Annapolis greets news of session with a shrug


Accustomed to a winter windfall when state legislators settle in for the annual three-month session, Annapolis businesses expect barely an economic blip from them next week, when the lawmakers return to the capital city for the short and rare special session.

As early as Tuesday, 188 lawmakers will descend on the city to address the pending BGE rate increase of 72 percent - and perhaps a few other contentious leftover issues.

The session likely will adjourn by late Wednesday or Thursday, House Speaker Michael E. Busch said yesterday.

That will cause a slight disruption to what has become Annapolis' familiar annual rhythm: suited lawmakers and lobbyists during the winter for the General Assembly session, followed by sockless travelers and boaters in the summer.

This year, however, the lawmaking crowd, yanked from their regular jobs and vacation plans for what is expected to be a quick and all-consuming session, likely will be eclipsed by the tourists.

The political hum of the downtown area's street chatter, a winter staple, will compete with the street noise of vacationing visitors arguing over souvenirs.

Restaurateurs are ready to welcome the familiar faces of legislators - if they see them.

Fintan Galway, an owner of Galway Bay, an Irish restaurant on Maryland Avenue, said lawmakers might come in when they get a break, but added: "It's going to be very short and sweet.

For Rusty Romo, owner of Harry Brown's, this time of year typically presents a breather between Naval Academy graduation and the crush of visitors on Main Street and the rest of the Historic District in the height of sailing season.

"This is a lull before the storm starts again," said Romo. "We're adding on extra staff, but they [lawmakers] will be working at a feverish pace, so I don't imagine we'll see a whole lot of them."

At Ram's Head Tavern, the manager is thinking of tipping his hat to the special session by "electrifying" the names of some lunch and dinner specials.

"It may be something cynical, something BGE, or power," said manager David Cornwell.

Nearby, at the Pony Espresso coffee shop, manager Whitney King has her own way of ensuring that lawmakers are sufficiently wired - caffeine.

"We'll probably be brewing a couple of extra pots," she predicted.

Overnight stays in local hotels, common in the winter, are being discouraged by legislative leaders, putting a damper on the usual General Assembly after-hours fraternization.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller issued an edict that lodging expenses would be approved on a case-by-case basis.

Lisa McMurray, Miller's spokeswoman, said lodging expenses would not exceed the usual $104, even though Annapolis hotels charge more this time of year.

At the Annapolis Waterfront Marriott, where many lawmakers stay for reduced rates in the winter, barely any rooms are available, even at more than double the per diem. And the utilities dispute isn't the reason why.

"We're sold out, and not from the legislature," said Bill Dougherty, sales director of Loew's Annapolis Hotel on West Street. "It's peak season. We don't expect to see them at all."

Of course, it will be a different story over at the State House.

"We're making sure the lights are on, the parking is adequate and the restrooms are clean and stocked," said Dave Humphrey, spokesman for the Department of General Services. "Some dusting here and there. We're ready."

Likely, the state's energy bill will rise - especially if there is a surplus of hot air.

Humphrey said: "Air conditioning is a concern."

And the influx of legislators will make a precious commodity already in short supply even more difficult to find - available parking spaces.

Said Chuck Weikel, chairman of the city's parking committee and a member of its transportation board: "We are always happy to have our legislators in town, but we would like them to come without their cars."


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