Handicapping the Annapolis Mayoral Horserace

Democrat Gavin Buckley (L) and Republican Mike Pantelides (R)Gavin Buckley (D) and Mike Pantelides (R-inc)

It’s 2017, which means it’s time for another round of odd-year, low-turnout local elections. It is, however, the first regular election cycle in the Age of President Trump, which means a whole lot of pundits and bloggers will be screaming the word “momentum,” as in “which party has the momentum going into the REAL elections next year?”

Well, political momentum really is a thing, because people’s likelihood to exercise their right to vote is absolutely influenced by the political climate. When folks are fired up, they come out to vote. Larry Hogan was able to infuse energy into the Maryland Republican Party, and he defeated a Democratic candidate who was not able to instill the same energy into his party’s base, which largely stayed home. But Hogan and his supporters had a huge energy/momentum boost in November 2013, a full year before Hogan’s victory, when Republican Mike Pantelides defeated incumbent Democrat Josh Cohen for Mayor of Annapolis. The margin of victory was 59 votes, but Pantelides showed that a Republican who campaigns hard as a moderate can beat a Democrat, even in a place where Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans. Annapolis proved to be a bellwether for the whole state.

This year, of course, is very different. Donald Trump is President, and not only are Democrats fired up in a way we haven’t seen since 2008, but moderates are beginning to shun the Republican Party at all levels.

Taking all this into account, as well as conversations with locals from all wards and a glance at each candidate’s finances, we’ve come up with what will obviously be a 100% accurate prediction of next Tuesday’s election in Annapolis. We do, after all, carry all the prestige of a political blog that just launched!

 

Mayor of Annapolis

Incumbent: Mike Pantelides (R)
Challenger: Gavin Buckley (D)

Past Results:
2013: Mike Pantelides (R) 50.2%, Josh Cohen (D) 49.4%
2009: Josh Cohen (D) 46.5%, David Cordle (R) 40.5%, Chris Fox (I) 12.8%

Gavin Buckley, Democrat for Mayor

Gavin Buckley, Democrat for Mayor

Fifty-nine votes. 59. That’s how many more votes Mike Pantelides had than incumbent Mayor Josh Cohen in 2013. The turnout was 33.58%. Two out of three registered voters didn’t show up.

Since taking office, Mayor Pantelides has largely been staying quiet and uncontroversial. Other than a staff shakeup at the beginning, he hasn’t really done anything to the city. He seems to be running Annapolis as an extension of Anne Arundel County, and has emphasized multiple times his close relationship with County Executive Steve Schuh. But the whole point of having a city government in Annapolis is to have elected officials who put the needs of Annapolis first, not the county. And the general verdict on Pantelides after one term is that he hasn’t done much of anything to improve the city. No action on sea level rise. No action on city public housing, even as it literally crumbles around him. “Working with the county” on gang violence. “Working with the county” on the opioid epidemic. Flip-flopping on controversial developments. All in all, a rather underwhelming first term.

Enter Gavin Buckley, a business owner known for revitalizing West Street and the Arts district. He took the Democratic nomination in a landslide against the sitting State Senator who was heavily favored by the party establishment. He has laid out a comprehensive vision for Annapolis, including downtown revitalization, transparent government, and perhaps most importantly, distinguishing Annapolis as a leader in infrastructure, safety, and the environment. This is the kind of vision that inspires a city. Volunteers have flocked to his campaign, which seems to enjoy an exceptional amount of support from young voters. Buckley is exactly the candidate who can bring out voters who usually stay home during city elections, and this year, turnout will matter a lot. While some observers forecast a close race, we see Buckley winning by 8 points, 53-45.

 

Ward 1 (map)

Incumbent: Joe Budge (D) – defeated in primary
Challengers: Larry Claussen (R), Elly Tierney (D)

Past Results:
2013: Joe Budge (D) 57.8%, Allen Furth (R) 41.8%
2009: Richard Israel (D) unopposed

Ward 1 is the affluent, historic downtown section of Annapolis most often visited by tourists. Parking and crime have been the biggest issues here, but sea level rise and flooding related to climate change will become increasingly important.

The Democratic candidate is Elly Tierney, a business owner and president of the Ward One Residents Association. She also has over 30 years of experience in construction and engineering, which will come in handy in a city with so many major developments in the works.

Larry Claussen, the only Republican to run here, never made a website or online presence (despite his many promises to do so!), but his candidate bio emphasizes his passion for historic preservation.

Republicans are targeting this seat, because without it they have no chance of winning a majority on the city council. It was sad to see dirty tactics unfold in Ward 1 even before the primary election in September. A mailer went out supporting Elly Tierney against Joe Budge, sent out by the Republican Party, because they thought she would be a weaker candidate. Then in October, they tried digging up dirt on Tierney’s five-year-old theft conviction, which was expunged, but dug up by Claussen’s campaign treasurer. Some candidates, when faced with skeletons from their closet, become indignant, and some wilt and withdraw. But Tierney has handled the coverage with humility and grace, and we believe voters should judge her on her recent community work and vision for Annapolis. She has been campaigning hard, knocking on doors and connecting with residents instead of hiding behind direct mailers.¬†We believe Tierney will win by a 4 point margin, 52-48.

 

Ward 2 (map)

Incumbent: Fred Paone (R)
Challenger: Kurt Riegel (D)

Past Results:
2013: Fred Paone (R) 51.3%, Kurt Riegel (D) 48.5%
2009: Fred Paone (R) unopposed

Both Fred Paone and Kurt Riegel are competent, respected community leaders. Riegel has been a strong campaigner, building on his base from his narrow loss last time around and is a strong fundraiser. Uncharacteristically, Paone hasn’t been hitting the streets or raising gobs of money. The vast majority of his campaign cash was raised last year. This could go either way, but will ultimately come down to the extra effort Riegel has been able to put in this year on his campaign. Riegel will win by 2 points, 51-49.

