Former Annapolis Mayor Dennis Callahan dies at 70

Former Annapolis Mayor Dennis Callahan dies at 70
Dennis M. Callahan, Anne Arundel County’s chief administrative officer and former mayor of Annapolis, died after suffering a heart attack at his Severna Park home. He was 70. (Baltimore Sun)

Dennis M. Callahan, Anne Arundel County's chief administrative officer and a former Annapolis mayor who was known for his hard-nosed political style, died Wednesday morning after suffering a heart attack at his Severna Park home. He was 70.

Mr. Callahan was elected mayor of Annapolis in 1985 and served one term. A Republican, he registered as a Democrat before he ran. During his time as mayor he took tough stances on crime, creating a controversial drug enforcement unit in the city's Police Department he called the "Delta" squad, and aggressively pursuing what he perceived as failed policies at the city's public housing authority.


He lost his re-election bid in 1989 in the Democratic primary, but Mr. Callahan ran for public office several more times. In 1990, he ran unsuccessfully for county executive as a Democrat. He campaigned for mayor again in 1993 as an independent. Then in 1997, he became a candidate for the city's top post, once more as a Democrat.

Mr. Callahan also served as the county's director of recreation and parks from 1999 to 2006 under the administration of County Executive Janet S. Owens.

He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for county executive in 2006. County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, won that election and appointed Mr. Callahan his top adviser.

"Dennis and I would have our differences," Mr. Leopold said. "His candor could be a double-edged sword. It was useful to some but could be abrasive to some. But his candor was always appreciated. The county executive needs an adviser who will offer the unvarnished truth — and Dennis did that."

Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch met Mr. Callahan in 1979 at a local racquetball court and helped him with his first campaign for mayor. In turn, Mr. Callahan supported Mr. Busch, a Democrat who was first elected to the House in 1986.

"His critics would say he was confrontational, and he was from time to time — that's because he believed strongly in his politics," Mr. Busch said. "He was a hard-charger. Sometimes it rubbed people the wrong way. But Dennis was also the type that created a strong following among his supporters. I think he reveled a lot in that. He loved the 'us and them' concept."

Annapolis Mayor Joshua J. Cohen said Mr. Callahan left his mark on Annapolis as a "can-do" mayor.

"He was never afraid to make a decision," said Mr. Cohen, a Democrat who said Mr. Callahan had called him recently with unsolicited advice about a city proposal. "Sometimes Dennis' brash personality rubbed people the wrong way, but I always appreciated that he didn't mince words and was willing to take some lumps in order to get the job done."

Dennis Michael Callahan was born in 1941 in Baltimore to Edward Callahan, a Baltimore City Fire Department deputy chief, and Shirley Callahan, a secretary. The middle child of three, he graduated from City College, where he was on the football, baseball and wrestling teams.

He attended the University of Maryland but did not graduate, and married his first wife, Linda Masland, the former Linda Shaull, in 1961 when he was 19. They had two sons but divorced in the early 1970s. He married his current wife, the former Brenda Evans, in 1973.

Mr. Callahan served in the Army from 1960 to 1963. Returning to Maryland, he began a medical laboratory company that he ran for about three years. It was later bought by Quest Diagnostics.

During the 1960s, he played for the Baltimore Eagles, a now-defunct semiprofessional football team for three or four years, said his son, Colin Callahan, of Severna Park. Mr. Callahan also tried out for the Baltimore Colts.

He started a tuxedo rental business that had five locations and ran for a few years, but sold it when he became mayor.

Colin Callahan said despite his parents' divorce, he and his brother were close to their father, seeing him every other day and spending weekends with him in Annapolis.


"When he was elected mayor, it was phenomenal," said Colin Callahan, who said political parties didn't matter to his father and described him as a "conservative at heart."

"He was meant for a life like that — he was outspoken. He pulled no punches."

Carl O. Snowden, the director of the state attorney general's Office of Civil Rights, who was an alderman when Mr. Callahan was mayor, said the two initially squabbled. But Mr. Snowden said he was won over by Mr. Callahan's dogged attempts to clean up the housing authority and create more oversight.

"Dennis was a no-nonsense, hard-charging person," Mr. Snowden said. "When he thought he was right on something, he went at it full steam ahead."

After placing second in the Democratic primary for county executive in 1990, Mr. Callahan attempted to showcase his "kinder, gentler" side in a public access TV show, according to a Baltimore Sun article from that time.

"Everyone has their addictions in life, and mine just may be politics," he told The Sun in 1990. "I don't think they've seen the last of me, whether they want to or not."

Visitation is scheduled at the Barranco & Sons Funeral Home in Severna Park from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. A memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at the Severna Park United Methodist Church.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Callahan is survived by another son, Shaun Callahan of Baltimore; sisters Sharon Vale of Elkridge and Cassandra Junk of Reisterstown; and five grandchildren.