Inauguration Day: The new mayor of Annapolis looks ahead

Mayor-elect Gavin Buckley pops into Annapolis Collection Gallery, where spaces between stately furniture and grandly framed portraits have been repurposed for inaugural planning.

On a table, a to-scale grid covered in sticky notes shows where his two children will sit among various dignitaries and watch on-stage as their dad becomes mayor of Annapolis.

An aerial satellite shot of West Street hangs on the opposite wall, showing the route where marching bands will ring in the new City Council with percussive fervor.

Clutching a cup of coffee, the soon-to-be city leader is headed for the door almost as soon as he came through it. Newly minted communications director Susan O’Brien warns him not to scooter (yes, the mayor-elect scooters) and talk on the phone at the same time. He laughs and says he won’t in a sheepish way that indicates he probably will.

But hey, he’s busy.

In the time since the Nov. 7 Annapolis general election, his days and nights consist of meetings, orientations and interviews. Texts and voicemails pile up on his phone, and he goes through them before sleeping, the first free moment he has. He should’ve known how crazy it would be, he says, as soon as he won the primary when the Democratic party started lining up behind him.

Today, he will stand on stage and give a speech, or at least, he’ll speak from the heart. He’s not really a prepared speech kind of guy.

“We wrote something, but it doesn’t sound like me,” he says.

Katherine Burke, the proprietor of Annapolis Collections Gallery, has spent her days planning the inaugural festivities. Altogether, the parade and the “One Annapolis Fancy Pants Ball,” as its been dubbed, will cost about $40,000 — $26,000 alone comes from the inaugural stage and audio-visual equipment.

The city provides only in-kind donations such as police presence, said city spokeswoman Rhonda Wardlaw, and does not fund inaugural events.

The money will come from a combination of campaign funds, ticket sales and donations. Hyatt Realty, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Hollander, HB Properties, Jerome Parks Companies, Comcast and the law firm of Gormley Jarashow Bowman have donated.

Tonight, Buckley will attend his fancy pants party, go to sleep and wake up with new responsibilities.

For one, there is an administration to put together.

The city has several exempt service positions, which serve at the pleasure of the mayor, including department heads and several other administrative seats. He has to make a decision about the police chief and the city attorney and fill one hole on the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis’s board of commissioners.

Buckley has already chosen O’Brien, who will replace longtime public information officer Rhonda Wardlaw, to run his communications team.

Buckley and O’Brien intend to freshen up community relations and continue the type of outreach Buckley became known for in his campaign. Videos about his life, politics and ideas populated his official Facebook page, where he hosted live video chats and Q&A sessions with other candidates.

“It won’t be highfalutin,” O’Brien said. “It will be more raw, candid, quick.”

The media operation will include a lot more video, O’Brien said, and neighborhood outreach. Buckley is toying with the idea of open bike rides or jogs, where residents can join him for some cardio and share their concerns.

“What I would like to see happen is going into the neighborhood and finding the community leaders and talking to them and finding out what they’re up to,” she said.

Outside of the mayor’s office, Buckley has no plans to clean house right away. He has a small transition team including O’Brien and community activist McShane Glover, and a team of advisers, including former mayors Ellen Moyer and Joshua Cohen and Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch.

But Buckley insists he’s not looking to come into office and replace administrative officials. He plans to meet with rank and file employees of each city department before meeting with the heads, he said.

“I’m going to spend time with the departments, get to know people. … I want to talk to people in the department without the department head around and get some ideas, feedback, direction,” he said. “And then sit down with the department head individually … and just take it from there.”

That doesn’t mean people haven’t reached out. There is no shortage of community members who have contacted the transition team with interest, Glover said. Buckley has previously indicated he wants to take advantage of the organic talent available in the city, whether through administrative appointments or more informal community engagement.

“What’s available to us in Annapolis, it's not the usual situation,” Glover said. “These are not folks who have an idea or two. Some of these people are national experts.”

After the lights on West Street die down and the swing band plays its last song at Buckley’s inaugural ball, he will get to work on the city budget and union negotiations, which start this month.

Buckley and his transition team have been attending orientations and meetings with city officials. Glover has been digging through old transition materials, she said, to get an idea of what previous administrations have done. The team has honed in on a few topics including city finances, the role of art in the Historic District, land use and mobility and safety but the learning process is ongoing.

Buckley will first meet with city manager Tom Andrews to discuss the budget process. City code requires the mayor to submit a budget to the City Council by April. He will then make his way through the different departments, he said, starting with public works and planning and zoning.

The mayor-elect has said tentatively, his first legislative priority will be crosswalk infrastructure. He’ll be the first to admit it sounds a little strange, but aligning crosswalks will be a step toward his goal to make the city more pedestrian friendly. He’s also expressed interest in developing public art downtown and creating a sustainable jobs program for low-income residents.

His team says he’s a newcomer, but he’s focused on Annapolis, not greater political ambition.

“He’s found the job he wants to do and he’s thrilled to be doing it, Glover said.

But no one should assume he won’t be doing it without a heavy dose of fun.

Glover continued:

If nothing else, he has taught us if you want to get people out and you want them to show up, you don’t have a meeting, you have a party.”

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