To win a seat on the Annapolis city council, candidates say they've relied on tried-and-true shoe-leather politics.
Eight men running for four seats have been spending days knocking on doors, trying to reach the estimated 8,000 voters who will cast ballots in Tuesday's city elections.
"It's a lot of doors," said Kurt Riegel, a Democrat who is trying to unseat Republican Alderman Fred Paone in Ward 2. He jokes that behind half the doors "is a small and angry dog that wants to kill me."
Paone's been knocking, too: "I'm using everything possible to make sure people know there's an election and to get out the vote."
Door-knocking can help voters put a face to a name, said Allen Furth, a Republican challenger in Ward 1. "Doing the door-to-door, I'm showing them I'm like you, I care about the city," he said.
That personal contact can make a difference in Annapolis, where the votes in aldermanic races rarely reach into the thousands. Elections can be decided by just a few dozen ballots cast. Alderman Ian Pfeiffer knows this first-hand: When he ran the first time in 2009, he won by 60 votes.
"There's something very appealing to know the 1,000 to 1,500 people in the ward who are likely to come out," Pfeiffer said.
Four seats on the council are contested this year: In Ward 1, incumbent Democratic Alderman Joe Budge is challenged by Republican Furth; In Ward 2, incumbent Republican Paone is challenged by Democrat Riegel; In Ward 6, incumbent Democratic Alderman Kenneth Kirby is challenged by independent candidate Steven Conn; and in Ward 7, incumbent Democrat Pfeiffer is challenged by Republican James T. Clenny.
Budge, a Democrat, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council this spring, and he hopes to earn a four-year term representing Ward 1, which includes downtown Annapolis and neighborhoods along West Street. A retired software executive, he has been involved in downtown Annapolis issues for a decade, serving on committees and leading the Ward One Residents Association.
The top issues he wants to address are improving City Dock with an emphasis on parking, paying for new promises to better fund retiree pension plans, improving transportation and putting vacant buildings in the ward back into use.
"Annapolis is a town where you can make a difference, and that's what I'm trying to do," he said.
Furth, a Republican, has lived in Annapolis since graduating from college 25 years ago. He's served on the Annapolis Board of Supervisors of Elections and on Anne Arundel County's personnel board.
He has a degree in engineering and works for a contractor, and he believes his business and construction experience will be an asset to the city — especially with big projects such as replacing the City Dock bulkhead and replacing the Hillman Garage on the horizon.
"I can offer a perspective to some of the things that nobody else has had on the council," he said.
Ward 2's current alderman, Paone, is the only Republican on the city council and he often finds himself as the sole "no" vote. Paone says that's a mark of his independence, while his challenger, Riegel, says it's an example of Paone's unwillingness to compromise.
Riegel, who has been an environmental activist, said he was motivated to run because he felt Paone has not been responsive to constituents in Ward 2, which includes West Annapolis, Admiral Heights and Clay Street.
"Basically, if it represents change, Fred is against it," Riegel said.
"I'm nobody's rubber stamp," Paone said. "One of my jobs is to make sure that the issues in the city are exposed and are properly brought to light in a transparent way, and to make people understand that there's more than one point of view on the council."
If re-elected, Paone said he would work to continue to address city financial problems, cutting government costs and perhaps privatizing some services.
He also thinks the city's business districts — not just downtown — need to be better promoted and improvements could be made to the bus system. He also would investigate resuming leaf vacuuming — one of the top concerns he's heard from voters.
Riegel has concerns about developments, including the proposed Crystal Spring project on Forest Drive that he says is "just unacceptable." He'd work to strengthen forestry laws that would limit development. He also thinks transportation is a concern: parking, buses and bicycle friendliness.
Ward 6, an oddly-shaped district that includes many of Annapolis' public housing communities, has featured the most contentious campaign.
Independent candidate Steven Conn sued Democratic Alderman Kenneth Kirby on Wednesday, claiming defamation in a campaign flier and an email that was circulated by one of Kirby's supporters.
