Samuel E. Shropshire was visiting a museum in Gambia, one of Annapolis' sister cities, when he saw a picture of child slaves being auctioned at Annapolis City Dock.
"When I saw that, I realized that the city condoned nearly 100 years of slavery," Shropshire said, recalling the experience that prompted him to urge fellow aldermen on the Annapolis City Council to issue an apology for participating in slavery.
Shropshire's life journey has taken him from the deep South to a Soviet jail to founding a nonprofit to help people living with HIV and AIDS. Now, after spending a term as alderman for Annapolis' 7th ward, Shropshire hopes that journey - and fervor to advocate human rights - will lead him to become the city's next mayor.
"To me, it's not whether you're Republican or Democrat, it's about doing what's best for the city," said Shropshire, a Democrat.
"I will be mayor of all the people in the city of Annapolis."
The 57-year-old candidate and Charleston, S.C., native has lived in Annapolis since 1987 and hopes that by becoming mayor, he can bring big changes to Annapolis.
To draw visitors to the city to boost the downtown economy, Shropshire suggests bringing more attractions. One idea he had was to allow colonial tour guides to do historical re-enactments at City Dock during peak tourist times, including a gun-firing. Shropshire would also like to see a convention center.
His plan for the Market House at City Dock? Shropshire proposes renting the space to the Amish or a Mennonite group.
"It will be a success," he said.
Among Shropshire's long-term visions is an elaborate plan to make Annapolis a pedestrian-only city by building rails for trolley cars. Despite critics of the $120 million project, Shropshire called the vision an "achievable situation," showing illustrations of the vision via a PowerPoint presentation on his laptop during a recent interview at an Annapolis coffee shop.
"It's an incredible opportunity for us."
Other issues Shropshire said he would address are traffic, public safety and unemployment. Shropshire's eyes welled with tears when he discussed crime in public housing, and how he would like to start battling drug problems there.
"We've got kids killing kids," he said.
Shropshire's professional history comprises several stints with human rights organizations and extensive travel to Eastern Europe. Shropshire says his international experience helps qualify him for the city's top job.
"The next mayor of Annapolis needs to be able to work with federal, state and local officials. ... I intend to see that the money we get from the state will increase," he said. "The next mayor should be in D.C. working the halls."
During college, Shropshire traveled in France during summers with the Evangelical Reformed Church. That inspired him to venture farther into Europe to help persecuted Christians and Jews in Germany, Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. At age 21, he was arrested in the Soviet Union for smuggling religious texts into the country.
After meeting his wife, having a daughter and moving back to the States in 1987, Shropshire founded Love & Action, a faith-based nonprofit that developed volunteer training programs to help people living with HIV and AIDS. In 1989, he founded Project Friendship, a grass roots organization meant to help people of Eastern and Central Europe transition from socialism to a free market.
Some have questioned Shropshire's more extreme ideas in the past, most notably a plastic bag ban he proposed for city grocery stores in 2007, which did not gain the council's approval. In June of that year, as the city council considered the bill, one alderman called it one of a few seemingly "silly, whimsical pieces of legislation."
At a recent city council meeting, Ward 2 Alderman Fred Paone publicly criticized Shropshire, claiming that it was hypocritical to adamantly oppose giving the next mayor a $50,000 raise, even though he "begged" the compensation commission to double the aldermanic salary.
Shropshire said that he did not ask the commission to double the salary, but noted, rather, how much aldermen spend in out-of-pocket expenses.
Others have questioned why Shropshire's campaign fund reports were filed late, in September, rather than by the July due date, and how he has spent campaign money. In a letter dated June 28 to the chairwoman of the Annapolis Election Board, Shropshire wrote that his home flooded on May 13, and that "many records were destroyed or packed into boxes and taken to a local warehouse." In a second letter dated Sept. 3, Shropshire wrote that records were packed and moved from storage units while he was in New Mexico at an environmental conference. Shropshire wrote that he bought duplicate records from the bank, but some of the donor checks were missing, causing a delay. Shropshire said that he could not submit the records sooner than he did because he couldn't locate them in the warehouses.
"There was nothing delinquent about this," Shropshire said.
Of the $6,000 that Shropshire's records show his political action committee raised, the candidate lent himself almost half, and his campaign is in debt $2,000.
Don Lamb-Minor, of the Annapolis Board of Supervisors of Elections, said that it is common for candidates to lend themselves money, and that a third-party auditor reviews all campaign records.
"I don't recall any note of any inconsistencies," Lamb-Minor said of Shropshire's filings. "They really rake them over with a fine-tooth comb," he said of the auditor.
Lamb-Minor also said that the board has the authority to extend a filing deadline indefinitely, if it sees fit.
"[Shropshire] was able to get his information in a time frame that was acceptable to us and what we thought was reasonable for him," he said.
Despite criticism, Shropshire's views have gained him the support of at least one constituent.
Ruth Berger, who lives in the 7th ward, said he has helped her and other community members fight against developers who wanted to build on an old cemetery at Back Creek.
"I think Sam is concerned about the environmental health of this area and the historic parts of the city, and I certainly would support him," said Berger, a retired virologist who has lived in Annapolis since 1975. "I think we should have a mayor that's capable of running the city, that has the interest of the historic aspects of our city and the citizens in mind."
Years in Annapolis: 22
Political affiliation: Democrat
Education: B.A., Shelton College
Professional Experience: Executive director, Christian Solidarity International (1983-1987); founder and director, Love & Action and Project Friendship (1987-2002);
Volunteer/civic work: Current Ward 7 Alderman, Annapolis City Council; founding member, Maryland AIDS Commission
Hobbies: Boating, the environment
Web site: www.friendsofsam.com
Source: Sam Shropshire