 

Ward 3 (map)

Incumbent: Rhonda Pindell Charles (D)
Challengers: none

Past Results:
2013: Rhonda Pindell Charles (D) unopposed
2009: Classie Hoyle (D) 59.1%, Scott Bowling (R) 40.6%

With the incumbent as the only person running, we feel pretty safe in calling this one for Alderwoman Charles, unopposed.

 

Ward 4 (map)

Incumbent: Sheila M. Finlayson (D)
Challengers: Toni Strong Pratt (D) – write in

Past Results:
2013: Sheila M. Finlayson (D) unopposed
2009: Sheila M. Finlayson (D) unopposed

The single biggest surprise of the primary election was that second-term Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson only beat challenger Toni Strong Pratt by 17 votes. While there are no Republicans running against Finlayson, Pratt is running a write-in campaign. Ward 4 consistently has the lowest turnout rate in the city, which is a shame because it is so diverse and can be considered a microcosm of the whole city. But low turnout elections can yield unpredictable results, and Pratt is going to do better than the majority of write-in candidates who end up winning a fraction of one percent. Finlayson will win comfortably, but not by a landslide. This one goes to Finlayson by 10, 55-45.

 

Ward 5 (map)

Incumbent: Jared Littmann (D) – not running for re-election
Challengers: James Appel (R), Marc Rodriguez (D)

Past Results:
2013: Jared Littman (D) unopposed
2009: Matthew Silverman (D) 61.1%, James M. Conley (R) 38.5%

Many folks don’t realize that Ward 5 is the least-Democratic when it comes to presidential and midterm elections. It also has the city’s largest concentration of Hispanic voters. Marc Rodriguez has the support of outgoing Alderman Jared Littmann. James Appel has the support of Delegate Herb McMillan and Larry Hogan, of whose re-election campaign Appel is controller.

This one will be close, and like Ward 1 it is on the “bubble” for Republicans: they have to have everything go right to win, but they absolutely must win here to have a chance at a City Council majority. Politically, Ward 5 has always been close. It’s only been represented by Democrats since 2009, and was once represented by Herb McMillan. It contains affluent communities as well as public housing.

The result will come down to this: Rodriguez wins with a reasonable margin if the Hispanic voters turn out, but if they don’t, it will be very close and either candidate could win. Assuming a moderate Hispanic turnout, we pick Rodriguez by 6 points, 53-47.

 

Ward 6 (map)

Incumbent: Kenneth Kirby (D) – not running for re-election
Candidate: Shaneka Henson (D)

Past Results:
2013: Kenneth Kirby (D) 55.0%, Steven Conn (I) 44.9%
2009: Kenneth Kirby (D) 60.2%, Greg Stiverson (R) 39.6%

This race had an interesting primary, as Shaneka Henson faced DaJuan Kyre Gay. Both are incredibly dedicated to their community, and we feel that while Henson brought more experience to the table this year, Gay would make a stellar alderman down the road. Henson will win unopposed.

 

Ward 7 (map)

Incumbent: Ian Pfeiffer (D) – not running for re-election
Challengers: David Frankel (R), Rob Savidge (D)

Past Results:
2013: Ian Pfeiffer (D) 60.0%, James T. Clenny (R) 39.3%
2009: Ian Pfeiffer (D) 52.6%, Jennifer J. Monteith (R) 47.1%

This has been a hard-fought race between two well-qualified candidates in an open seat. David Frankel, an attorney, has laid out a vision for the ward, eschewing traditional city talking points and focusing on ultra-local issues, such as traffic and development. His opponent, Rob Savidge, has a well-deserved reputation as a defender of the environment, and started the race with significant name recognition due to his work for the city. While Savidge’s platform emphasizes his opposition to the controversial Crystal Spring and Parkside Preserve developments, it still seems like people know his primarily as an environment-first guy. While this isn’t a bad thing, we’ve heard some people, including Democrats, say that Frankel’s vision is more in-tune with the local issues. Frankel has perhaps campaigned harder than any candidate except Gavin Buckley, and his signs blanket the ward. Savidge has a lot of support, but ultimately enough Democrats will cross over to give Frankel the win by 4 points, 52-48.

 

Ward 8 (map)

Incumbent: Ross Arnett (D)
Challenger: Julie Mussog (R)

Past Results:
2013: Ross Arnett (D) unopposed
2009: Ross Arnett (D) 54.0%, Rock Toews 45.8%

Ross Arnett is an economist and self-described “fiscal hawk,” running for his third term in the wealthy and close-knit Ward 8 in Eastport. Julie Mussog is the CEO of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, and also has a background in finance. This one is tough because a lot of folks like Mussog personally, but approve of the job Arnett has done representing them. There will be some party line-crossing here, and it will mostly go one way. This will be the closest election Eastport has seen in at least two decades, but Arnett will prevail by 2 points, 51-49.

 

It’s simple: this election will be won by whoever shows up.

If Democrats can bring a lot of new energized voters to the polls, folks who don’t usually vote in city elections, they could sweep the city council. If it’s another low-turnout election like last time, Republicans could pick up 3-4 seats. (1, 5, 7, 8 and retain 2.) If you live in Annapolis, don’t just go out and vote today – bring two friends with you. Bring somebody who didn’t vote last time. “People power” only works if you actually use it.