From the first lady of Annapolis to its first female mayor

Election: Ellen O. Moyer, Annapolis' next leader, has been involved in local politics for more than three decades.

November 11, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Ellen Moyer is cleaning house.

It's not the massive governmental reorganization that one might expect from a newly elected politician - not yet, anyway. On this day, the day after her election as mayor of Annapolis, Moyer and her family, friends and hired help are moving boxes and bags of junk that piled up in her eclectic Eastport home during the arduous campaign.

"A final decision has been made in the mayor's campaign, now it's time for feng shui," she says, leaning against a pile of canoes in her narrow back yard along the Chesapeake Bay, "to get all the stuff out and get ready for this new chapter in my life."

Moyer, 65, has served for the past 14 years on the city council, and became involved in Annapolis politics as the city's first lady when her then-husband was elected mayor in 1965. Now, more than three decades later, after a career in governmental relations and a series of statewide appointments, Moyer is heading back to City Hall to become the first woman to head the city in its 293-year history.

A mother of five - whose daughter describes her as the "Mother Lioness" and whose grandchildren refer to her simply as "Ellen" - Moyer has earned a reputation for working to beautify the state capital and never backing off from a fight. She is an animal advocate who cares for stray cats, an environmental enthusiast who has canoed along the Missouri River and traversed the Grand Canyon, and a busy career woman who threw out her stove after her children were grown and rolled a baby grand piano into the kitchen.

With her campaign pledge to work with others to preserve Annapolis' unique feel, Moyer defeated first-term Alderman Herbert H. McMillan - who knocked incumbent Mayor Dean L. Johnson out of the race in the Republican primary - earning about 55 percent of the vote. She was endorsed by several previous mayors (including her ex-husband), the Anne Arundel County executive, several state officials, two Republican council members, but only some of the Democrats on the council. In the crowded Democratic primary, she won every ward and earned more votes than the next two candidates - former County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb and popular two-time mayor Alfred A. Hopkins - combined.

"She knows how to stick to her guns; she says what she means and she means what she says," says Ward 6 Alderman Cynthia Carter, who has clashed with Moyer on the council, but still endorsed her. "Even though we don't agree ... I have to respect the woman."

The campaign was hard-fought, with nasty exchanges between both camps. Near Halloween, McMillan supporters released a caricature of Moyer handing out favors to trick-or-treaters, with a skeleton reaching out from behind the door and a handful of menacing cats in the windows.

They also criticized her for actions during the mid-1990s when she resigned as head of the council's finance committee in the midst of budget negotiations, and during the city's "Bar Wars," when she voted to allow City Dock taverns to stay open until 2 a.m. despite protests from residents.

The perception of her opponent as divisive and insensitive to the city's black community helped her win by large margins in the city's three majority-black wards - a feat that might have secured her victory.

Today, Moyer says she is glad that the "emotional roller coaster" of the election is over.

Born Ellen Oosterling in Camden, N.J., on Feb. 12, 1936, Moyer was raised in Towson, the only child of college-educated parents. Her father was an electrical engineer; her mother was a schoolteacher and later the executive director of a home for unwed mothers in Baltimore.

From her parents, she says, she learned about community service. Her father coordinated World War II air-raid drills in their neighborhood; her mother headed the local women's club.

But Moyer's "idyllic suburban life," as she describes it, was shattered at age 14 when her father died of cancer.

After her graduation from Towson High School in 1954, where she was the captain of three varsity sports teams and edited the school newspaper, she attended the University of Maryland. She transferred to Pennsylvania State University and earned her bachelor's degree in liberal arts in 1958.

Moyer then moved to Annapolis to be district coordinator for the Girl Scouts and to marry her high school sweetheart, then a midshipman at the Naval Academy.

But that marriage was short-lived. In 1963, she married Roger "Pip" Moyer, who, at 26, was the youngest member ever to serve on the city council.

Two years later, Pip Moyer was elected mayor.

Moyer, who earned her master's degree in education from Goucher College in 1961, taught at Elmwood Elementary in Baltimore County for a year and worked as area director of the YWCA in Baltimore.

While raising her five children, she stayed home and began the volunteer service in Annapolis that would continue for the rest of her life, starting on projects aimed at increasing the city's green space and improving its livability.

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