Alderman for downtown faces election challenge ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY--Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

May 17, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

As tourists crowd Annapolis' brick sidewalks, downtown TC merchants, restaurateurs and residents are caught up in an election-year debate over the future of the historic area.

John Hammond, the Republican alderman who has represented the neighborhoods for 16 years, is being challenged by a political newcomer who has the support of a number of business owners frustrated by the long-running complaints of some residents angered by noise, trash and a proliferation of neon signs.

Like Mr. Hammond, Craig Purcell grew up in Annapolis and can remember the days when Main Street was lined with hardware, grocery and five-and-dime stores. Both men live and work in the city's 1st Ward. Both have been active in its neighborhood association.

But the men also represent the different, conflicting, points of view of downtown development and the proper balance between commercial and residential interests.

Mr. Purcell, a 38-year-old architect running as a Democrat, wants to work on issues of growth and the environment, revitalizing West Street, and "mending fences" between "the residents and the restaurants."

Mr. Hammond, 44, has staunchly defended residents in their complaints.

In the past year, he has come under criticism for opposing the opening of a frozen yogurt shop, the expansion of a popular Italian restaurant and the waiving of conditions on upgrading a kitchen at the Middleton Tavern.

Some aldermen and business owners complain that he has an "abrasive" style.

At City Council meetings, he can be short-tempered with his colleagues, especially when they ramble on at length. He becomes visibly annoyed at times, turning red and pulling at his hair.

"John really has no problems calling the rest of his colleagues stupid, illogical and incapable of understanding," said Alderman Ellen Moyer, a Ward 8 Democrat who has disagreed frequently with Mr. Hammond. "So I have no problem in saying that in relation to his colleagues, he is arrogant and adversarial. We have problems that need to be solved, and they are best solved when people talk to each other."

Ms. Moyer joined a crowd of some 50 people in support of Mr. Purcell's candidacy last week. Alderman Samuel Gilmer, a Ward 3 Democrat, and Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins also were there, along with a group of downtown business owners and scattered residents.

But others on the council called it "party politics" and defended Mr. Hammond's work, especially in untangling the city's financial problems in recent years.

"He does a superb job," said Alderman Terrie DeGraff, a Ward 7 Republican. "I would bet Mr. Hammond could answer any question on the budget, and the mayor could not."

Alderman Dean Johnson, a Ward 2 Independent, agreed, saying, "He hasn't alienated me."

Mr. Hammond defends his actions, saying it is "unfortunate that some council members don't do their homework," he said. "I do. If others want to criticize me for that, then that's their prerogative."

A vice president of marketing for a Long Island-based insurance company, Mr. Hammond says most of his opposition is from a small group of restaurant and tavern owners, whose customers sometimes cause problems for downtown residents.

Political observers agree Mr. Purcell faces an uphill battle against the veteran alderman, especially because many of the restaurant and shop owners don't live in the ward.

"I don't sense any wide-scale lack of support for John Hammond," said Mike Langrehr, the president of the civic association.

Mr. Purcell served as vice president of the association, but he's uncomfortable with the feuding among the different constituencies. "It is my hope to bring the people of Ward 1 together and develop a spirit of trust with all segments of the town," he said.

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