Allies of Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden sailed uncharted political waters last week, staging a $1,000-a-person fund-raiser to finance his potential run for mayor.
"No one who ever ran for mayor has ever had a $1,000 event that I know of," said Mayor Alfred Hopkins, who has been the mayor or an alderman since 1961.
The Sept. 17 event launched Mr. Snowden's "exploratory" campaign for mayor, almost two years before the Democratic and Republican primaries for city offices. Mr. Snowden, a civil rights consultant to legal firms across the state, declined to discuss the fund-raiser, how many people attended, where it was held and how much it produced.
He said late last week that such high-stakes political events are common in Maryland. "I don't see anything significant," he said.
Other campaign veterans said that, although not uncommon in national and statewide races, such big-ticket fund-raisers are unheard of in Annapolis, which has a population of 34,000. "If, in fact, anyone paid a thousand dollars to come to a local fund-raiser, that is unprecedented," former Mayor Dennis Callahan said. "Nothing even comes close to it."
Mr. Callahan, who served from 1985 to 1989, held the previous record. He raised eyebrows when he banked $20,000 from a $500-a-ticket, black-tie affair during his campaign for a second term.
"Five hundred dollars to me was astonishing and ludicrous for a city office," said Mr. Callahan, who also ran for county executive. "I think people thought [my] political career would go a little further than it did."
Although proceeds from the benefit paid for bumper stickers, yard signs and newspaper ads, the big-money event may have hurt his campaign more than it helped, Mr. Callahan said.
"It became embarrassing that we had so much money," he said. "I'm not sure [in a small town] if that is something you'd want to talk about."
Larry Telford, campaign manager for Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary, said such high-priced fund-raisers are rare but not unprecedented in county politics. Mr. Gary's campaign staged events at which guests contributed $250 and $500, but never $1,000, he said.
"There are not very many people out there who can afford a $1,000 ticket," he said.
Organizers of the fund-raiser for Mr. Snowden declined to comment Friday about the campaign or the Sept. 17 event.
But Mr. Snowden confirmed that friends have formed an "exploratory committee"; have hired a member of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's fund-raising team, which solicited unprecedented millions for his gubernatorial campaign last year; and held their inaugural event.
Mr. Snowden, chairman of the city's Finance Committee, said the campaign has hired Eileen Kolteic to solicit funds.
Of his fund-raiser, Mr. Snowden said, "I can't say that everyone who attended contributed a thousand dollars." He referred additional questions about the event to campaign treasurer Alan Legum, who also declined to comment Friday. Mr. Legum said the campaign committee would release the information at an unspecified future news conference.
Several political observers expressed doubts about the success of Mr. Snowden's fund-raiser.
"The key question is, did anyone pay?" Mr. Callahan said. "Not, did anyone show up and not how much was printed on the ticket.
"I don't mean to say anything against Carl, but all the successful fund-raisers I've been to, the host couldn't wait to tell everyone how much money he made."
Mr. Snowden, who sued the city in the early 1980s to create the black-majority district he now represents, said he has decided not to seek a fourth term as alderman. But he said he has not decided whether to pursue the mayor's job.
"One of the decisions [the exploratory committee] will be making is whether we can raise the necessary funds to wage a successful campaign," he said.
Mr. Snowden, 42, whose district runs along the southwest side of Forest Drive, decided against a mayoral run against Mr. Hopkins two years ago. He said then that he would need at least $50,000 for a mayoral race.