News From Annapolis…

Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley announces new chief of staff

Mayor Gavin Buckley Monday announced a new chief of staff to take over after current chief Jane Hruska’s departure Wednesday.

Buckley named Susanne “Susy” Stout Smith, an Eastport resident, to replace Hruska on Thursday. Hruska plans to move to New Mexico.

Smith served as chief of staff for Norman Mineta when he was a U.S. congressman and Commerce Secretary under President Bill Clinton. She also advised Mineta when he was Transportation Secretary under President George W. Bush.

Smith also was chief of staff for former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, and legislative director of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California.

“Susy brings a great depth of knowledge and federal experience to our team, complementing a staff with outstanding local, county, and state expertise,” Buckley said in a statement.

Smith also served President Jimmy Carter; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Santa Clara County, California; and the City of San Jose, California. She belonged to the Eastport Civic Association and West Shady Side Neighborhood Association.

Her salary is still being determined, city spokeswoman Susan O’Brien said.

Smith is the wife of Terence Smith, a retired CBS White House correspondent and former columnist for The Capital.

Annapolis VS Newport: Which is the “Sailing Capital of America?”

Annapolis and Newport have a lot in common: both are historic, beautiful, waterfront cities and, for years, both have claimed to be the “Sailing Capital” of America.
In the first column I wrote in this space three years ago, I questioned whether Annapolis deserved its self-anointed “sailing capital” title, given the cramped, crowded harbor and relative lack of amenities for the visiting yachtsman. Lots of readers agreed with me, but a vocal minority cried foul. Hell hath no fury, I discovered, like an Annapolitan challenged on the sailing pre-eminence of his or her city!
I was in the crosshairs — the fire and fury — until Molly Winans, the editor of SpinSheet Magazine came up with a Solomonic solution. Noting that Newport routinely hosts mega-yachts and huge sailboats and that Annapolis is home to an active fleet of 30-40-foot racing sailboats, she decreed that Newport is the “Yachting Capital” of the U.S. and that Annapolis is the “Sailing Capital.”
Controversy resolved!
But wait: Newport now has thrown down a gauntlet that threatens Annapolis’s sailing capital title. Newport’s Mayor, Harry Winthrop, has invited the National Sailing Hall of Fame, currently housed in temporary quarters on Annapolis’s harborside, to move to Newport and settle into the city-owned Armory building, a handsome, turreted stone structure on Newport’s beautiful harbor.
The Mayor is offering to sell or lease the building to the NSHOF, which has been struggling for 13 years to raise the money to build a new Hall of Fame and museum at its postage-stamp site at Annapolis’s City Dock. The NSHOF has raised some $4.5 million in cash and pledges, but needs $9.5 million to meet its commitment to the Maryland state government and obtain a long-term lease on the land, which it currently occupies on a $1-a-year interim lease.
Gary Jobson, the reknown sailor, Annapolis resident and president of the NSHOF’s 27-member board, admits that they are tempted by the Newport offer, although they need more details.
“We in Annapolis claim we are the U.S. sailing capital,” he said this week, “but in reality the big yachts and the big donors don’t come here. They go to Newport.”
Jobson said his board is confronted with three options: continue their fundraising efforts in Annapolis, move to Newport or convert the Hall of Fame into a virtual, online operation. The board members are deeply divided, with some supporting each of the options, but Jobson is determined to bring the matter to a head and make a decision at the Board’s next meeting on January 8.
Would Annapolis forfeit its claim as the sailing capital if the Hall of Fame departs? Not necessarily, but one board member, former Delegate Dick D’Amato, thinks it would be a shame. He’d like to see the NSHOF raise enough money to build a striking building on the Annapolis waterfront, something that would catch the eye of any sailor coming into the harbor.
“It would be the first thing that they see,” he said, “and it would effectively hang out a sign that says “Sailing Capital.”
Moreover, D’Amato says, the Hall of Fame and museum would be a singular attraction in Annapolis. In Newport, it would be one more sailing institution, along with the majestic J Class yachts, the America’s Cup yachts racing in the harbor and the International Yacht Restoration School. The America’s Cup Hall of Fame is just up the road in Bristol, RI.
Jobson, clearly frustrated by his protracted fundraising shortages, says the zillionaire celebrities who spend tens of millions on America’s Cup challenges, the Ted Turners and the Larry Ellisons, aren’t interested in contributing to a Hall of Fame here. “Believe me,” he said, “I’ve asked, more than once.”
But there is one new player in this continuing drama, as of last Monday: Mayor Gavin Buckley. He said in an interview that he is “100 per cent” behind keeping the Hall of Fame on City Dock in Annapolis.
So, as they say in live television, stay tuned.

