Giving it one more go

Comeback: Alfred A. Hopkins, a two-time mayor and perhaps the longest-serving official in Annapolis history, is back campaigning.

April 03, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

A crisp wind blows strands of snowy-white hair away from Alfred A. Hopkins' ruddy face and sharp blue eyes as he knocks on door after door on Woods Drive in Eastport.

At many of the houses, the 75-year-old, two-time Annapolis mayor is recognized instantly.

"Hello, Al!" exclaims Archibald Gray when he finds Hopkins on his doorstep. "What are you doing here?"

"Trying to be mayor again," Hopkins replies.

"Why would you want to do that?" Gray asks.

That's a question Hopkins is asked often since he began his "door-knocking" campaign for mayor in May.

Hopkins tells them he misses the job and, after a three-year hiatus, he is back, bidding for one more term.

That surprises some, who expected Hopkins to slide into a comfortable retirement after 24 years on the city council and eight at the city's helm. Believed to be the longest-serving official in the city's history, he was honored by the council when he left office by having the plaza near the Market House on City Dock named for him.

A nice gesture, but the well-known Annapolis booster, who has never lost an election, did not want to stop being mayor. He was forbidden by city code from running for a third consecutive term in 1997.

He faces at least three other Democrats - former County Council member Maureen Lamb, Alderman and one-time Annapolis first lady Ellen Moyer and three-time mayoral candidate Sylvanus B. Jones - for his party's nomination. Two other candidates - Alderman Herbert H. McMillan and incumbent Mayor Dean L. Johnson - have announced that they want the Republican slot in the September primary.

So far, Hopkins says he has been well-received by residents.

"I am walking and knocking and hoping that you will think of me in September," he says as he hands them campaign cards listing some of his accomplishments.

His political style harks back to another era. He's followed the same campaign routine for 40 years, walking up and down these city streets, crossing off addresses from neatly organized note cards as he goes.

It was a process that served the World War II Navy veteran and former Annapolis Capital sports editor well in 1989, when he executed a surprising defeat of incumbent Dennis M. Callahan in the primary and went on to realize his childhood dream of becoming mayor.

While holding the office, Hopkins returned 5,208 phone calls, he boasts. (He knows because he kept meticulous records.)

And even though he is no longer a city official, former constituents still call on him. Recently, an elderly Eastport woman woke Hopkins and his wife of 54 years, Marion, at 5:30 a.m. because she had been robbed. Hopkins drove to her house that day to talk.

Above all, he likes people, and says he considers being mayor "the one elected position that is there to really serve the people on a one-to-one basis."

One of his main priorities if elected would be to answer the problems of his constituents - or give them a reason why he can't help them. "I'm not God's gift to anybody, but I will spend a lot of time with people," he says.

Lou Hyatt, a developer who served with Hopkins on the city council, says this quality goes a long way with the "old-timers" of the city. "Al responds to people," Hyatt says. "He may not know all the ropes, but he will call a department head and say, `This is Mr. Jones - see if you can help him out.'"

Even critics admit he is a formidable candidate who is thought of as a good neighbor and grandfatherly. Some say Hopkins - who has lived in the same modest house on Van Buren Street for 50 years and says he would put his record as mayor up against anyone's - would have won by a landslide he had been allowed to run in the last election.

Larry Vincent, owner of Laurance Clothing on Main Street, was the Republican challenger against Hopkins in the mayoral races of 1989 and 1993. "I stood next to him at a debate, and he announced to the crowd, `I don't know anything about anything,' and he got a standing ovation," Vincent recalls. "For some reason, people found this charming. This is mystifying to me, but you have to take his candidacy seriously."

On the campaign trail, Hopkins is aware that his age could be an issue for voters, although in the Democratic primary 79-year-old Lamb is his senior, and Moyer, at age 65, is the youngest party candidate.

While going door to door, he offers answers to the age question. "I feel like I am 35 years old," he tells one resident.

But on this particular March day, one fear is lingering over Hopkins' travels: "Are there any dogs on your street?" he asks.

After decades of campaigning, Hopkins said, a dog pinned him between a gate and a fence in October, and bit him on the thigh.

Even that has not slowed Hopkins down, though he flinches when three large Rottweilers pounce menacingly against a dilapidated fence. "I fought in World War II, and I am glad I didn't get wounded - so I didn't get a Purple Heart," he says good-naturedly. "But I'd like to get some kind of Purple Heart for this - a little dog or something."

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