Johnson wins mayor's contest Annapolis voters defeat Callahan and turn to GOP

November 05, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Cheryl Tan and contributing writer Kristi Swartz contributed to this article.

Republican Dean L. Johnson pulled off an easy victory last night that left his Democratic opponent Dennis M. Callahan stunned at a 4,127 to 3,416 gap in what many had predicted would be a close race for mayor of Annapolis.

Less than 25 minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m., Callahan, a one-term former mayor who's now lost three bids to repeat in the job, called Johnson's West Street campaign headquarters. That room erupted in cheers as he conceded. Less than 10 minutes later, champagne was flowing.

For Johnson, who's spent eight years in relative obscurity as a Ward 2 alderman, the victory proved city voters' preference for quiet, but effective statesmanship over Callahan's flamboyant, headstrong style.

Hugging his son, Johnson climbed on a chair and yelled with his fist in the air, "Ladies and gentlemen. The first words in this campaign is 'How sweet it is.' The people of Annapolis have spoken."

"My administration will be in existence for only one reason: To serve the people of Annapolis," he said. "We will do so with honesty, integrity and dispatch."

Five blocks away in his Main Street headquarters, a tired, stunned Callahan beckoned his 8-year-old granddaughter, Alyssa, to his side and said: "Elections aren't always about winning. It's about fighting a good fight, and we did."

"I'm not necessarily surprised that we lost," he said. "But I'm surprised at the margin. But it's probably better this way because there's no second-guessing. If you lose by five votes, you always wonder what you could have done differently."

The former businessman said he had run his last campaign for mayor.

As of last night, Republicans were also looking at their first city council majority in more than 25 years in a mostly Democratic city. GOP candidates won in four wards. The only barrier to Republican control of the nine-member council is the write-in effort of Democrat Cynthia Carter in Ward 6. Write-in votes will be counted today.

This city of about 34,000 pays its mayor $52,000 and its part-time aldermen $8,500. The real attraction in getting elected here is in the chance to hobnob as an official of the state's capital city with the prominent political figures omnipresent here.

The new mayor, a council veteran, is likely to wield far more control over the lawmaking body, now filled with five newcomers, than did the hands-off outgoing Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins.

Johnson won in five of the eight wards, losing by slim margins in the city's majority black wards. Election officials said the turnout amounted to about 40 percent of the city's 19,000 eligible voters. Overall, voters seem to have decided based on how they perceived the candidates' personalities.

Edward Ruegg, for example, said he voted for Johnson because he felt Callahan was "uninspiring" in a debate.

With Callahan, he said, "There was no vision, there were not a lot of plans," said Ruegg, an advertising sales executive. "He seemed to be running off on his previous record as mayor, like because he was mayor in the past, that qualified him for the job. Dean Johnson definitely seemed to have a vision for Annapolis."

The mayoral candidates expressed strikingly similar views on major issues.

Both believed the city has no need for a revenue authority or a conference center. Both called for a halt on city annexations. Both talked about being tough on crime and preserving city neighborhoods.

Colorful and charismatic compared to the low-key Johnson, Callahan sold himself as a daring civic architect -- now mellowed from his one term as mayor in the mid-1980s.

He suffered an embarrassing loss in 1989 to longtime alderman and now lame duck Hopkins. The reason: Voters saw Callahan as an abrasive bully.

He lost to Hopkins again in 1993 when he ran as an Independent. The charter prohibits Hopkins from a third term. Callahan championed his achievements and told voters he had changed.

In the end it wasn't enough to beat Johnson, who has built a reputation during his two terms as a congenial, thoughtful and civil politician. On reputation alone he easily captured the Republican Party's nomination for mayor in a bitterly contested race in September against opponent M. Theresa DeGraff, his colleague on the city council.

Known for his penchant for quoting Plato on the council floor, Johnson promoted his ideas on preserving and protecting the downtown historic district and reforming the city charter, but didn't push through many landmark bills.

Relations between the city and Anne Arundel County could warm under Johnson. During the campaign, he was called the "county's candidate," because of his ties to County Executive John G. Gary and support from county finance director and former Ward 1 Alderman John Hammond.

One-time opponent and longtime Callahan supporter Carl O. Snowden, who represents Ward 5, summed up the election this way: "Dennis just could not convince voters that Dean was such a bad guy. People didn't feel threatened by him."

Pub Date: 11/05/97

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