Annapolis Alderman Ross Arnett has been fielding angry calls from as far as California since Sunday, when it was reported that the Democrat would move to sharply curtail the power of the mayor, days after the city elected the first Republican to the job in 16 years.
"I am getting hate calls from all over the country on this. … I can't believe it. They're calling me a fascist," said Arnett, backing off statements that he wants to shift to a form of government that would reduce the mayor to little more than a ceremonial role.
Arnett said he has supported changing to a council-manager form of government in the past and has discussed it recently with fellow aldermen, but he said, "I'm not introducing any legislation. … There are no plans to file any legislation."
Under a council-manager system, an appointed manager would run the city and report to the council, not the mayor.
Arnett held a news conference Monday outside the Market House on City Dock to calm the waters after news reports on Sunday created a stir across the country. Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh mentioned the topic on Monday.
"Since a Republican won, they're going to pass legislation that basically makes [the mayor] a ceremonial position, until the next time the Democrat wins it, then they'll reinstall the powers," Limbaugh said, according to a transcript posted on Limbaugh's website.
Arnett called the backlash an "overreaction." Mayor-elect Mike Pantelides — who defeated Democratic incumbent Josh Cohen by 59 votes last week — agreed.
"This issue got blown out of proportion," Pantelides said Monday, hours after he and Arnett talked about the subject during a morning phone call that both men described as cordial. A 30-year-old software sales executive and political newcomer, Pantelides said he knows that Arnett backed the charter change under Cohen and former Mayor Ellen Moyer, who was also a Democrat.
"This didn't come up because I'm a Republican," said Pantelides, who will take office Dec. 2 as the first Republican elected to the post since Dean L. Johnson in 1997.
Asked if he is worried that a move to curtail his authority could prevail on the council, split 7-1 in the Democrats' favor, Pantelides said, "I'm not super concerned."
He said the topic did not come up during campaign forums and did not seem to be a point of concern among voters. The city has had the same form of government for about 300 years, he said, so "why change it?"
In 2010, the council did change to a system establishing qualifications for city manager, having that official report to the mayor. The council voted for that as a compromise after failing to pass a charter change that would have the manager report to the council and strip the mayor of most of his authority.