Former Annapolis Mayor John Apostol, who was the city’s first full-time mayor and held the office for two terms, died of a brain cancer Wednesday at his family’s home in Georgia.
A native Annapolitan who served between 1973 and 1981, Apostol died in Evans, where he lived with his family, after spending several days on hospice. He was 79.
Apostol was elected at age 35, an accountant who was the first to hold the job as a full-time position after the City Council voted to change it in 1972. He left the position near the end of his second term to pursue a job in finance that would allow him to move to Florida, and then found himself in national headlines when his successor committed suicide.
He wanted the city to reflect the passion he felt for his family, said Dr. Christopher Apostol, the late mayor’s son.
“He always wanted to see Annapolis succeed — especially the downtown succeed — and wanted to improve it for the better of the city,” Apostol said. “That was his desire — to see Annapolis become a better place.”
Apostol was the son of Mary Mandris and Cleo Apostol, who immigrated from Greece to the United States in 1923. Apostol spent his time working in his grandfather’s restaurant, now the site of Middleton Tavern.
He attended Annapolis elementary and high schools and majored in business and public administration at the University of Maryland, College Park.
He served two years in the Army before returning home to manage the family restaurant. Apostol got his start in government as an accountant and financial analyst under Joe W. Alton Jr., the first Anne Arundel county executive.
Apostol had an interest in politics from an early age, telling The Evening Capital in 1974 his first political influences were Alton, who succeeded his father as county sheriff at age 30, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. John rallied support for Eisenhower’s campaigns by selling music sheets.
Alton, a Republican, was well-liked in the city's Greek community, to which the Apostol's belonged. Apostol was also a Republican, rare among his fellow Annapolis Greek Americans.
“I must have been the first one to register Republican," he said in 1974.
Apostol ran as an advocate for limited growth, historian Jane McWilliams wrote in her book “Annapolis, City on the Severn.” Historic preservation had combined with a strong regional economy to end a long period of vacant stores downtown and Annapolis was beginning to attract tourists.
Apostol’s candidacy required some loved ones to flip their Democratic affiliation to vote for John in the 1972 primary. And he knew upon quitting his county job that making a run for the mayor’s seat would be risky.
In fact, Apostol took three days of tests to qualify as an accountant — just in case the whole mayor thing didn’t work out.
But he bested Democrat and alderman-at-large J. Stuart Whelan Jr. with 60 percent of the vote. He would later go on to beat former Mayor Roger “Pip” Moyer and Alderwoman Barbara Neustadt, the first woman elected to the council, for a second term in 1977.
In his first race, the proposed mayor’s salary was $12,000 a year. During the election, some members of the council began to discuss raising it, saying the mayor should be paid at least as much as department heads. Apostol supported the idea, although many of his opponents in the race opposed it.
“I know what the mayor’s salary was when I decided to run, and I’m not going to pull out if it isn’t raised,” he told The Evening Capital that spring. “But I think for a town of this size and with the responsibilities the mayor has $15,000 would be a more reasonable salary.”
The council eventually raised the salary to $18,000 a year.
Despite his relationship with Alton, the city would come into conflict with the county during his first term, going to court to in the first serious legal challenge against the Annapolis historic preservation law.
Alton wanted to demolish the Mt. Moriah AME Church on Franklin Street for an expansion of the county courthouse, but the city rejected the plan using the preservation law. The courts upheld the city’s power to regulate county actions under the law, and the church today is the site of the Banneker Douglass Museum.
At one point, Apostol, on learning from then-city Attorney Eugene Lerner — later a circuit court judge — that the Historic Preservation Commission missed a deadline to stop the county plans said the city would just sit on permits until a happier resolution of the conflict could be found.
“I’m just holding it for a couple of days or so,” he said, until he could talk with Alton.
He also led a five-year fight with Alton’s administration over the tax differential for city residents, a break on the county tax rate to compensate for services provided by the city.
Apostol resigned the mayor’s seat in March 1981, when he moved to Florida to accept a banking job in finance. The decision was difficult, his son said, because of family ties to the city.
Apostol loved the behind-the-scenes part of politics — not so much the scrutiny of his family. He was offered a relocation package with the new position in Florida, but there was a deadline. He could either wait out his term and lose the package or move and fulfill his dream of living full-time in Florida.
He chose to leave, Christopher Apostol said, with his family in mind. He remembered that detail never made the national coverage that would soon follow his exit.
Apostol’s successor, Alderman Gustav Ackerland, took his own life shortly after assuming the role of acting mayor, partially due to “frustration and depression” over an anticipated $3.5 million budget deficit and inability to present the budget on deadline, according to reporting from the time.
In his retirement, Apostol turned to travel, a pastime he and Wilda Apostol, his wife of 50 years, enjoyed together. They made it to every continent and 44 states, Apostol said. The couple had planned a detailed trip to the remaining six states before John Apostol died, his son said.
A history-lover and avid Jeopardy watcher, Apostol stayed active in the Republican party until his death last week. He planned his travel around election season and always volunteered to work polling stations in South Florida, his son said.
“He would be there when the doors opened and the doors closed,” his said.
Apostol is survived by his wife, his son, a daughter Angela Phillips, and four grandchildren. He also is survived by a sister, Georgia Yeatris and a brother, Nicholas Apostol.
Services will be private. The family asked that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Glioblastoma Foundation, P.O. Box 62066, Durham, North Carolina, 27715.