This year’s race for the post of Annapolis mayor is a spirited competition between two candidates more sharply different in style than on substance.
As their many debate spectators could attest, the contest might be dubbed: the Idea Man versus Mr. Not So Fast.
Democratic challenger Gavin Buckley has sparked the campaign with a fire storm of proposals for updating Maryland’s 300-year-old capital city. Republican Mayor Mike Pantelides dismisses many of them as half-baked.
Most dramatic is Buckley’s plan to take curbside parking off the city’s crowded Main Street and run a trolley along the three blocks from Church Circle to the City Dock where he says a waterfront car lot should be replaced by a family friendly park, perhaps with a carousel.
Pantelides calls it unrealistic--at least until after an aged downtown garage is rebuilt.
"If we just get rid of all the parking downtown, if we rip up a lane of Main Street-- put in a trolley and take away 150 parking spaces--it’s going to kill all the businesses," the mayor said. "We can’t afford to do that."
Buckley counters that Main Street has already been reduced to bars, tee-shirt shops and empty storefronts.
"It’s just an idea," he said in one debate. "In two years, if everyone hated it, we would take it away and put parking spaces there. But if you don’t try anything, you don’t ever know."
Pantiledes discovered four years ago that fighting change can be a winning ticket in Annapolis.
He won a narrow victory over the embattled Democratic incumbent in part by vowing to stop the massive Crystal Spring development that would have destroyed much of the city’s last remaining forest and added to traffic problems.
The project has since been scaled back but faces continued opposition from the mayor and potential neighbors.
Thus, Crystal Spring remains a factor in this race--though not as a conflict with Buckley, who also opposes the proposal. It’s more like a rallying point for Pantelides who was rewarded with an endorsement from the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, a prominent environmental advocacy group.
The non-partisan organization, which normally backs Democrats, has taken heat for backing a Republican with whom its members might disagree on other issues.
But Bob Gallagher, a leader of the Anne Arundel County chapter, argues that Pantelides not only kept his promise on Crystal Spring but embraced other environmental goals, such as a renewable energy park.
"The mayor has a very good record," Gallagher said. "And he’s actually delivered on a number of things that he’s talked about and that counts a lot with us."
The campaign, which ends next Tuesday, has been striking for its civility in these politically abusive times. The candidates have lunched together at least twice to help foster a more positive tone.
In most ways they are very different. Pantelides likes to remind his audiences that he is a third generation Annapolitan, drawing a contrast with Buckley, an Australian immigrant.
At 34, Pantelides is also heir to an Annapolis political legacy that helped him raise twice as much money as his challenger.
Buckley at 54, seems younger somehow. Since his arrival here at age 25, he’s become an entrepreneur, launching several restaurant businesses that have helped revitalize what’s now known as the arts district.
Democrat Chris Trumbauer, the Anne Arundel County Councilman who represents Annapolis, says the city is in need of some spark.
“It’s a moment in time where I think we just need some new vision. Some new ideas. A sense of excitement,” he explained. “And all those are characteristics I associate with Gavin Buckley.”
It might be wise to check in after November 7 to see if anything’s burning.