Buckley wins race for mayor in Annapolis

It was standing room only and what looked to be an over-capacity crowd Tuesday night on the second floor of the Metropolitan Kitchen and Lounge in Annapolis.

Democrat Gavin Buckley had just returned from a phone call with the mayor. A cold breeze somehow pressed it’s way past the shoulder to shoulder crowd and some sighed in relief.

But everyone cheered for the new mayor-elect, an Australian immigrant who built a restaurant business that helped revitalize West Street into a popular arts and entertainment district.

Mayor Mike Pantelides conceded the race to Buckley shortly before 9 p.m., just under an hour after the polls closed. Buckley handily defeated Pantelides with 5,439 votes to 3,354, according to unofficial results. The preliminary numbers beat the 2013 mayoral turnout by 984 votes.

In a speech to supporters, Buckley linked his victory to a positive campaign and a wave of excitement and frustration Democrats and other Americans are feeling under President Donald Trump’s administration. It could be seen in the wave of Democratic victories in Virginia, Maryland’s neighbor.

“It is going to be local elections that we come back to sanity,” Buckley said to cheers. “We are all neighbors. We need to get back to that place (of unity).”

He was joined by House Speaker Mike Busch and Martin O’Malley, the former governor and one-time presidential candidate, as well as Ben Jealous, the former NAACP head now running for governor. Former state Sen. John Astle, whom Buckley defeated in the primary, also stood on stage with the mayor-elect. A microphone was passed back and forth with enthusiasm.

“Gavin I just want to say thank you for showing that when we come together, when we fight for folks from the bottom up, we win big; thank you brother,” Jealous said.

City Council members attending Buckley’s party included Ward 5 alderman-elect Marc Rodriguez, Ward 1 alderwoman-elect Elly Tierney and incumbent victors for Ward 4, Sheila Finlayson, and Ward 3, Rhonda Pindell Charles.

Ward 2 Democratic candidate Kurt Riegel was locked in a tight race with Republican incumbent Fred Paone after the first county of votes, as were Democrat Ross Arnett and Julie Mussog in Ward 8. Riegel was at Buckley’s event as well.

Paone and Ross will retain their seats of preliminary numbers hold.

In Buckley’s speech, he thanked supporters and promised to bring new ideas to Annapolis. He joked about a controversial idea he had for a Ferris Wheel downtown. Buckley started a chant of “Build the wheel, build the wheel, build the wheel.” As he traveled around his restaurant, people stopped Buckley for selfies. One man was wearing a shirt with a Ferris Wheel on it. Buckley even ran through a crowd of supporters high-fiving people on both sides.

The Democrats victory was a stark contrast to Pantelides victory in 2013. It took a lengthy recount before Pantelides’ 59 vote victory was announced. It only took an hour for Buckley to win.

Across town, Pantelides’ watch party was much different.

Friends, family members and elected officials trickled slowly into the Waterfront Hotel ballroom where Pantelides was supposed to be hosting a victory party. Noticeably absent was Pantelides himself.

Minutes ticked past the party’s 8 p.m. start time. At 8:50 p.m., Pantelides campaign adviser Gerry Wosewick took the podium and introduced the mayor. And then, finally, at 8:56 p.m. the mayor addressed the crowd.

Pantelides’ words drained the crowd’s energy. He thanked his supporters, his volunteers, his parents, his girlfriend. The man who beat the odds four years ago could not do it again.

“The work we’ve done the last four years, we should be proud of,” he said.

Pantelides called Buckley, he said, congratulated him and offered him any help he might need. We want everyone to succeed, he said, “regardless of if they’re with us or not.”

Pantelides, during his time as mayor, maintained the city’s AA+ bond rating, implemented a police-worn body camera program and stymied the Crystal Springs development plan.

But a series of negative campaign mailers hurt him late in the election. Preserve Annapolis Now, a political action committee formed by former city and county council candidate Douglas Burkhardt, distributed at least five fliers disparaging Ward 1 candidate Elly Tierney and Buckley. The fliers attack everything from Buckley’s Australian heritage to his past lawsuits.

Preserve Annapolis Now found fiscal support from House Minority Leader Nic Kipke and County Executive Steve Schuh among others. Schuh, at the party, denied that the political action committee hurt the mayor and rather, blamed a “national tidal wave rolling over the Republican party.”

Pantelides isn’t sure what his next move will be. He will remain in office until December when the new City Council takes over. “Wasn’t planning on losing,” he said. “No one goes into battle ready to lose, so we’ll find out.”

Staff writers Phil Davis, Rachael Pacella and Selene San Felice contributed to this story.

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