Annapolis Mayor Al Hopkins came under attack last night from the two men who hope to unseat him in the Nov. 2 election, one calling him the "invisible mayor."
As if to prove the point, Republican Larry Vincent pointed to the empty chair between himself and former mayor Dennis Callahan, an independent, at last's nights debate at St. John's College.
The chair belonged to Mr. Hopkins, but he was not there.
The Democratic incumbent left the auditorium after giving a brief statement and before the debate began.
Steve Carr, Mr. Hopkins' campaign manager, said the mayor had accepted an invitation to a tribute to Frank Wills, the impoverished security guard responsible for discovering the Watergate break-in 20 years ago, before the debate was scheduled.
Reading from a written statement, Mr. Hopkins said, "I feel like one of the four invasions I was in in the South Pacific. You don't know what's on the other side but you know you are going to be shot at."
After reminiscing about his childhood growing up in Ward 1, Mr. Hopkins extended an invitation to city residents: "If you have any questions you want me to answer, I welcome you to my home. I welcome you to my office. I will meet with any of you one on one."
Then he left and his opponents began their rebuttals.
"It's nice to reminisce about the past, but, while I respect the past, I have concerns about the future," said Mr. Callahan, who was mayor from 1985 to 1989.
Mr. Vincent accused Mayor Hopkins of dodging debates during the campaign.
"Al Hopkins is the invisible mayor," Mr. Vincent said. "What you saw tonight is typical of what has happened at every speaking engagement during this campaign."
Mr. Vincent and Mr. Callahan criticized the mayor for poor oversight of city contracts, declining morale among city employees, particularly police, and growing racial divisions.
They also slammed him for "bungling" the city's economic development.
Referring to the declining business corridor along West Street, Mr. Callahan said, "Word has gotten around that you can't do business in Annapolis.
"Our bureaucracy has gotten out of control," he continued. "We have our council changing rules on a whim and there is no sense of direction coming out of the mayor's office."
Mr. Vincent and Mr. Callahan differed on two major issues -- the expansion of the county's Jennifer Road jail and regulating night life around the City Dock.
Mr. Callahan opposed any jail expansion; Mr. Vincent advocated keeping a detention center on Jennifer Road but called other communities to accept supporting facilities, such as a pre-release and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers.
Mr. Vincent also said the city should require new bars and restaurants around the City Dock to halt liquor sales by midnight.
Mr. Callahan opposed handicapping new business when existing bars can stay open until 2 a.m.