Ex-mayor Callahan edges out Snowden Mayorial primary in Annapolis produces a stunning comeback

September 17, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers TaNoah Morgan, Kristi Swartz and Laura Sullivan contributed to this article.

In a stunning political comeback, former Annapolis Mayor Dennis M. Callahan defeated Alderman Carl O. Snowden in a close race for the Democratic Party's mayoral nomination yesterday in the city's primary election.

Dean L. Johnson easily captured the Republican Party's nomination for mayor in a bitterly contested race against opponent M. Theresa DeGraff, his colleague on the city council.

Declaring victory last night, a red-faced and grinning Callahan greeted his supporters at his headquarters on Main Street with his arms spread wide and his wife, Brenda, at his side.

"We had a lot of energy and a lot of help," the 56-year-old Eastport resident said later, holding his youngest grandson, Jack Callahan. "I feel lucky. This is a combination of hard work and luck."

He then congratulated GOP winner Johnson and DeGraff, saying his heart went out to her, and praised Snowden for his tenacity.

The two Democrats were allies in two previous elections when Callahan unsuccessfully ran for re-election as the incumbent mayor in 1989 and again as an independent in 1993. Both times, he was defeated soundly by Alfred A. Hopkins, who is prevented by city law from running for a third term as mayor.

In a surprisingly civil race, Snowden and Callahan agreed to support each other, regardless of who won. They said last night they would meet in thenext few weeks to plan for the general election Nov. 4.

Snowden's ability to raise money -- about $18,685 from Aug. 20 to Sept. 10 -- did not make a difference. Political watchers say Callahan had three things going for him in his victory: name recognition, a base of support in the city and the ability to raise money quickly.

Supporters also say voters gave Callahan a second chance, despite his embarrassing loss in 1989, because he left the city in better shape than he found it in 1985.

During his term as mayor, Callahan was credited with battling the corrupt head of the city's Housing Authority, reducing property taxes, improving the city's finances and promoting minorities in city government.

While Snowden had many of the same advantages, many attributed the 43-year-old civil rights consultant's loss to an inability to convince voters that he has left behind his militant, activist image of the 1960s and 1970s.

Snowden, in his concession speech last night, said race was not a factor, blaming low turnout instead. About 28 percent of the city's 19,441 registered voters -- including 6,155 Republicans and 10,630 Democrats -- went to the polls. It was an improvement over the dismal 23 percent turnout in 1993, when it rained on primary day.

Last night, Snowden stood outside his headquarters in a strip shopping center on West Street in the Parole section of town, talking with supporters when two campaign workers handed him their tally sheets.

He shook his head, spoke briefly with the supporters, some of whom hugged him, then walked inside.

The crowd of 50 grew quiet as they gathered around him.

"If one is willing to run, one must be willing to lose," he said. "It's been a wonderful campaign. I'm not despondent. This is just a beginning; my public life and political career are not over."

Snowden's loss does mean an end to a fruitful 12-year career on the council as alderman of Ward 5. During that time, he served as a strong and outspoken advocate for the African-American community, which makes up about one-third of the city's population.

The other Democratic challenger, Sylvanus B. Jones, a former federal worker, ran a credible campaign for mayor and managed to garner a little better than a third of Callahan's total. Election observers credited his fairly good showing to anti-Snowden and anti-Callahan sentiment.

At Johnson headquarters on West Street, campaign workers loudly whooped it up as the results rolled in about 8: 45 p.m. nTC Johnson originally was seen as the dark horse when he entered the race a few months ago, but quickly caught up to DeGraff.

"Yes, yes, yes," shouted a normally reserved Johnson, punching the air with his fist as he stood next to his wife, Sally, in a crowd of about 50. "Thank you, thank you, thank you. Joan [a campaign worker] said I did it. No, it was all of you."

Johnson said there was no rest, though. His campaign workers planned meetings today to start moving on the general election.

At her headquarters at O'Brien's Oyster Bar on Main Street, DeGraff told her supporters they "fought the good fight."

"This is the hardest race I've ever worked in and, other than in Ward 1, we gave them a run for the money," she said to about 50 relatives and supporters.

"I'm truly without words to express my sadness. We ran the best race, it's just unfortunate that we didn't win."

DeGraff then called Johnson headquarters to concede the race.

"I wish you all the best in the general," she told him. Later, she would not say whether she would support him in the November election.

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