The Trump Effect?

What is the message behind Gavin Buckley’s stunning, lopsided victory over Mayor Mike Pantelides in the Annapolis city elections this past week? What does it say about how Annapolitans feel about their city, about politics today and about President Donald Trump one year after his upset victory?
“Trump and turnout,” Pantelides immediately volunteered to me as he stepped down from the microphone after his concession speech Tuesday night when I asked him what explained Buckley’s remarkable win.
“Annapolis wanted a change,” he conceded, and indeed, despite a rainy, chilly election day, nearly a thousand more voters turned out Tuesday than during the hard-fought, incredibly close mayoral election four years ago. Clearly the voters of Annapolis had something to say and wanted to be heard.
“The national factor played a big part,” the Mayor continued. “Trump has ruined the Republican label.”
Pantelides may have been making excuses for his own poor showing, but his bitter feelings about the President were echoed among his supporters gathered in the second floor ballroom of the Annapolis Waterfront hotel. All the trappings for a blowout victory party were there: tables laden with hors d’ourves, music, a free-flowing, cash bar. But the Republicans in the room, almost all of them white and prosperous-looking in coats and ties and dresses, were angry with their national standard-bearer.
“I’m heartbroken,” said a blonde-haired woman standing with her grown daughter. “I’m a conservative and a lifelong Republican, but Trump has destroyed the party right down to the local level. “ “It is pretty scary,” her daughter agreed, “The Trump effect is real.”
Pantelides confessed that he had known he was in trouble two weeks before, when he got the results of a private poll conducted by his campaign. “It showed Gavin ahead 46-to-43 per cent, ” he said. That was when his supporters began flooding the city mailboxes with attack fliers mocking Buckley’s Australian accent, questioning his business record and accusing him of planning to raise taxes.
“The fliers hurt,” I know that.,” Pantelides conceded ruefully Tuesday night.
If the mood in the Republican gathering was sour and flat, the scene at the Metropolitan Kitchen and Lounge celebrating Buckley’s success was joyful and raucous. Hundreds of supporters, black, white and Asian, young and old, packed the three floors of the restaurant, laughing and cheering over the pulse of a disco beat. They applauded their hero’s acceptance speech, traded high fives and hooted approval when a reel of “Gavin’s Bloopers” — stumbling outtakes of Buckley’s video ads — flickered across the screen.
Buckley himself was exuberant. When a television reporter asked him on camera what his first act would be after the swearing-in on December 4, Buckley said: “Signing a peace treaty with Eastport!”
When Steve Schuh, the Republican County Executive shook his hand and promised that they would work together, Buckley said: “Great. Can I buy you a drink?” and led Schuh through the crowd to the bar.
The contrast between the two election-night parties mirrored the candidates themselves: Pantelides, the earnest, methodical plodder who trumpeted his first four years and promised more of the same; Buckley, the rakish, adventurous outsider who promised change, new ideas and excitement.
How big was the Trump factor? While the results here reflected the same-day Democratic sweep in Virginia, New Jersey and New York City and clearly represented a wider Republican setback, the Annapolis outcome was mostly local, mostly about the sharply contrasting candidates and the voters’ frustration with the glacial pace of improvements in their venerable city.
Annapolitans seemed to be looking at the endless squabbles over the Market House, the empty storefronts on Main Street, the frequently clogged traffic, the non-stop development, the shabby public housing, the increased crime, the repeated “nuisance flooding” lapping at the edges of downtown and the parked cars littering City Dock and asking: “Can’t we do better?”
Gavin Buckley seemed to be taking a page out of the Obama playbook and answering: “Yes we can.”
Come December 4, he’ll get his chance to prove it.

