The two men seeking to oust Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer sharply differ with her on crime, taxes and development in the city and criticize the way power has been wielded in the past four years.
Moyer defends her stewardship of the city. "We are a hometown of distinction," she said at a recent candidates forum. "Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
But Alderman George O. Kelley Sr., who recently switched to the Republican Party, and Gilbert T. Renaut, an independent candidate, are both running for mayor because they think the city is going in the wrong direction. All three candidates face the voters Nov. 8.
Moyer, 69, served on the city council representing Eastport for 14 years and was an education lobbyist before becoming the city's first female leader when she won four years ago with 55 percent of the vote.
She has led at a time where increasing property assessments have filled the city's coffers, and she stresses that she has used the new funds for capital improvements to the city's infrastructure, including a new police station and new fire equipment. She also says she has given downtown "a face-lift," which included installing red brick sidewalks on West Street and Church Circle.
Kelley, 48, the only African-American in the mayoral race, challenges Moyer's priorities, saying: "While the mayor is picking up gum wrappers downtown, mothers are wiping up blood on the streets." Kelley currently represents Ward 4 on the city council.
In the city's poor neighborhoods, Kelley says, "Gunshots are heard on a daily basis, and drug deals are going on out in the open." A former Annapolis police officer, Kelley pushed this year for enlarging the city's police force. And, if elected mayor, Kelley says he would add 15 police officers and create a new squad that would exclusively walk neighborhood beats.
Renaut, 58, whose civic experience includes leadership of neighborhood organizations, also says Annapolitans are increasingly fearful of violent crime. A retired lawyer with the U.S. Department of Energy and former math teacher in the Baltimore public schools, Renaut says his experience bringing people to consensus would be invaluable as mayor.
He stressed community policing as an answer to crime in the city, and although he says he has not looked closely at the city's crime statistics, he says: "In the final analysis, what matters is `Do people feel safe?' "
Moyer and the police chief last spring disputed Kelley's claims that the city doesn't have enough police officers. She also rejects her opponents' characterization of crime in the city.
"It's very easy to talk fear and exaggerate fear," she said. She stresses that she's sworn in more than 40 officers and supported providing $200,000 to the city's public housing authority to beef up security on those properties.
Moyer says more needs to be done, but she points out in mailings and in speeches that crime in the city is "at a 14 year low."
And, while Renaut and Kelley both want more police officers, neither has put forward a specific plan to pay for additional coverage and both support lowering taxes.
Both also would push for a 4 percent limit on the amount that house assessments could rise, which in turn would limit property tax increases.
Renaut describes himself as "a '60s liberal," but says increasing property assessments are "forcing people out."
Kelley has pushed for the measure and says: "Anytime the government has the ability to put money back into the family funds, we have an obligation to do so."
Moyer has opposed legislation that limits the assessment increases beyond the current 10 percent cap in place by state law. She points out that her administration has reduced the property tax rate to partially offset the tax impact of rising home values.
Her opponents say her claim as a tax reducer is disingenuous because the overall tax bill paid by Annapolitans has gone up.
"I don't like the phoniness of it," Renaut said. "I don't like the administration saying it lowered taxes when taxes have gone up."
The construction cranes poised over Park Place, along with development at Westbridge Village and other projects, have fueled voter concerns about traffic and quality of life, according to Kelley and Renaut.
Both challengers support a development moratorium on any new projects. "We need to slow down," Kelley said. Renaut wants no new development until, he says, "we have a policy to determine what is good and what is bad."
Moyer says that there is a development plan but concedes that it needs updating.
The two challengers also criticize the way Moyer has handled herself in office. Renaut says day-to-day city decisions have been politicized under Moyer, and he would support hiring a city manager who would report to the city council and would "depoliticize the nuts and bolts" of running the city. Such a change would give the mayor "a diminished role," Renaut says.