Transition proves tricky for Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides

April 19

Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides thought winning election as a Republican in a Democratic-dominated city would be hard. “The entire state was against me,” he said.

Governing has been even tougher.

In the five months since his 59-vote victory, Pantelides has dodged an effort to cut his powers, fired several staff members and accepted resignations from several more. He has faced complaints about a lack of diversity in City Hall and endured a public flap after he was caught passing a profane note to an alderman.

On top of that, the mayor’s cousin has been arrested and charged with attempted murder, and questions of propriety were raised when the acting city attorney met with the accused at the Annapolis police station.

The 30-year-old mayor has faced the sharpest barbs over a budget proposal that cuts positions and furloughs employees — a plan that Alderman Kenneth A. Kirby called “ludicrous” and union officials say is a betrayal.

The upheaval has some residents feeling the town is rudderless, says Curtis DeStefano, president of the Murray Hill Residents Association.

“There have been so many high-level changes that the city is operating without support and direction,” DeStefano said.

For his part, Pantelides is taking the criticism in stride. “There hasn’t been a big screw-up I regret,” he said.

When Pantelides, a newcomer to politics who previously worked in sales, defeated incumbent Josh Cohen (D) in November, he was hailed by the GOP as a wunderkind.

On the campaign trail, he promised to cut government spending, reduce water bills and curb new development, drawing a contrast with Cohen, who advocated redevelopment along the City Dock waterfront and struggled to reopen the city-owned Market House.

Criticism of the new mayor has come from members of the African American community, including a prominent minister and a former alderwoman who say the mayor has made no effort to improve diversity in key positions.

Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, says some of the criticism is fueled by sour grapes. Pantelides took away power from Democrats, who had a grip on the capital city, he said.

But critics suggest that some of Pantelides’s woes are of his own making. During a council session where diversity was being discussed, Alderman Ross H. Arnett III (D) prolonged discussion by asking a critic of the mayor to elaborate. The mayor passed Arnett a note: “Thanks for [expletive] me.” A picture of the note was circulated — Arnett says not by him — and appeared in local news media and social media.

Pantelides has struggled to win support for his choice for city attorney, Timothy Murnane.

When Pantelides brought Murnane’s confirmation to the council in December, aldermen postponed a vote, raising questions about his experience.

Murnane’s fate may have become murkier after the arrest last month of the mayor’s cousin, Savvas Andre Pantelides, on attempted first-degree murder charges in connection with a January shooting during an alleged robbery. Police confirm that Murnane met with Savvas Pantelides at the police station after the arrest, and city phone records indicate Murnane also had three phone calls with the police chief the day Pantelides was arrested.

Pantelides insists Murnane wasn’t there on city business.

“He was not Savvas’s attorney, never had been and never will be,” the mayor said, although he acknowledged, “Some people may have a bad perception. Looking in retrospect, he probably shouldn’t have gone down there.”

The mayor’s budget proposal, calling for layoffs of 13 employees, eliminating open positions and furloughs for remaining city workers, has also come under fire. The council ultimately must approve the budget. Furloughs would require union approval.

Kory Blake, an official with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local that represents about 150 city employees, said union members will offer the mayor alternative suggestions for cost-cutting. But he said the union won’t revisit the contract signed last year after 15 months of bargaining.

Alderman Jared Littmann (D) said he hopes Pantelides can settle into the job.

“I think he is working hard to do the best job that he can,” Littmann said. “I hope to help him be successful. It’s in everybody’s best interest for him to be a successful mayor, regardless of his party affiliation.”

— Baltimore Sun

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