When David Stahl entered Annapolis' City Hall four months ago as acting city administrator, he brought along more than a little know-how about municipal government.
Three decades ago, he served as deputy to a big-city mayor whose name is synonymous with hardball politics. And he played a supporting role in an urban drama that came to be one of the defining moments of the 20th century.
Next time you think of Mayor Richard J. "Boss" Daley and the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, think of Annapolis' David Stahl.
"He has had the experience of working in tough situations," Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said of her temporary right-hand man. "Whether you are a small village, a medium-sized town, a capital city like Annapolis or a major metropolis, you still have to deal with the same issues."
Stahl will lend his expertise from his time in Chicago and his more than 20 years of managing nonprofit groups to his chosen hometown until a permanent replacement can be found because, he says, the mission of local government is unparalleled.
"Local government has a unique opportunity and responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves," said Stahl, whose return to government work can be traced to his concerns over an unkempt waterfront park.
"When I was in the mortgage business, I knew if I didn't grant that mortgage, there were five other companies that would. In local government, you can go home at night and say, 'If I didn't do this, no one else would.'"
You might call him a true public servant: The 67-year-old former mortgage banker, who made more than $1 million on the stock market in the 1990s, plans to donate his salary - which would amount to $102,000 annually - to local charities. Stahl, however, doesn't plan to stay an entire year.
He grew up in Park Ridge, Ill., where he met his wife of 45 years, then Carolyn Downs, in fourth grade. After earning a degree in business administration from Miami University of Ohio, marrying Downs and serving as a lieutenant in the Air Force, Stahl went to work at a Chicago mortgage company. He worked on John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, and hungered for more politics.
His father-in-law was Daley's friend and unpaid adviser. When Stahl grew frustrated in the private sector, his father-in-law helped him land a job working in urban renewal for the city. After three years, Stahl left city government to return to the mortgage company as executive vice president. Three years later, he returned to Chicago's City Hall, this time as special assistant to the mayor for housing.
It was in this position, Stahl said, that he did some of the most important work of his career, such as organizing summer programs for poor children and helping to build 30 inner-city swimming pools in one summer.
He soon landed a position where he would have more problems than he could imagine. Daley promoted Stahl, then 33, to be his deputy mayor in March 1968. Immediately, Stahl was thrust into the center of a dispute that would land him in history books.
The Democratic National Convention of 1968 was coming to Daley's Chicago. So were thousands of Vietnam War protesters.
Daley wanted to present only the best parts of his city to the convention's delegates. He worried that the protesters might ruin everything. Daley made Stahl his liaison with the protest organizers, who had come to City Hall seeking permits to allow demonstrators to stay in city parks overnight during the convention.
"We had meetings at 4 a.m. in strange and wonderful places when they were gassed, and I'd never even smoked a marijuana joint," Stahl said, recalling the dozens of meetings with Hoffman and the others that summer.
It was in those meetings that Stahl, an unabashed liberal, said he realized the dilemma he was in as Daley's right-hand man.
"I had total consensus with them on the war in Vietnam," Stahl said about the group, whom he would later testify against in the "Chicago Seven" trial. "But where we disagreed was [that] I believed in government and they were fundamentally anarchist."
The city had decided that the demonstrators would not get the permits they requested. That decision would be blamed in part for the violence that ensued.
Chicago police and members of the National Guard beat and gassed demonstrators, onlookers and members of the press alike. No one died, but the confrontations were broadcast nationwide, bringing harsh criticism upon Daley, disrupting the convention, further dividing the troubled Democratic Party - and, some say, paving the way for the election of Republican Richard M. Nixon.
In 1970, Stahl left city government for a year to be an elected delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention. He returned to the city as deputy mayor and then served as comptroller. In that role, he became involved in another Daley dispute - his final one.
The city's insurance contracts had been switched to a company employing one of Daley's sons. When the newspapers heard about it, Stahl told them the truth: They were switched at Daley's request.
Stahl, who was already thinking about leaving government for a higher-paying job, resigned amid the news media criticism that ensued.
A year earlier, he had gone to Daley seeking the mayor's support for a 1972 congressional run. He didn't get it. "I knew I had no political future after that happened," he said.
He packed up his family and left Chicago - and his hopes of a political career - behind. He never saw Daley, who died in 1976, again.
Stahl and his family moved to Washington, where Stahl became the executive vice president of the Urban Land Institute. He continued heading nonprofit groups, including the National Association of Home Builders, the National Forest Products Association and the Young Presidents' Organization, for more than 20 years until his retirement in 1996.
He and his wife "fell in love" with Annapolis when one of his four sons attended the Naval Academy. They moved here in 1981. He served a few years on the city's planning commission before moving briefly to Texas.
When they returned as retirees, Stahl, who had developed heart problems, began walking his Eastport neighborhood every morning. There he discovered a tiny street-end park on Spa Creek that nobody was maintaining.
Stahl and his wife adopted the park as a pet project. They cleaned up trash and planted flowers.
Through the park, which they still maintain, Stahl became involved with the Eastport Civic Association. In 1998, during a turbulent time for the organization, he was elected its president and is credited by some for getting the group back on track.
That's how he met then-Alderman Moyer, who represented Eastport on the City Council. When she was elected the city's first female mayor last fall, she asked Stahl to come aboard as city administrator. He agreed to take the position temporarily to get the administration on track, fill the long-debated position until its powers were more clearly defined and to help Moyer look for a long-term replacement.
"When this is over, I am going to go back to being a retired guy and a grandpa."