A tough act to follow for next mayor

Observers credit Nevin with strengthening town laws during two terms

He won't seek a third

Shoemaker, Thomas vie to succeed him


February 23, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

When Hampstead voters go to the polls in May, they will have to pick a replacement for one of the most aggressive mayors in town history, Christopher M. Nevin, who announced last week that he will step aside after two action-filled terms.

Nevin entered with promises to set limits on development and put new teeth in town laws. He and the Town Council were largely successful, many observers say, bringing a forcefulness and organization that had been lacking in Hampstead government.

Two of Nevin's colleagues on the council have already said they will vie to continue that legacy.

Nevin's announcement was prompted by Town Councilman Haven N. Shoemaker Jr.'s declaration that he would be running for the office. Fellow Councilman Wayne H. Thomas announced Friday that he will also run for mayor.

Regardless of those entries, Nevin said he had decided that his Baltimore banking job and four children were leaving him too little time to work on town business.

"I think we've delivered on what we promised," said Nevin, who won his first election in 1995 as the leader of a reform push in the town of about 5,000.

Nevin and several council candidates shoved out an old guard that they said had allowed the town's infrastructure to crumble, had refused to impose sufficient controls on developers and had failed to create a plan for revitalizing Main Street.

Nevin said last week that he thought those problems had been addressed during his eight years.

Others agreed.

"He certainly moved things forward in Hampstead," said County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, herself a former mayor of the town. "He came in with brand-new ideas about what should be done and how it should be done, and his style worked."

Shoemaker also praised Nevin's accomplishments. "The town has progressed leaps and bounds in the last eight years," he said.

Few town political observers were surprised at Shoemaker's mayoral candidacy. Nevin said the 38-year-old attorney has long seemed like "the mayor in training."

Shoemaker keeps his law practice on Main Street and seems to delight in the chatting and hand-shaking expected of a small-town leader.

"I'm here and I'm real accessible," said Shoemaker. "I think it's real important for the mayor of a small town to be accessible."

Thomas' entry was also expected. The 52-year-old systems engineer ran unsuccessfully against Nevin in 1999. He said he wants to be mayor so he can follow through on the projects he has worked on as a town councilman for the past 10 years.

"The mayor just has more responsibility in terms of determining the town's direction," said Thomas, known for his work on the Main Street revitalization plan and for his detailed knowledge of town laws.

Thomas described himself as more interested in the specifics of town codes than Shoemaker but said the two share similar goals for Hampstead's future.

Both are in the middle of four-year council terms, so neither would be forced out of government by a loss in the May 13 election.

Shoemaker and Thomas agreed that the next mayor will primarily be a steward for ideas that have begun to take shape over the last few years, from the transformation of the town's decaying elementary school into a senior housing center to plans for a 16-acre downtown park.

Those ideas came to life under Nevin, a 44-year-old vice president of Provident Bank in Baltimore, who, with his formal tone and appearance, brought a professionalism to town politics that hadn't been there before, observers said.

Members of the council in power when Nevin first ran for mayor argued that the town could do little to stop crowding on roads or in schools, because only the county could build more of either.

Nevin and his running mates said such thinking was inadequate. Their views won the day, with Nevin receiving four times as many votes as then-incumbent Mayor C. Clint Becker.

Reflections on job

Reflecting on his eight years in office, Nevin noted that the town has upgraded its water system, implemented adequate facilities laws and impact fees for developers, transformed an aging building into a new police station and secured control of the old Hampstead Elementary School, a property that town leaders see as the linchpin of downtown revitalization.

"We've really done a lot that was in the long-term best interests of the town," he said.

Nevin's terms were not conflict-free.

He sparred with former Town Manager Neil Ridgely, who resigned in 1999 after a disagreement about how town insurance should cover a collision between the mayor's personal car and a Hampstead police car.

Ridgely went on to run for county commissioner last year and was recently appointed the county's new zoning enforcer.

During the 1999 mayoral election, Thomas said the mayor and council had allowed developer Martin K. P. Hill, who had a history of citations for zoning violations, to flout town regulations.

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