Mayoral Sweepstakes 2017

Annapolis, Maryland is being treated to a lively, genuinely competitive and so far remarkably civil mayoral race that pits an improbable, 34-year-old incumbent against an unlikely, 54-year-old challenger.
With just two weeks and two days to go, the outcome is hard to predict.
If you’ve been looking the other way, here’s the race in a nutshell:
Mike Pantelides, the 136th Mayor of Annapolis, was just 30 when he squeezed into office by 60 votes out of nearly 8,000 cast four years ago. A political neophyte and a Republican in a city with a two-to-one Democratic registration, he defied all the political odds to become the first GOP mayor in more than a decade.
“Mayor Mikey,” as some of his less-generous critics call him, was boyishly awkward in his first year in office, seemingly uncomfortable in his own skin. But he has gained in confidence and authority as he has battled with the City Council over issues large and small. He has raised more than $250,000 for his re-election and has important segments of the business community behind him. At the outset of the race, he was clearly the frontrunner.
Gavin Buckley, the Democratic nominee, is an Australian-accented restaurateur and businessman often credited with reviving inner West Street (“changing it from a red light district to an arts district,” he says,) who scored a major victory in the primary by decisively defeating the veteran State Senator John Astle.
A total newcomer to politics, Buckley sailed into Annapolis 23 years ago from Bermuda and never left. Married with two children in Annapolis public schools, he has raised some $130,000 in campaign funds and generated serious momentum behind his candidacy with his wit, energy and new ideas.
A long-shot when he first declared, Buckley is now a serious contender who could well take City Hall on election day.
Unlike the name-calling and coarse language of our recent presidential race, the Annapolis mayoral campaign has been remarkably well-mannered, at least so far. The two candidates even lunched together recently at Lemongrass, one of Buckley’s several restaurants.
“I offered, but Gavin picked up the tab,” Pantelides told me last week. “I like Gavin a lot. He has good ideas, but I’m not sure he necessarily knows how to get things done or how to pay for things.”
Last week the campaign tone sharpened a bit as Mayor Pantelides launched a sarcastic online video ad and mailer spoofing Buckley’s idea for a Ferris wheel along the waterfront, a notion Buckley tossed out on a local podcast as a device to lure families downtown and brighten the City Dock area.
“Nothing says historic preservation like an eyesore Ferris wheel,” the ad concludes.
Buckley seemed more amused than annoyed by the needle; he’s not counting on a lot of votes from the historic preservation crowd, whom he described to me in an interview as “a Game of Crones.”
The tone of the race may harden in the remaining two weeks, because it feels so close. Both candidates are pressing hard.
Buckley says he has not conducted any polls, but figures he needs to attract at least 4,500 votes to win. “Mike has the bigger challenge,” Buckley told me, “because he has to bring Democrats to his side to win.”
The Mayor concedes that he has conducted opinion polls, but said in a telephone interview that the results are “confidential.” When I said that sounded bad, he laughed and said, “No, they’re not bad, I can say that.”
Despite their surface harmony, the Mayor and his challenger differ sharply in style and substance. Buckley fairly spouts ideas, while Pantelides is more cautious and measured.
Buckley wants to revive Main Street, get the cars off the City Dock waterfront and make it a people-friendly draw for residents and visitors alike, convert the beleaguered Market House into a vibrant community gathering place, get Annapolitans out of their cars and onto bike lanes, ferries and trolleys and clean up Spa Creek and the harbor. In short, he wants to make Annapolis more fun.
Pantelides wants to build on what he describes as his first term record of economic development, environmental stewardship, financial stability and improved public safety. In short, continue what he has been doing.
For Annapolis voters, then, the 2017 mayoral race offers a choice, not an echo.

