Mayor Gavin Buckley, two Democrats, two Republicans take early lead in 2021 Annapolis general election

Mayor Gavin Buckley, two Democratic City Council incumbents and two Republican candidates took early leads in the Annapolis general election Tuesday, according to preliminary election results.

Buckley, a Democrat, totaled 1,034 in-person votes to 859 for Republican Steven Strawn.


Brooks Schandelmeier, the Democratic incumbent in Ward 5, received 141 votes, and his Republican challenger, Monica Manthey, received 135. In Ward 6, DaJuan Gay, the Democratic incumbent, tallied 66 votes to 44 for George Gallagher, a Republican.

In Ward 2, Republican Scott Gibson received 234 votes, and Democrat Karma O’Neill received 148. Rock Toews, the Ward 8 Republican, leads incumbent Democrat Ross Arnett, 245 votes to 140.


In Ward 4, Sheila Finlayson, the Democratic incumbent, tallied 79 votes. Seventy-six voters cast write-in ballots. Toni Strong Pratt, a Democrat, launched a write-in campaign following a five-vote defeat to Finlayson in the primary.

The three unopposed incumbent Democrats, Elly Tierney in Ward 1, Rhonda Pindell-Charles in Ward 3, and Rob Savidge in Ward 7, all appear well on their way to winning another term. Tierney received 165 votes to 39 write-ins; Pindell-Charles received 119 to 10 write-ins; and Savidge received 106 votes to 21 write-ins.

Turnout nearing 2017

A cold and rainy Election Day and a new vote-by-mail election system didn’t stop around 2,000 Annapolis voters from heading to the polls Tuesday as overall turnout neared that from 2017.

As polls closed Tuesday, preliminary turnout data showed 1,937 people had cast ballots in person, said Eileen Leahy, Annapolis election board chair. An additional 6,941 people had returned their ballots by mail or to a ballot dropbox, part of a new vote-by-mail election system implemented this year.

Those 8,878 total ballots cast amount to around a turnout of 35%, a number that could rise with a final burst of in-person voters and dropped-off and mailed ballots, Leahy said. By comparison, turnout was 37% in 2017 when 9,523 people voted.

More than 4,000 ballots that were mailed or placed in dropboxes throughout the city over the past few weeks will be counted at a ballot canvass Wednesday. A second canvass for any remaining ballots is set for Nov. 9.

Final push

Around midday at the Ward 1 polling place at City Hall, Buckley, the Democratic mayoral incumbent, had already cast his ballot and was preparing to stop by the other seven precincts to continue campaigning.

Four years after winning an upset against an incumbent, Buckley said he is proud of the work he’s done in his first term but isn’t taking any voters for granted and said he was glad the vote-by-mail system would allow more people to have access to the ballot.


“It’s exciting, I can’t believe it’s been four years. I’m excited that we’re making it easier for people to vote in the city,” he said. “I never take it for granted, but I feel like we’ve got a lot of people that have voted already and it feels like it when we’re on the street that we’ve got a good shot.”

In Ward 8, one of four contested City Council elections, Strawn, the Republican mayoral candidate and Arnett, the Ward 8 Democratic incumbent, shared a tent outside the Eastport Volunteer Fire Hall with their signs displayed for voters to see as they headed to the polls.

When Buckley stopped by around 4 p.m., he and Strawn shared a moment to talk about the campaign despite their policy differences. Strawn said he’s feeling fantastic on Election Day.

“We did all the work. The hay’s in the barn. We’re ready to roll. Don’t stay home,” Strawn said. He said he thinks voters will be excited about his plans for cleaning up the city without raising taxes.

“Some people have come to me and just said it’s trashy out there now. It needs to be fixed up. We have that touristy pull and we can’t let it go down, we just can’t,” he said.

He also talked about addressing crime by getting young people more involved in activities. “It’s not old people driving these motorbikes. It’s not old people dealing these drugs. It’s the young people who found that it’s easier to do that because there’s nothing else.”

Incumbent Democrat Alderman Ross Arnett and Republican mayoral candidate Steven Strawn share a tent outside the Eastport Volunteer Fire Hall on Election Day on Tuesday.

Though 76-year-old Sandra Parker switched her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in adulthood, she said the candidate, not the party, is always what decides her vote.

Parker said she would enthusiastically cast her ballot for Strawn for mayor because she identified with the conservative principle of cutting back on government aid, something she hopes Strawn can do.

“I like Steve. He’s just happy. He’s nice,” Parker said. “I was brought up, ‘If you don’t work, you don’t eat.’ Too many people are getting too much [government assistance] and they’re not doing nothing,” she said.

Arnett said he’ll be nervous about the election until all results have been tabulated, he foresees this being a close race but feels his campaign manager, his sister Mary Anne Arnett, has prepared him well.


“She worked me very hard. No mercy from her,” Arnett said, adding that he hopes to resume his place on the council to finish the work he’s begun this past four years.

“I think we’ve done a lot of good things in terms of improving the financial system of the city, we have a lot of work to do to hire up to full strength on the police force, we’re way undermanned there. We have to continue to work on the environment.”

Ward 8 voter Betty Haislip never misses a chance to vote on Election Day, she said. She’s been voting in every election since 1960. She said she’s not pleased with the past four years, and was dismayed she had to call Buckley’s office to ask for the city to put salt on her street during icy weather.

