Republican elected mayor of Annapolis, Dem city council moves to strip him of power

After a Republican candidate upset the incumbent Democrat for the mayor’s seat in the quaint, blue capital of a thoroughly blue state, the Democratic city council of Annapolis moved to do exactly what you might expect politicians used to one-party rule would do.

Nov. 8: 30-year-old Michael Pantelides, Republican and political newcomer, wins the mayor’s seat by a tiny margin in a city with a 2-to-1 Democratic registration advantage.

More than 25 hours over two days were spent reviewing and counting absentee and provisional ballots. Now, three days after Election Day, it’s official: Republican Mike Pantelides defeats Democratic incumbent Josh Cohen by just 59 votes.

Nov. 10: City council considers legislation to strip the mayor of his powers, of course.

Days after a Republican was elected mayor of Annapolis, City Council members say they will revisit legislation that would strip the mayor’s office of much of its power.

Democratic Alderman Ross Arnett of Ward 8 tells The Capital he will introduce a charter amendment to move Annapolis to a council-manager style of government. The city manager would report directly to the City Council, not the mayor.

Under Arnett’s legislation, the mayor’s post would be largely ceremonial. The mayor would retain a single vote on the council. Arnett says the change would stabilize the city’s management.

If the measure is approved, it would mean the Democratic-dominated council would be removing the powers of the first Republican mayor elected since 1997.

But the city council would like everyone to know that this move has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the city just elected a guy who might want to lower taxes and fees for only the second time since 1981. Oh, no. This isn’t about politics:

Annapolis Alderman Ross Arnett insists the City Council’s decision to take another look at making the mayor’s job a more ceremonial role has nothing to do with party politics…

“I think that’s the right system,” he said of the council-manager style of government being considered. Arnett plans to introduce a charter amendment in the coming weeks to make the change.

In a council-manager city government, an appointed manager would run the city and report to the council, not the mayor. Arnett, a Democrat who represents Ward 8, said it would ensure someone qualified instead of an elected official is at the helm.

The Annapolis Capitol reported that at least three other Aldermen — Ian Pfeiffer, Sheila Finlayson, and Joe Budge — would support a full council-manager form of government.

Arnett said he has been a proponent of council-manager government from day one. Annapolis is in the minority among Maryland’s small municipalities with a strong-mayor government, he said. He hopes new legislation will bring it in line with others around the state.

“I proposed this when Josh Cohen was mayor,” Arnett said. “This is something that is not new.”

Annapolis voters: Mmm-hmmm.

But a move by Council Democrat Ross Arnett to change the charter has voters like Ross Glover and Ed Frietag suspicious of a power grab.

“I think it’s an attempt to nullify the election,” Frietag said.

“It is astounding to me that he would bring it up and create all this unless there’s a political agenda,” Glover said.

Arnett, in response to these voters: “Clearly this has tapped into a nerve but that is not the intent, never was the intent and we don’t want that kind of divisiveness in the city.”

Ya think? Voters do tend to get a little miffed when a coddled politician who deems the mere existence of an opposition party as an affront moves, coincidentally, to nullify a result from the electorate he finds unsatisfactory.

This Bloomberg Business Week piece by an Annapolis native explains the issues at hand in this election, dubbing it a “curious Tea Partyish” win. Pantelides took advantage of a lazy majority, opposed a downtown development citizens decided was too ambitious after being burnt by other council-endorsed downtown developments, and promised to control taxes and fees. Good on him (though I’d bet even “Tea Partyish” is too strong a word for a Republican who can win in Annapolis). He saw a target of opportunity, the voters responded, and entrenched Democrats may have to countenance an opposing viewpoint. I’m sure they’ll embrace it right after this brazen attempt at a power grab. Because, tolerance. If there’s anything that should show the citizens they made the right choice, it’s the council’s actions in the aftermath of this election.