Moyer may face a tough battle

2 hopefuls are giving the Annapolis mayor a run for her money

November 07, 2005|By ANNIE LINSKEY | ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTER

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer - who appeared to have widespread support earlier this year when she launched a well-financed re-election bid - now finds herself trying to stave off aggressive challenges from two opponents heading into Tuesday's election.

George O. Kelley Sr., a Democrat-turned-Republican alderman and former city police officer, and independent Gilbert T. Renaut are each seeking to unseat Moyer, the first female mayor of Annapolis.

Although Moyer's glossy fliers list nearly 100 accomplishments, including revitalizing West Street and raising the salaries of police officers and firefighters, many say the race is wide open.

Moyer's opponents have pounded her for pushing through a deal to turn over the historic Market House to Dean & DeLuca and then for failing to inform council members when the deal began going south. Opponents also criticize what they say is Moyer's abrasive style at council meetings. And, historically, the city's voters have not been kind to incumbents. Only one Annapolis mayor his been re-elected in the past 24 years.

"If the incumbent has managed to ruffle enough feathers she could have a hard time," said Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College.

Moyer, 69, conceded that the Market House issue has been "damaging" and was quoted recently as saying that she could lose the election over it.

And, although the city is overwhelmingly Democratic, traditional party divisions don't play out neatly in this race. Kelley was elected to the city council in 2001 as a Democrat and switched to the GOP in February. Renaut, a self-described "'60s liberal," is backed by former mayors from both parties.

City voters also will elect a new Board of Aldermen on Tuesday.

Moyer, who grew up in Towson and has a master's degree in education from Goucher College, is widely known in political circles. Her ex-husband, Roger "Pip" Moyer, was mayor from 1965 to 1973.

A retired education lobbyist, Moyer has served 18 years on the council (14 as an alderman from Eastport) and has raised nearly four times more money than her two opponents combined.

She has pushed numerous downtown beautification efforts - for example, she made a last-minute change to a streetscape project last year to add red bricks to the first block of West Street. A new police station also is being built.

She's also won endorsements from the Sierra Club and local police, labor and fire unions.

"We are a model," Moyer likes to say, listing an improved bond rating, better police retention and more citizen involvement among her accomplishments.

But those accomplishments have been overshadowed in recent months by the dispute over the Market House, near Annapolis' City Dock.

Soon after the city approved a deal in mid-2004 to lease the 147-year-old building to Dean & DeLuca, negotiations between the city and company stalled. Then the New York specialty grocer pulled out. Nevertheless, city officials, including Moyer, were promoting plans for the "Dean & DeLuca Market House" as recently as last spring. Kelley and others blamed Moyer for a secretive process that excluded the public and council.

Moyer said that the process was open but that she takes responsibility for the collapse of the deal.

Crime is an issue

Kelley and Renaut have struck similar themes. Both say the violent crime rate is too high - noting that the city has recorded five homicides this year and arguing that more police officers should be patrolling the neighborhoods.

Kelley, 48, has been particularly blunt in his criticism: "While the mayor is picking up gum wrappers downtown, mothers are wiping up blood on the streets."

The mayor says that crime is at a 14-year low and that the city has an adequate number of police officers. Dennis Conti, the former director of the city's Public Housing Authority, says Moyer is "a big supporter of public safety." He noted her support for $350,000 in city funds to hire private security for public housing.

Her opponents also complain that the city under Moyer hasn't done enough to manage development and relieve traffic jams.

And they both favor lowering the cap on annual home assessment increases from 10 percent to 4 percent, to limit tax hikes. Moyer has backed tax rate reductions, but not enough to offset assessment-driven tax increases.

Different approaches

Kelley and Renaut have sharply contrasting styles.

On the campaign trail, Kelley, a private security firm owner, is visibly pumped up. Waving campaign signs early on a recent morning he yelled: "All right!" and "You are a winner! We're going to do this!" at passing cars. He pointed at people. He smiled. Drivers return his enthusiasm, honking, waving and flashing their headlights.

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