News Obsessive Disorder

Are you suffering from News Obsessive Disorder (NOD)?
Do the headlines out of our nation’s capital give you a headache? Does page-one make you anxious? Do you find yourself watching cable news non-stop?
You are not alone. NOD is endemic in the Age of Trump, and growing.
Fortunately, the doctor is in.
Valium might help, or Xanax. But the recommended remedy here is travel. Take a trip, a long trip, preferably outside the circulation area of your favorite paper, ideally to where the internet connection is spotty and wi-fi rare.
My wife and I recently sought such relief.
We left Annapolis on January 22, with the inauguration and Women’s March on the Mall and in Annapolis still ringing in our ears. We flew to Panama, boarded a ship, transited the Canal and turned south along the Pacific coasts of Ecuador, Peru and Chile, crossing the equator and basking in the full summer of the southern hemisphere. It was a speaking assignment for me on a cruise ship, a journey of some 8,500 miles in all, and it came at just the right time to detox from Trumpworld.
It is not a miracle cure for NOD, mind you. The news still gets through. The ship has a satellite that brings in some of the cable channels and sometimes the uplink to the internet works. But — here is the good news — as Washington slips further and further behind you, the headlines seem more remote, less immediate, less threatening.
South Americans know about Trump, of course, but they don’t obsess about him. They have their own worries. In Ecuador, they are still rebuilding from a terrible earthquake, in Peru there is a water shortage, in Chile, where they are in the fifth year of a drought, wild fires are raging.
On board the ship, when the satellite is working, the inescapable headlines from Washington tumble across the television screen: a blizzard of executive orders, a travel ban against Muslims that the President says is not really a travel ban against Muslims and that the courts say is illegal, the Alice-in-Wonderland comment from White House counselor Kelly Anne Conway that the Administration is not lying, but offering “alternative facts.”
President Trump holds phone conversations with a dozen world leaders and hangs up on some of them. Mexico is said to be furious, Australia confused and the French mystified.
Annapolis news is mystifying as well. The Capital Gazette website reports that Mayor Pantelides has fired the Annapolis police chief because he wants to go in a “new direction.” What is that all about?
Every day brings a new headline stranger than the day before. But as you sail further south, it all seems far away, like another planet. It is sunny and warm. You relax and read your book; your blood pressure goes down, you take a nap.
Eventually, the trip is over and you come home, back to the world of non-stop “Breaking News” about the chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The television is on morning and night. NOD again.
Once again, you are drinking from a news fire hose: The President has fired his national security adviser after only 24 days in office, the billionaire he nominated for Labor Secretary is out before he was in, North Korea fires a missile, a Russian spy ship is off the coast of Connecticut. The scent of scandal is in the air.
On MSNBC, political director Chuck Todd warns: “Hunker down, this is a Category 5 political hurricane that’s hitting Washington.”
Then last Thursday, the President emerges in the East Room to give a 77-minute news conference like no other. It is mostly a rambling, disjointed assault on the news media, whom he loves and hates and loves to hate. NOD again.
Vacation over, it is time to pay attention and remember some hard realities: critical news about Trump is not “fake news,” leaks are not the problem, lies are. Truth is more important — and more difficult to discern — than ever. It is up to the viewer and reader to decide.
That’s unfair, I know, but in the Age of Trump and the era of “alternative facts,” that’s the way it is.

Terence Smith, who lives in Eastport, is a former White House correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News.

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.

