Mayor-elect Gavin Buckley looked forward to a day of respite after the general election.
But the joy following his landslide victory Tuesday over incumbent Mayor Mike Pantelides was short-lived. Buckley will board a plane Thursday and make a 36-hour trip to Australia to mourn the death of his uncle, John Butler.
Buckley’s uncle died from liver cancer Sunday, right as his nephew was prepping for the final campaign push. Buckley last spoke to his uncle a few nights ago, he said, though Butler could only say a few words. He’d struggled with the disease on and off, but Butler’s health has declined as of late.
Buckley considered leaving the moment he heard the news.
“My family in Australia were like, ‘Don’t do it. Your uncle would not want that to happen. The whole family’s counting on you,’ and all that sort of stuff,” Buckley said. “I think if I had left it would be used against me. Not terribly, but it would’ve been like, ‘Really? Can we count on him? Is he really from America?’”
The trip to Australia will take a day and a half each way, and Buckley is thinking of using that time to sort through the deluge of emails, calls and text messages he’s received since Tuesday night’s victory. He plans to return Nov. 15.
He’s heard from County Executive Steve Schuh, Del. Herb McMillan, R-Annapolis, state Comptroller Peter Franchot, Attorney General Brian Frosh and mayors from across the country.
The Australian native ran an unusual campaign focused on community connections and the often-discounted youth vote.
Supporters often credit Buckley with revitalizing West Street, where he co-owns restaurants, including Tsunami, Metropolitan Kitchen and Lounge and Lemongrass, and on Election Day cited his business savvy as a major factor in their support.
Buckley ran a grassroots campaign, he said, built on existing relationships he’d secured in the West Street community. “We got people emotionally involved in this election,” he said. “So, when something was said wrong about us, people took it personally.”
On election night, Republicans noted the effect of national climate on local sentiment. Schuh alluded to “national factors” that are negatively affecting the Republican Party. He did not name President Donald Trump expressly, but said “I think you know what I’m talking about.”
Trump’s approval rating has steadily declined since he took office in January. Both Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, and Pantelides’ father, John, said they believe voters have applied the negativity surrounding Trump to Republicans running in Annapolis.
The national climate might have made people more vigilant of the local election, campaign manager Scott Travers said, but “you still have to run a good campaign.” Travers credited Buckley’s personality and his history in the community with securing the margin of victory.
Travers, a former Hillary Clinton field organizer, took a four-pronged approach, activating Democratic stalwarts, young voters, friends of Buckley allies and community organizers.
The campaign was atypical in the way it targeted the youth vote, frequently considered a lost cause. Travers himself was skeptical, he said, of Buckley’s reliance on young voters.
But they managed to turn out four times as many under-35 voters as the 2013 primary, Travers said, according to numbers from NPG VAN, a company that creates software for progressive campaigns. The campaign, using its “five friends” strategy, also trusted Buckley’s community connections with reaching out to their friends on his behalf.
“Gavin would identify people he’s known in town for 25 years,” Travers said.
They would become the “point person” for four other voters, leaving campaign personnel out of it — an unusual move.
Ultimately, Travers relied on the man himself to push the campaign to victory.
“I saw my job as facilitate Gavin as much as possible because he’s such a uniquely special person to be running in 2017,” he said. “I think he was able to figure out how to run … You didn’t hear the word Trump ever. You didn’t hear the phrase national atmosphere, national environment until 20 minutes in.”
Buckley has taken meetings with the current department heads in the Pantelides administration, he said, and is not looking to “rock the boat” as far as appointments go. He does not have names of appointees yet, but is looking to draw on the pool of government experts in Annapolis.
“There’s a lot of smart people in this town who want to help,” he said, “and I feel like we could harness that massive amount of brain power we have here, of people who have done things on a national level … because they want a better city.”
Buckley’s first order of business would be to get rid of the toll on Spa Creek bridge, he joked, and to sign a peace treaty with the Maritime Republic of Eastport. More seriously, he will tackle misaligned crosswalks in his first 100 days, he said — a first step toward making Annapolis more accessible.
“I know it sounds silly,” he said. “But this is a walking town.”
Buckley, in the campaign, advocated for greater walkability. He wants to get the cars off City Dock, connect bike paths and invest in green space. He also wants to “fix” the Market House, he said, and then “raise the bar of other retail around it.”