A Three-way Race for Mayor of Annapolis

“Gavin 2017.” That was the bumper sticker I saw in a parking lot the other day. It was the first sign that the 2017 race for mayor of Annapolis is underway. Buckle up. It may get lively.

“Gavin” is Gavin Buckley, the outgoing 53-year-old owner of, it seems, most of the restaurants on West Street, including Metropolitan, Lemongrass, Tsunami, and Sailor. Born in South Africa, raised in Australia, Buckley is Annapolis’ Crocodile Dundee. He sailed into town 23 years ago from Bermuda and never left. He has already filed to run in the Democratic primary next September, hoping to challenge Republican Mayor Mike Pantelides, 33, who has declared for a second term.

State Sen. John Astle, 73, is probably running for the Democratic nomination as well.

“I’m thinking seriously about it,” he says, with a grin and a mischievous lilt in his voice that makes you think he’s made up his mind. “I’m giving it a good hard look.” That is the careful answer of a 22-year senator who is currently enmeshed in another legislative session and doesn’t have to file his papers until July 31.

So, 10 months before the balloting, three candidates are already raising money and shaking every hand they can find.

Who, you might ask, in his or her right mind would want to be the 137th mayor of Annapolis? Most of the mayor’s time is spent arguing with the eight-member City Council over nearly every issue that comes up: new developments, selling the golf course, even promoting the noisy spectacle known as the Nitro Circus. Everything is a battle, everything takes forever.
“This job is a struggle to get to five” votes, Mayor Pantelides explained, referring to the simple majority on the City Council necessary to get anything done. But, he quickly added last week, “I love the job. I enjoy meeting different people and I want to build on what we’ve accomplished in my first term.”

Besides, Pantelides has some $150,000 in his campaign account and no likely Republican opposition for the nomination. He has got much of the business community behind him and the wind at his back. He won by 59 votes last time, out of some 8,000, and plans to do better this time. “I’d be hard to beat for the Republican nomination,” he says cheerfully.

“I enjoyed the job,” says Ellen Moyer, mayor from 2001 to 2009. “I enjoyed helping people.” Then she adds: “But I don’t enjoy the lack of civility, the nastiness of the rhetoric and the character assassination that comes with it.”

Buckley doesn’t sound worried about that. He was inspired to run by his ongoing court battle with the Historic Preservation Commission over the modernist mural on the facade of Tsunami, one of his restaurants. He wants to stand up for freedom of expression and for the arts community. Beyond that, he wants to breathe some life into the city, re-imagine Main Street and City Dock and make Annapolis a draw, like Boulder, Colorado, or Asheville, North Carolina, or Austin, Texas, or Burlington, Vermont.

“I appreciate the city’s history,” he says, “but the historic buildings can be a backdrop to a lot of cool stuff” like music festivals, a cafe culture and, yes, murals. “The mayor should be the promoting officer for the city, its biggest promoter.”

Astle has lived in Annapolis for 46 years. “I love this city,” he says, “I’d like to fix the interior workings of the city, make its government work the way it should.” Describing himself with a smile as “a Democrat who loves dogs, guns and pickups,” he says his has been a life of service, as a Marine helicopter pilot in Vietnam, a pilot who flew the vice president for four years and retired as a colonel, a police officer in Baltimore, District 30 delegate for a dozen years and senator for 22.

Astle ran for mayor in 1981 and lost by 243 votes. Listening to him, you get the impression he’d like to correct that record.

Then there are the practical considerations: his last three Senate elections have been squeakers he won by less than 1 percent of the vote. He is sure to have strong Republican opposition if he tries again. And, he adds with a good-natured laugh, “It’d be a pay raise!”

A state senator makes $50,000, the mayor $98,000.

Sounds like we have a lively three-way race coming this year.

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