Rising Waters

Lisa Craig’s office window looks out on Main Street, across from Kilwin’s ice cream shop and the Helly Hanson store. Every heavy rain, she gets a vivid reminder of just how vulnerable Annapolis is to the freaky weather that somehow seems normal these days.
“Main Street becomes a river,” she said the other day, “the water pours down over the bricks and curbs into the harbor.”
Lisa Craig’s title is Chief of Historic Preservation for the city of Annapolis. A more apt title would be Chief Drum Beater. Her mission: wake up the people of Annapolis to the existential threats posed by flooding, storm surges, torrential rains and the slow, silent danger of sea level rise.
“When I took this job five years ago, I barely thought about sea level rise,” she says. “Now, I spend 50 per cent of my time on it.”
The most vulnerable portion of Annapolis is arguably its most important: the Historic District, a National Historic Landmark since 1965 that contains 180 of the finest 18th century and later homes and commercial buildings in the country. Total estimated value: $288 million.
The greatest threat to Annapolis and the Chesapeake is unmistakable and beyond argument: as polar ice melts, the oceans warm and the land subsides, the average sea level will rise. Scientists forecast anywhere from one to three feet of elevation by 2100, maybe more.
In that event, the so-called “nuisance flooding” that we saw around City Dock over Labor Day weekend would become more than annoying. Newman Street would become the Newman Canal, unless something is done to prevent it. (The large family of ducks clearly enjoy themselves on the watery pavement now, but even they would have to swim for it.)
Storm surge from a hurricane like Isabel is another grave threat to downtown Annapolis, especially in an era when 100-year storms seem to come along every decade or so.
Last Sunday, The New York Times featured a page-one takeout headlined “Global Warming’s Mark: Coastal Inundation,” with a subhead that read: “Decades of Warnings by Scientists Are No Longer Theoretical.”
Inside, The Times ran a dramatic, full-length graphic of the east coast, showing endangered cities from Boston to Key West. Annapolis was just above the fold, showing a sharp increase in “sunny day” flooding over the last 65 years, from fewer than 10 days-a-year in 1950 to more than 60 days in 2015.
By contrast, low-lying Norfolk, Virginia had just 10 such days in 2015, lower-lying Miami just 14.
That’s the reality and trend line that Lisa Craig is trying to impress upon the Annapolis public consciousness. She has made some progress: under the catchy rubric “Weather It Together,” a loose coalition of city, county, state and Federal agencies have been beating the drum.
They turned out a large crowd to hear oceanographer and author John Englander discuss the threat to Annapolis, and a smaller but interested audience for a day-long, planning seminar on practical solutions. They have held more than a dozen community presentations and enlisted over 1,250 people in public engagement activities.
But, human nature being what it is, namely, not inclined to worry about a problem until it is lapping at the doorstep, no members of the public turned out last Thursday at an open City Hall meeting of the Weather It Together core group to hear a presentation on the devastating flooding in historic Ellicott City in July.
Joe Budge and Ross Arnett, the Aldermen who represent the most vulnerable areas of the city, were there, along with several dozen business and community leaders. They listened as Ellicott City and Annapolis were described as “eerily similar” in terms of vulnerability to flooding.
Alderman Budge, asked where on a scale of one-to-ten he believed Annapolis was in terms of public awareness of the dangers confronting it, he said: “Maybe three or four,” adding: “it will be another year, year-and-a-half before we will have a plan on how to deal with it and what it will cost.”
That is probably right, given that the city’s updated hazard mitigation and cultural resource plan is not expected to be approved before the end of 2017.
In the meantime, as Johnny Cash once sang, “If the Good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise,” Annapolis will stay dry and its historic heart preserved.