It's not the first time the two have tangled: Before September's primary, Conn was part of an effort to challenge Kirby's candidacy, questioning whether he lived in the ward.
Kirby has a history of problematic housing situations, including when police found him in 2012 staying in a public housing apartment they investigated for drug use. Nothing illegal was found and Kirby was not accused of any criminal wrongdoing, but it was found that he was living there in violation of the lease. The apartment was leased to his niece.
Ultimately, the Annapolis Board of Supervisors of Elections ruled in Kirby's favor, finding that he had properly registered his latest address.
On the issues, Kirby said he's advocated successfully for his ward, getting money for sidewalk repairs and road resurfacing. He's supported downtown businesses — including advocating for later liquor licenses — and supported funding for the Police Department that he says has contributed to lower crime rates.
"We've made real progress in the last four years," he said.
If elected, Conn said, he'd establish better communications with constituents via email, a website and social media. He'd also get input from neighborhood representatives on key issues. His key issues include encouraging redevelopment before new developments and expanding the Circulator bus.
Four years ago, Pfeiffer became interested in local politics, started watching meetings and found himself "sort of yelling at the TV."
"My wife was like, 'If you're going to take it this seriously, you should get involved,'" Pfeiffer said.
He won election to the city council as a Democrat and is seeking re-election in Ward 7, which includes many neighborhoods on the eastern edge of the city. He said his biggest accomplishment has been helping put the city back on sound financial footing.
If re-elected, Pfeiffer said, he wants to strengthen the city's forestry laws to ensure that new developments don't unduly harm the environment. He also is interested in improving transportation and would like to be involved in the negotiations to create a regional transit authority with Anne Arundel and Howard counties.
Clenny, a recently retired systems analyst, thinks Annapolis needs a change in leadership.
"Annapolis is sailing in the wrong direction and needs a course correction," he said.
He points to the "misbegotten City Dock Master Plan" and inadequate downtown parking as top issues that need fixing.
Clenny said his first priority would be the Crystal Spring proposal on Forest Drive, that he says is too big. He would urge the site be developed only for a senior housing community, and not with the shopping, town houses and other features that have been proposed.
He also thinks Annapolis has an identity crisis and caters to tourists at the expense of residents.
Joe Budge, Democrat
The incumbent was appointed to his position this spring after Alderman Richard Israel resigned. Previously, he was active in the Ward One Residents Association. He is a retired software executive and a 10-year resident of Annapolis.
Allen Furth, Republican
Furth has been a project manager and holds a degree in civil engineering. He served on the Annapolis Board of Supervisors of Elections. He is a 25-year resident of Annapolis.
Fred Paone, Republican
The incumbent alderman is an assistant state's attorney for Anne Arundel County and an adjunct professor at Anne Arundel Community College. He was first elected alderman during a special election in 2007 and was re-elected in 2010.
Kurt Riegel, Democrat
Riegel has lived in West Annapolis for three years after living nearby in Anne Arundel County. He teaches at Johns Hopkins University and has been a member of the Severn River Commission and was president of the Severn River Association.
Rhonda Pindell Charles, Democrat, is running unopposed.
Sheila Finlayson, Democrat, is running unopposed.
Jared Littmann, Democrat is running unopposed.
Kenneth Kirby, Democrat
The incumbent alderman was elected in 2009. Kirby grew up in Annapolis, attended York College and briefly played basketball overseas. He has worked for the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis.
Steven Conn, Independent
Conn has worked in the airline industry for 14 years and served as a Republican Congressional staffer for two years. He grew up in Florida and has lived in Annapolis for three years.
Ian Pfeiffer, Democrat
The incumbent alderman has worked on Capitol Hill as a Congressional staffer and has run his own lobbying and government relations firm since 2005. He was elected alderman in 2009 and has lived in the ward since 2001.
James T. Clenny, Republican
Clenny is a retired computer systems analyst who has lived in Annapolis since 1968. He has been active in Republican politics, including serving on the Republican Central Committee.