George O. Kelley, a former Annapolis alderman and the last Black Republican to serve on the City Council, died July 17. He was 64.
Kelley, who had been dealing with multiple illnesses, finally succumbed to them, his wife Wanda Kelley said.
In 2001, Kelley, a long-time Annapolis police officer, was elected to the Annapolis City Council in Ward 4 as a Democrat. He served for one term before deciding to change parties and run for mayor against incumbent Democratic Mayor Ellen Moyer in 2005. Moyer won with a plurality of the vote; Kelley finished third behind an independent candidate.
Kelley had always been interested in politics throughout his life but even if he had chosen a different path he would have found a way to fulfill his goal of serving others, Wanda Kelley said.
“Mr. Kelley was a man with a big heart. He always believed in doing and helping and serving others,” she said. “It happened to be through politics but I think no matter what direction he would have gone in, he still would have gravitated to people because that’s who he was, a people person.”
During his one term, Kelley was at times at odds with the Moyer administration. In February 2005, Kelley announced he was switching party affiliation at a news conference flanked by then-Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a close friend and fencing partner.
Kelley told The Baltimore Sun at the time that his decision came down to a difference of “core values,” including “public safety policies” and “fiscal responsibility” championed by the Republican Party.
Early in his tenure, Kelley did help redraw the city’s ward map following the 2000 Census, ensuring there would be Black representation on the council, said former Ward 6 alderwoman Cynthia Abney Carter, a colleague of Kelley’s during his term.
“He was good to work with to make change where it was needed,” Carter said. “He was a strong voice on the council when we had things we had to go after.”
Kelley was born on Feb. 10, 1957, in Brooklyn, New York, to Bernice Kelley and Melvin Kelley Sr.
Kelley attended Eli Whitney Vocational High School in the 1970s where he met Wanda.
The two began dating after he would attend her talent show rehearsals.
“He always would come whenever we were rehearsing and he was in the audience. And so eventually started to talk to me and it went from there,” Wanda Kelley said. “He was a gentle spirit, polite and always a gentleman.”
The couple eventually married a few years after high school and lived in New York. He then became a Brooklyn, New York, policeman.
The Kelleys moved to Annapolis’ Bywater neighborhood in 1988. He began serving in the Annapolis Police Department until his election in 2001.
A few years into Kelley’s time on the force, Joe Johnson became deputy chief after coming to Annapolis from the Baltimore Police Department. Johnson would later become the department’s first Black chief.
While he and Kelley didn’t often see eye-to-eye, Johnson recalled Kelley as “a damn good cop.”
“I could assign him any place to work and wherever he was, he took charge of his area,” Johnson said.
When Kelley became an alderman, the two had a public spat with Kelley calling for Johnson to be fired, which Moyer declined to do. But despite the acrimony, Johnson praised Kelley for always being a supportive voice for the police department and fighting to ensure they received funding come budget season.
“George kept the administration on its toes and ensured that all officers, particularly Black officers were treated fairly,” Johnson said.
Kelley ran a private security company that monitored construction sites and other neighborhoods in the city. An ordained minister, he also ran the Praise and Deliverance Tabernacle Church on Clay Street.
After he was defeated in the mayoral race, Kelley left politics and continued to work in private security before his health forced him to retire, his wife said.
It was also in high school that Kelley learned to fence, becoming a master of the fencing weapon called a foil and competed nationally, according to a 2003 Washington Post article. That training would serve him decades later when he challenged Steele to a fencing match to raise funds for charity.
“I was told I was good enough to go to the Olympic trials once upon a time,” a confident Kelley told The Post at the time.
Steele got the best of Kelley, using another kind of fencing weapon called an epee. A small crowd cheered on the alderman, including his future political opponent, Moyer. Moyer said she didn’t recall the event at the time but said she would of course have been supporting the city alderman in the friendly wager.
“He’s a good fencer. I won’t take that away from him,” Kelley said of Steele after the match. “In the rematch, he’ll be using the foil and not the epee.”
Kelly also enjoyed chess, tennis, basketball and wrestling, according to his obituary.
In addition to Wanda, he is survived by three children, George Kelley Jr., Nicole Kelley, and Juantwanette Kelley; and four grandsons, Isaiah Kelley, Nasiem Kelley, Jeremiah Scott, and Jahir Kelley, according to his obituary. He is also survived by 10 siblings, a host of nieces, nephews and other relatives.
There will be a celebration of life for Kelley at William Reese and Sons Mortuary, P.A., 1922 Forest Drive in Annapolis Thursday. The viewing will be held starting at noon and followed by the funeral at 1 p.m. Due to a recent increase in COVID-19 cases, the funeral service will be limited to 60 people but all are welcome to watch a livestream of it on Zoom at this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/2897890676.