Annapolis voters who last night witnessed the first mayoral debate in which all three candidates participated can be forgiven if they felt a sense of deja vu.
Democratic incumbent Alfred Hopkins, Republican Laurance Vincent and Independent Dennis Callahan repeated themes they campaigned on four years ago.
Back then, Mr. Hopkins defeated Mr. Callahan in the Democratic primary and went on to defeat Mr. Vincent in the general election.
Mr. Hopkins, the congenial, white-haired mayor, spoke of his love for God and family and defended his record on crime, employee pay raises and economic development.
Mr. Vincent, a Main Street clothier, spoke of the city's need for economic development.
And Mr. Callahan, a former mayor, recalled the successes of his administration and spoke of the need for better leadership.
During the debate at Eastport Elementary School, none of the candidates said anything new. However, Mr. Callahan and Mr. Hopkins made cryptic statements about the fate of a proposed expansion of the Anne Arundel County Detention Center.
The three candidates said they oppose the planned expansion, and both Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Callahan alluded to negotiations that could put the project on hold.
After the debate, Mr. Hopkins said he plans to meet with Gov. William Donald Schaefer today to request that the state not fund the proposed expansion.
The incumbent said he favors the creation of a farm on which nonviolent offenders would work, growing food to feed themselves and the needy.
Mr. Callahan said he favors postponing a decision on the jail expansion until after next year's County Council elections in the hope that the controversy could become a campaign issue. He predicted that an announcement concerning the expansion of the jail -- on Jennifer Road outside the city limits -- would be made in a few days.
Mr. Vincent said he supports satellite detention facilities.
Mr. Hopkins had missed previous debates, citing scheduling conflicts. He spent much of the evening dodging his challengers' criticism.
They attacked him for dwelling on the past and said the next mayor must look forward. "We've spent the last four years looking at the rear-view mirror," Mr. Vincent said.
He and Mr. Callahan said they were concerned about rising crime and low morale in the Police Department. They said foot patrols should be re-established and citizens encouraged to help fight crime.
Mr. Hopkins replied that violent crime in the city decreased in the last year.
Mr. Vincent and Mr. Callahan also criticized the administration's relations with the business community -- the former saying the city has not been aggressive in recruiting businesses and the latter complaining that businesses are deterred by a meddling City Council.
The challengers also attacked the mayor for granting large pay increases to top administrators while providing rank-and-file employees with virtually none.
But Mr. Hopkins pointed out that he and the city administrator have refused pay raises for the last two years, and that the city has tried to keep employee benefits in line out of concern for taxpayers.