Annapolis Face Lift

In a letter to The Annapolis Capital on November 27, Wayne Adamson takes me to task for my recent Capital column supporting the Annapolis City Dock Master Plan, which he dismisses as “neither masterful nor suitable.”
I disagree.
The Plan, drafted by a citizen’s committee headed by former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and formally adopted as policy by the City Council, is not perfect. If anything, I wish its authors had been more ambitious. But it is a major step in the right direction towards liberating the City Dock from its current status as a potholed, frequently flooded parking lot.
The plan envisions removing the cars that currently enjoy the best view of the water, relocating the Harbormaster’s office building and redesigning the public spaces to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles in a green, open area that would invite visitors and residents alike to enjoy what the plan describes as “the iconic emblem” of the city.”
Mr. Adamson, representing the businesses that line Dock Street, is afraid that “getting the cars out of there,” as recommended by Alderman Joe Budge, will compel his customers to walk a few blocks from off-site parking. I suspect that a refreshed, pedestrian-friendly City Dock area will attract more customers, not drive them away.
The complete City Dock Master Plan, with illustrations and artists’ renderings, is available on the city’s website. I hope Annapolitans will read it and decide for themselves if it envisions the right way forward for this historic seaport. And, if they agree, I hope they will insist that the City Council implement its guidelines.

Annapolis Makeover

Ego Alley and City Dock are looking forlorn these days.
Most of the area is fenced off, crowded with construction equipment and dominated by a huge crane atop a massive barge anchored in the waterway. Even the bronze Alex Haley and his attentive pupils are temporarily out of reach.
The $7.5 million repair and renovation of the inner portion of Ego Alley is underway. Rotting bulkheads are to be rebuilt, sea walls shored up and the electrical connections elevated. The waterfront will look better, but none of this will prevent the frequent flooding of the surrounding streets or deal with the more serious, longer-term threat of sea level rise.
Meanwhile, the City Council is embroiled in another, long-running debate over the zoning changes required to accommodate the latest proposed redevelopment of the shuttered former Fawcetts Boat Supplies store at 110 Compromise Street. Legislation has been submitted to relax the rules governing the Waterfront Marine Conservation District in that area to permit up to 60 per cent of the site to be devoted to non-maritime uses such as restaurants and retail.
As usual, there are opponents and supporters of the proposed changes. I have no dog in this particular fight, but, intrigued by the Waterfront Maritime Conservation concept, I looked up the enabling legislation that was adopted in 1986.
It calls for preservation of …”the maritime industry and historic character” of the City Dock area, which includes 8.43 acres from the Annapolis Yacht Club around Ego Alley to Susan Campbell Park. This is the heart of downtown Annapolis, a high-rent district embracing 16 parcels with an assessed value of $54.4 million.
But exactly what “maritime industry” is there now?
The waiters serving painkillers at Pusser’s Caribbean Grille? The room clerks at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel? The barflies along Dock Street? Is that “maritime industry?”
“The maritime district concept was flawed from the get-go,” Alderman Ross Arnett told me when I asked what the original idea was. “It was well-intentioned, but they were trying to preserve something that didn’t really exist anymore.”
Indeed, City Dock was once a bustling seaport lined with all kinds of boats and chandleries. But that was a long time ago. Arnett’s main concern today is that if the waterfront conservation standards around Ego Alley are relaxed, property owners in Eastport — his district — will seek the same relief.
Before long, he fears, the genuine maritime businesses that currently line the shores of Eastport, the sail makers and boat builders and the like, will sell out to higher-revenue bars and restaurants and an important element in Annapolis’ maritime character will be lost. At a town hall meeting Thursday night, Arnett said he’d already heard from two Eastport businessmen who want rezoning there as well. Patrick Shaughnessy, president of Farr Yacht Design, spoke up at the meeting to say that he’d been offered better inducements to move his business to France than stay in Annapolis.
Gene Godley, the chairman of the Annapolis Port Wardens, has a broader concern about altering the Waterfront Conservation District zoning to accommodate any one project.
“We need a comprehensive, well-thought-out plan for the entire City Dock area,” he said, “not piecemeal zoning to satisfy one party or another.”
In fact, Annapolis already has such a plan. It is called The Annapolis City Dock Master Plan, drafted by a commission headed by former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke. Completed in October 2013, with Godley as vice chairman, it was adopted as policy by the City Council.
The Master Plan calls for a thorough re-design of City Dock and Ego Alley, which is where Annapolis meets the water and establishes its identity. It would convert the area from a frequently-flooded parking lot where critics have noted “the cars have the best view of the water,” into a pedestrian-friendly public space that would draw tourists and residents alike. Ward One Alderman Joe Budge said Thursday night that “the real nut to crack” in implementing the City Dock Master plan is “to get the cars out of there.”
Done right, an imaginative City Dock makeover could be a huge asset to the city that both recalls Annapolis’ rich maritime history and enhances the waterfront experience today. Let’s hope that whatever The Council decides respects the Master Plan and helps make the Annapolis inner harbor the welcoming space it can be.

