the gold bald eagle she donned on the day she and the other impeachment managers marched their charge against Trump to the Senate.

There’s little that’s subtle about Castor, 59. Best known for his swaggering, headline-grabbing eight years as Montgomery County’s district attorney, his confidence — what critics call arrogance — and penchant for publicity have both helped and hindered him throughout a decades-long political and legal career.

There are few figures in government as different as Castor and Dean, said Joe Hoeffel, a former Democratic congressman and county commissioner who has worked alongside them both.

“She’s methodical, thoughtful, and careful,” Hoeffel said. Of Castor, he said: “Bruce will portray the larger-than-life persona that he’s known for. That is no act.”

‘Words matter’

That Dean would play a featured role in attempting to put a final stamp on Trump’s tenure is fitting: She’s one of the Democratic women whose congressional career embodies the party’s backlash to the former president.

When Pennsylvania was called for Joe Biden, ensuring Trump’s defeat, Dean was near tears as she described her relief while watching a granddaughter’s soccer game.

“I never could associate my grandchildren with the behavior and language of Donald Trump,” Dean said by phone that Saturday in November. “Fortunately, our future looks brighter.”

Two months later, and almost exactly two years after she brought that same granddaughter to the House floor for her first swearing-in, Dean was again in the House chamber, as pro-Trump rioters bashed on the doors, violently attacked police, and attempted to overthrow the election, forcing her and fellow lawmakers to flee.

Later that day, she described the insurrection as “the natural consequence” of Trump’s four years of “lies and stoking fears.”

» READ MORE: Pa. Rep. Madeleine Dean on prosecuting Trump’s impeachment trial and why he can still be convicted

“Words matter,” she said of Trump’s actions a month later, after she’d been named an impeachment manager.

That lesson was driven home from her earliest days. When Dean was a child growing up in Glenside, the youngest of seven in a lively, competitive Irish Catholic family, her father would quiz the children on vocabulary words or questions about politics or current events.

She and her siblings competed to get the questions right, or at least win the biggest laughs, said her brother, Bob Dean Jr.

“When you’re the youngest of seven and you have five older brothers, you really have to figure it out, and Madeleine did figure it out,” he said.

There was little that seemed to faze young Madeleine, her brother said.

“She always worked hard, and she always prepared for everything,” he said.

Dean developed an interest in politics early, winning an Abington Township committee seat at just 18. She met her husband, P.J., volunteering for Hoeffel.

She spent much of her early career focused on law, then teaching. She taught writing at La Salle University in the early 2000s and has a tattoo of the signature of St. John Baptist de la Salle, the patron saint of teachers, on her foot.

It wasn’t until 2012 that Dean won a seat in the Pennsylvania state House, representing Abington and parts of Upper Dublin Township. After briefly running for lieutenant governor in 2017, she launched her congressional campaign.

Dean played a smaller role in Trump’s first impeachment as a member of the House Judiciary Committee. She questioned witnesses during House hearings on Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukrainian leaders to smear Biden.

“A singularly amoral president,” she called Trump at the time.

‘I’m a leader’

Castor had mostly left political life by the time Dean first ran for Congress in 2018. But he had been a GOP force, serving as district attorney and, later, county commissioner.

He also ran for attorney general in 2004, mulled challenging the Republican incumbent governor a decade later, and even tried to reclaim his old post as the county’s top prosecutor in 2015.

Castor grew up in Abington in an era in which the GOP dominated in Montgomery County. And the Castors had played a role in that tradition for centuries.

Castor Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia is named after a member of his family, an 18th-century immigrant from Switzerland. He counts a one-term mayor of Philadelphia among his ancestors.

A product of prep schools and Lafayette College, young Bruce decided to follow his father, a partner at powerhouse law firm Ballard Spahr, into law. But even during law school at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, Castor showed glimpses of the hard-charging, maverick figure that would come to define his political persona.

In an entry in the school’s 1986 yearbook, Castor — pictured sitting on his horse Meggie — said that outside of law, his dream career would have been a cavalry officer in the Old West.

By the time he joined the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office as an intern in 1985, he was already thinking of himself as a cowboy in a suit.

» READ MORE: Pa. Republicans are stumped by Trump’s pick of Bruce Castor for his impeachment defense

He rose through the ranks rapidly, becoming first assistant DA in less than a decade after a string of high-profile convictions. He described himself as a “white hat” and portrayed his cases in terms of the good guys vs. the bad.

Eight years in the top job, after running for the post in 1999, only grew Castor’s profile. His swaggering presence in pinstripes and cowboy boots became ubiquitous at the county courthouse and on local TV.

By the time he decided to run for a seat on the county’s commissioners’ board, he campaigned as his party’s “savior” — the one man so popular he could stop an encroaching tide of Democratic gains threatening the GOP’s decades-long control of the county.

“I think I could do almost anything if I had to,” he told The Inquirer at the time. “The question is, ‘Do I want to?’ I am not a legislator. I am not a consensus-builder. I think I’m a leader.”

In that confidence, Castor shares kinship with his new client, though friends and colleagues say he’s never been an outspoken Trump supporter.

Like Trump, Castor has proved to be a polarizing figure — blessed with, as one former colleague put it, “an ego the size of the Titanic,” a sensitivity to slights of any kind, and a reliable knack for making news.

But by the time Castor won his first election to the commissioners’ board in 2008, the political tide for both him and his party was turning. Democratic victories — driven by changing demographics and a rightward Republican shift — had only continued to grow.

The forces that would make Dean’s election to Congress possible a decade later put Castor’s political future in doubt. His first term as county commissioner was marked by constant feuding with fellow Republican Jim Matthews, who struck a bipartisan deal with Hoeffel, a Democrat, to squeeze Castor.

These days, he recently told an interviewer, he couldn’t get elected to anything in Montgomery County as a Republican. “It’s pretty bad here now,” he said.

But even out of politics, Castor has continued to make headlines — first as a star defense witness in Bill Cosby’s 2016 sexual assault case after declining to charge the comedian during his tenure as DA, and then with a blink-and-you-missed-it stint as acting state attorney general after the conviction of his predecessor, Kathleen Kane.

Then, last month, Trump came calling after splitting from his original legal team just days before his Senate trial was set to begin. A cousin, Stephen Castor, was the lead House Republican attorney during Trump’s first impeachment and recommended Castor as a possible replacement.

“Who could resist as a lawyer being called upon to participate in one of the biggest trials, if not the biggest trial, in this history of the United States?” Castor told KYW radio.

» READ MORE: House accuses Trump of ‘historic betrayal’ as his lawyers say impeachment trial is unconstitutional

A Senate showdown

Despite their differences, colleagues say, Dean and Castor are uniquely suited to the jobs they now face.

U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Delaware County, a close colleague, noted that Dean represents a state at the center of Trump’s false election claims and was in the House chamber during the attack.

“It would be hard to find someone better prepared to argue why this was an assault both on our government and on the people in the building that day,” Scanlon said.

Melissa Murphy Weber, a former colleague and running mate of Castor’s, said the tenacity he has exhibited throughout his career will serve him well on his biggest stage.

“He’s quick,” she said. “If something doesn’t sound right or seem right, he’s going to keep pushing through that to find what is right.”

They haven’t met, but they’re about to — on the floor of the U.S. Senate.