“I’m in my 80s, so it’s kind of important I not slip and break something,” she said. “That is the type of thing I think this administration has really fallen down on. That’s what being mayor is all about — not big pumpkins, not bicycle paths, not Ferris wheels — administration.”

Lisa and David Grasso, Ward 1 residents for 18 years, voted for Buckley, they said, because of the vision he has for Annapolis, including creating a bikeable and walkable city and looking out for business owners during the pandemic.


“I like the fact that he is my neighbor and my mayor,” Lisa Grasso said. “He has cultivated a culture of community.”

David Grasso said he respected Buckley’s experience as a restaurant owner and his efforts to bring businesses downtown.

“Gavin’s efforts to have all the storefronts be filled with businesses of all types, that’s very important,” he said.

At the Michael E. Busch Library, the Ward 2 polling place first-time candidates, O’Neill, a Democrat, and Gibson, a Republican, hoped to secure enough votes to replace retiring alderman Fred Paone.

Ward 2 voter Stephen Duckett said he was voting not because he was particularly jazzed about any of the Republican candidates he voted for, but to stop local Democrats from gaining more power in the city.


“I don’t like their national views — immigration, Afghanistan — and it all starts at the local level,” he said.

In Ward 6, Gay, the Democratic incumbent, and Gallagher, his Republican challenger, were stationed on opposite sides of President Street outside the Eastport Community Center. Both had been there since before polls opened and were feeling confident they had done enough to win.

Gay, who defeated Gallagher in a 2019 special election, said he was speaking with every voter who approached the polling place, and planned to knock doors in the final hours to turn out more supporters.

Gallagher said a combination of relentless door-knocking, phone calls and text messages over the last several months could give him a chance to win.

“I have personally knocked on every single door in the ward. Every single apartment, every nook, every cranny,” he said.

Now it all comes down to whether Republicans and unaffiliated voters turn out.


If those groups turn out, “I win,” he said. “If not, I don’t. It’s that simple.”

One of the first 50 voters to cast ballots in-person in Ward 6 was former Mayor Ellen Moyer who, when asked whom she voted for, said simply, “I’m a Democrat.”

Around 12:30 p.m., Ward 6 election workers reported an incident where a voter refused to wear a mask to enter the building.

The voter was Yiannes Kacoyianni, a former Democratic City Council candidate and local business owner.

Kacoyianni was unhappy about having to wear a mask to vote and, after workers told him he would have to put one on, he pulled out his phone and began to film and berate the workers, said Annapolis Elections Board Chair Eileen Leahy.

Eventually, election workers cleared the room and allowed Kacoyianni to cast his ballot in person, Leahy said.


Gay was outside when the incident occurred and saw Kacoyianni, who he defeated in the 2019 general election, leaving.

“I was shocked,” Gay said when he heard what had happened.

Kacoyianni could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In Ward 4, Strong Pratt, the Democratic write-in candidate, was working to win the favor of the ward. She said that losing her race for the same position in 2017 didn’t stop her from championing policies she’s passionate about.

“I’ve been doing the work,” she said. “Ever since I lost in 2017, the work hasn’t stopped. I think [voters] should work with someone who is not afraid to get down in the dirt with them.”

Though she has been continuing to advocate for her agenda outside City Council walls, she said she doesn’t think enough change has come to fruition from the council itself in the past four years on the topics of concern to her, including the environment, protecting the city’s wetlands, clearing lead and mold for homes, offering residents more affordable housing options and public safety issues.


“They were issues in 2017, still issues in 2021,” she said.

Following a long-standing tradition, Finlayson was the first one to vote at her polling place on Election Day morning.

“I am glad this day has finally come,” said Finlayson, who said she thought she had a lot to show for her time in office and hoped people will remember what she’s accomplished as they cast their ballots.

“If you look at my record, I’ve accomplished a lot. We have a new pool thanks to me. We have a new playground. I’m working on affordable housing projects. There are things that I want to continue that I’ve begun,” she said.

She said she plans on developing targeted solutions to address more deeply entrenched issues in the ward, including drug addiction, overdoses, gun violence and other public safety issues.

Heather and Jean Distler made a family event out of Election Day, bringing three of their kids along to cast their ballots at the Ward 4 polling place. They were all especially eager to see their 18-year-old son vote for the first time.


“I think it’s good to be a role model and lead by example. We all need to express our vote,” Jean Distler said.

Schandelmeier, the Democratic incumbent, and Manthey, the Republican, spent most of the day in the parking lot of Pip Moyer Recreation Center, the Ward 5 polling place.

Manthey, who sign-waved on Hilltop Lane most of the day, said she was galvanized by honks and waves from passing drivers. She said she felt good about turnout and had told voters there was an opportunity to balance out the council if they give her their vote.

Frank Capitan, a 17-year Annapolis resident, voted split-ticket for Buckley and Manthey. He said he’s been pleased with Buckley’s staff in responding to resident issues but wasn’t impressed with incumbent Brooks Schandelmeier. He hoped Manthey could offer balance to the council, he said.

After voting for Buckley and Schandelmeier, Nakeya and Derek Johnson, lifelong city residents, said they supported the mayor’s vision for a more equitable and inclusive Annapolis. They said they were supportive of Schandelmeier’s efforts to improve housing affordability in the city and hoped the pair would continue to make the city more welcoming to working residents, not just retirees.

“While we love living here,” Nakeya Johnson said, “Annapolis is expensive.”