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Politics

New Anne Arundel County Council sworn in as District 1 member Pete Smith becomes first Black chair

A fuzzy white beret balanced perfectly atop her head, Dorothy Wendler’s eyes shined with pride as she spoke about her granddaughter Shannon Leadbetter winning the District 7 seat on the Anne Arundel County Council.

Leadbetter, a small business owner, was sworn in with her six new colleagues Monday evening at the Arundel Center in Annapolis.

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“I feel like I am in heaven. God did help us. He did help us because I prayed to him quite a bit,” the 92-year-old Wendler said, though she admitted with a laugh, “I don’t even know what the job is. But I know her. If she has a job she’s going to do it. You have no idea.”

Most importantly, Nana, as Leadbetter refers to her, was the candidate’s biggest supporter on the campaign trail.

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“My Nana, she is bar none the world’s best cheerleader that you could ever ask for,” Leadbetter said in her first speech from the dais.

Dorothy Wendler, 92, “Nana” to new councilperson Shannon Leadbetter, District 7, listens as her granddaughter speaks fondly of her. New and old Anne Arundel County Council members are sworn in prior to their meeting at the Arundel Center, Monday, December 5, 2022.

Leadbetter, a Crofton Republican, was among three new council members to be sworn in. The others were Julie Hummer from District 4 and Pete Smith from District 1. Smith reclaimed the seat he last held in 2018.

Later in the evening, the council unanimously passed a resolution to make Smith council chair and District 2 Democrat Allison Pickard vice chair. Smith is the council’s first-ever Black chair, according to the council’s administrative officer.

“Though Councilman Smith has not served with us in the last four years, he actually has more service time on the council than any of us here so we decided it was time that he had an opportunity to serve as chair,” said Lisa Rodvien, a council member representing District 6 and the outgoing chair.

Leadbetter, the owner of a skincare franchise Rodan + Fields, said she was inspired to run for the council seat being vacated by Jessica Haire when pandemic-related shutdowns affected the education of her two sons, and she found herself yearning for a platform to have a voice in the decisions being made around health, safety and education.

Over the next four years, she said her priorities include addressing constituents’ issues with thoroughness and care, making sure the county’s police force has the staff and resources it needs and expanding property tax relief opportunities for older adults below certain income levels.

Leadbetter, whose husband served in the Marine Corps, has lived in many places but said her District 7 home “has never left her heart.”

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Wendler was far from being the only proud family member in the audience. Relatives of new and returning council members came to watch them take the oath of office following long and grueling campaigns.

Hummer’s daughter, Beckett, a Meade High School senior and the student body president, said her mother being an inspiration was nothing new.

“She’s inspired me my whole life so that’s why I started [in student government] and now I’m applying to colleges for [political science] so I’m doing a lot of stuff in her footsteps. It’s been great,” Beckett Hummer said.

New council member Julie Hummer, District 4, right, shows her daughter Beckett, 17, a photo of previous county councils hanging in the office hallway. New and old Anne Arundel County Council members are sworn in prior to their meeting at the Arundel Center, Monday, December 5, 2022.

In her first term, Hummer, a Laurel Democrat, wants to make it easier in the county to create more middle-income housing, such as duplexes, triplexes and quadruplexes, and ensure county schools have the resources they need.

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While Pete Smith was not on the council the past four years, he’s actually spent more time at the dais than any of his new peers. The Democrat was first appointed to the District 1 seat in 2012 after then-representative Daryl Jones pleaded guilty to tax charges and was ousted by the council. After serving five months in a South Carolina prison, Jones won an appeal to reclaim his seat in 2013, arguing he was still a county resident even though he lived out of the county briefly to serve his sentence. This forced Smith to step down.

Once Jones’ term concluded, Smith ran and won his first full term, representing District 1 from 2014 to 2018. He lost his reelection bid in 2018 to Sarah Lacey, who he is now replacing on the council. Lacey gave up her chance at reelection to run for state senate, which she ultimately lost in the primary.

Smith said he’s happy to be returning to the seat after running in a race focused solely on local issues. In the July primary, Smith, a Democrat, said he hoped to improve public safety by adding more police officers, increase school construction to reduce overcrowding and unify the county through social programs over the next four years.

“I’m just grateful to be back here,” Smith said. “Now this homeless kid from Chicago as a senior in high school is literally standing here and will weigh in on budgets that exceed $2 billion and help 600,000 citizens. If that ain’t a miracle I don’t know what is.”

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The four returning council members – Pickard, Rodvien, Nathan Volke from District 3 and Amanda Fiedler from District 5 – also thanked their families, mentors and constituents for helping them return to their council positions.

Elizabeth Volke, 1, wants to make a point of order to her dad, county councilman Nathan Volke, District 3. New and old Anne Arundel County Council members are sworn in prior to their meeting at the Arundel Center, Monday, December 5, 2022.

As Volke’s two young kids cooed at him from the audience, he thanked another group of people, some of whom were in the crowd.

“I also just want to thank the other candidates who ran,” Volke said. “Even if other people didn’t win, the fact they were part of the process is tremendously important. It’s what makes our democracy special. It’s what makes it unique.”


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