Vincent laughs off old elitist image Lacking last time, his humor surfaces in mayoral race


Walking into Larry Vincent's apartment above a downtown Annapolis boutique is like turning the pages of Architectural Digest.

Everything is perfect. Perfectly positioned, perfectly matched. From the artwork and stylish Nordic Track exercise machine in the living room to the Ralph Lauren shirts and immaculately pressed slacks he wears.

Mr. Vincent is convinced it is that image, which his political opponents cast as elitist, that cost him the city's mayoral election four years ago against then-Alderman Alfred A. Hopkins, an avuncular man of blue-collar taste and mannerisms.

But in his second bid for the city's highest office, he said he will not apologize for who he is.

"Look, I'm from Essex," said Mr. Vincent, 47, a Republican. "Our claim to fame in Essex was we had the largest open-pit sewage treatment plant down the street. That's how elitist we were."

Tuesday's election again pits Mr. Vincent, who operates a men's clothing shop on Main Street, against Mayor Hopkins, a Democrat, and against former mayor Dennis Callahan who is running as an independent.

Unlike four years ago, Mr. Vincent is relaxed, deflecting criticism about himself with a sense of humor. He is knocking on doors, attending forums, hammering away at Mr. Hopkins' leadership and nostalgic view of the city.

His "progressive Republican" platform includes promises to market the city more aggressively to bring new businesses into vacant storefronts, to reduce the amount of time it takes to get building permits, particularly in the historic district, and to reach out to the black community, which makes up a third of the city's 34,000 residents.

Mr. Vincent also said he would eliminate what he called unnecessary jobs like city administrator, a new position created by Mayor Hopkins.

"If you had a functioning mayor, you would not need that position," Mr. Vincent said. "Was Al right for hiring [City Administrator Michael Mallinoff]? Absolutely, because Mike was the glue that has held the city together the last four years."

Vincent supporters say their man is the only one in the race who has a vision for Annapolis' future and who can build the consensus needed to carry it out. Mayor Hopkins is "out of touch," while Mr. Callahan is "confrontational," they say.

As an example, Mike Langrehr, a downtown resident and Democrat, said he is drawn to Mr. Vincent's vision for the downtown.

Instead of bringing events downtown, as the current administration has done, the city economic development officers should deliberately target and recruit businesses that can survive competition with the suburban malls and still be compatible with neighboring residents, Mr. Vincent has said.

But that leaves little room for restaurants and nightclubs, argued Jerry Hardesty, owner of Middleton's Tavern. Mr. Vincent's support for measures requiring all new bars and restaurants downtown to close by midnight could be the death of the trade there, he said.

Though he generally is viewed as a pro-business candidate, Mr. Vincent is not "in tune with all businesses," said Mr. Hardesty, who supports Mr. Hopkins.

Jim Hollan, who operated a West Street pub during the 1970s, said he, too, believes that Mr. Vincent is wrong about restricting restaurants downtown. But, he said, he still believes Mr. Vincent is the better candidate.

"We would be OK in Al Hopkins' hands, but I think we'd be better off with Larry," said Mr. Hollan, who encouraged Mr. Vincent to run against the incumbent four years ago. "It's Larry's time."

Mr. Hollan and others had hoped it was Larry's time four years ago. Then-mayor Callahan had antagonized numerous business people and residents by the end of his first term. Many of them turned to Mr. Vincent, a Democrat turned Republican who had been active in civic and business associations for more than 20 years.

Expecting to face Mr. Callahan, the former owner of a tuxedo rental company, in that general election, Mr. Vincent said he was caught off guard by the Hopkins campaign, which painted him as a parochial elitist. He was never able to recover.

In appearances this year, Mr. Vincent has deflected that charge with a sense of humor rarely seen four years ago, but which his supporters say always has been one of his greatest assets.

"One of the things that's very different about Larry from four years ago, he didn't seem funny then," said Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff, a Ward 7 Republican. "Four years ago, he seemed very stiff."

That was partly because he had never run for elective office before and waged his campaign through position papers that staked out views on everything from day care to the environment. Although it should have been his strength, it made him appear awkward and green, supporters say.

"I know for the last campaign, he read voluminously about other towns, maritime industry, anything that had been tried somewhere else and might fit Annapolis," said former Republican Alderman Ruth Gray, who recently moved to Westminster. "People kept asking him for answers, but he'd say 'Wait a minute, I'm getting a position paper ready on that.' "

Except for a 13-point economic development plan released last spring, Mr. Vincent has veered away from position papers. "It's probably because he did it the last time and nobody cared," said Alderman John Hammond, a Ward 1 Republican. "He has grown a great deal since that first campaign . . . he's much more relaxed."

The son of a telephone operator and a truck mechanic, Mr. Vincent was the first in his family to go to college, working his way through Towson State by cutting lawns and pumping gas.

That's when Mr. Vincent said he received his big break. He was shopping for new clothes when the owner of a men's shop in Essex asked him if he wanted a job. "I looked around the place, saw that it was air-conditioned and that I could study between customers, so I took it."

When he graduated, he decided to try to open his own business rather than go to work with his high school friends at Bethlehem Steel or at Chevrolet's plant on Broening Highway. Given the choice, he said he decided against the "brutal life of physical labor."

Armed with $500 and the mentoring of Sylvan Sass, his former employer in Essex, Mr. Vincent moved to Annapolis in 1970 "because at the time I had the pick of 23 boarded up shops."

He picked one on Maryland Avenue "because the rent was cheaper," and opened a "hippie boutique" that stocked bell bottom jeans and T-shirts. But Mr. Vincent decided that "there wasn't a living to be made selling bell bottoms" and retooled himself as Laurance Ltd., a traditional men's clothier.

A few years before his last run for mayor, he moved the shop to the top of Main Street with a new name, Laurance Clothing.

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