One recent morning, Alfred A. Hopkins is reminiscing. Time to pack up and go home, the silver-haired mayor of Annapolis says as he flips through old photos and tucks away papers in cardboard boxes. And it's a good thing home isn't far, because leaving office after 32 years is hard enough, you see. Leaving the city would be impossible.
This is a man, after all, who is proud to call himself the city's biggest salesman, a man who plans to give free tours of Annapolis to anyone who wants one. Tomorrow marks his last day in office after 32 years in public service, 24 on the city council, four working in the Anne Arundel County executive's office, the last eight as mayor of Annapolis. The way he has it figured, who could better show off the city than "affable Al," a one-man history lesson who will tell you every detail of old Annapolis he knows, albeit in fractured syntax amid interjections of memories that start with: "Uh, did you know ?"
Standing in his City Hall office, the Annapolis native can't help himself. "Uh, did you know that the Police Department used to park the paddy wagon in the exact spot where my desk now sits?" Or that he has outlasted everyone who served with him on the council when he started in politics in 1961? He can't help but remember that nobody thought he had what it takes to become mayor of this historic little city.
That doesn't upset him. That's the truth, he says, with a determined nod.
At 72, he is comfortable with his age and accomplishments.
"I'm not the greatest," he says with much conviction. "I'm not super. I'm not the tops. I'm not No. 1. I'm just a nice guy."
The nice guy, with little name recognition and less money, managed to beat a strong incumbent mayor eight years ago on the strength of a friendly smile and lots of shoe leather.
He won't tell you what he thinks of colleagues who have publicly criticized him and called him "senile." But he will tell you that he misses and still talks to his son Alfred Michael, who died at age 27 in a West Virginia hospital after brain surgery in 1975.
It is that ability to share intensely private moments that makes it hard for even his harshest critics to dislike him. Homilies, patriotic stories and his borderline kookiness have made him Annapolis' favorite grandfather.
That's why everywhere he goes, whether to Chick-n-Ruth's, where he eats a plain bagel each morning, or to the Annapolis Gourmet deli in West Annapolis, the natty mayor seems more popular than Barney the purple dinosaur. That's why eight council members, with overwhelming public support, chose to rename the Market House near City Dock in his honor.
"Regardless of whether you supported him or had differences, he is a likable person the epitome of the city's love," says Alderman Carl O. Snowden, who served with Hopkins for 12 years.
He can hang out with governors, members of Congress and presidents, fighting to help his city, the state's capital, grow. At the same time, he is the old-fashioned, small-town mayor who kisses babies, walks with people and tells men and women that he coached their fathers in Little League.
A 1989 black-and-white photo on his wall at work explains much about the Annapolis that he sees struggling with its identity. It shows a snow-covered, run-down fishing boat moored at City Dock next to flashier powerboats.
To Hopkins, the fishing boat shows old Annapolis when it was a city of 10,000 with working-class families living by the water and supporting themselves through oystering, clamming and fishing. The powerboats represent a city of 34,000 with a downtown historic district filled with young professionals connected to the water only through their boats.
The photo also symbolizes Hopkins.
"Did you know I served with over 41 or 42 different aldermen?" Hopkins says. "That's the truth. I've seen a lot of this country, a lot of the world, but I've seen no place that could steal me away. I've done a lot. Met a lot of people. Who would have thought a Hell Pointer would make good on his dreams?"
Growing up in Annapolis
Take a Hopkins city tour and journey through his past.
The house where he and his sister, Katheryn Adele, were born, is gone. The street is there, but instead of rowhouses it runs through the middle of the Treasury Building named after Louis L. Goldstein, the state comptroller, who has been in office even longer than Hopkins.
Hopkins' father shoveled coal into a furnace at the Navy Engineering Experiment Station. Before her marriage, his mother worked at a five-and-dime in Baltimore. They never owned a house. By the time "Brother," as his family and neighbors call him, was in third grade, they had moved seven times.
"Did you know that two of those homes still stand on East Street? Did you know one of my best memories as a kid was visiting my grandmother on Carroll Street to get a slice of bread spread thinly with butter and sugar sprinkled lightly on top?" Hopkins says.