The View from Annapolis

Annapolis, I’ve come to discover, affords an excellent vantage to view the many machinations of Washington, D.C., aka America’s Entertainment Capital.

Our town is far enough from the Congress and the White House to escape the inside-the-Beltway mindset, yet close enough to get a sense of what’s going on.

From Annapolis, we’ve been treated so far to the first six months of the Republican-led 114th Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky promised last November that he would convert the upper chamber from what he derided as a Democratic cave of winds into a productive, GOP-administered body that gets things done.

Instead, McConnell has been thwarted repeatedly by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his tea party faction, who have delayed some important priorities (fast-track trade legislation,) derailed others and denounced the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran.

In the House, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has been grappling with a continuing rebellion from the right that forces vote after fruitless vote against Obamacare, seeks to defund Planned Parenthood and rails against the Export-Import Bank as corporate welfare. (Of course it is corporate welfare for big companies like General Electric and Boeing, which employ thousands of workers. But it keeps us competitive with the 63 other nations that have and use similar financing authority to stimulate exports.)

Most frustrating has been Congress’ inability to provide long-term funding for the nation’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. While Congress has fiddled, desperately needed, job-producing projects to upgrade our highways, bridges and tunnels have stalled. The best Congress could produce was another three-month continuing resolution and a promise to revisit the issue in the fall.

All this obstructionism is exhausting work. So the House and Senate have embarked on a 39-day summer recess. It is no vacation, mind you. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the House minority leader, and six of Democratic her colleagues immediately boarded a military jet for Kiev, to show support for the beleaguered people of Ukraine.

But, as Al Kamen helpfully pointed out in his “In The Loop” column in The Washington Post, they are taking the scenic route to the war-torn country, via Rome, Naples and Milan, all of which are lovely at this time of year.

From Annapolis, we can recognize this junket for what it is: an all-expenses-paid vacation. But for the record, Congress defines it as part of its August “work period.”

In the interest of governmental efficiency, I am tempted to suggest that Congress stay out of town longer. Say, a couple of years. But I realize the problem: The government would shut down altogether on Sept. 30 for lack of funds. Then the national parks would have to close and the animals in the National Zoo might go hungry.

The Annapolis City Council has taken a page from Congress, going on its own, albeit shorter, summer break. But the business of government grinds slowly on: Last week Mayor Mike Pantelides signed a 20-year lease for the Annapolis Renewable Energy Park, which will become the nation’s largest solar energy project in an unused landfill. Eventually, the 16.8 megawatt solar voltaic installation will offset greenhouse gas emissions and benefit the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a real accomplishment, even if the proposal dates back to Mayor Ellen Moyer’s administration.

So, maybe the Congress could take a page from Annapolis and shorten its vacation and endorse President Barack Obama’s sweeping carbon-cutting proposal, known as the Clean Power Plan. That’s not likely, of course, because the Senate’s top Republicans have already come out against it and 14 states have joined in a lawsuit seeking to block it. Don’t hold your breath on that one.

Still, some things do eventually get accomplished. I think we all know that after all the Senate hearings on the proposed nuclear deal with Iran have been held, and all the attacks from the roster of Republican presidential candidates have been heard, the dealt will likely be approved and go into effect, if only because Obama has vowed to veto any congressional vote to block it and because all the alternatives to the deal are far worse.

I’m not sure Winston Churchill had the U.S. Congress – or Annapolis – in mind when he famously said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” But he had it right.

Terence Smith is a journalist who lives in Eastport. He can be reached at