As a teenager, Fred Paone would catch rides each day from his home in Annapolis to Washington, D.C., where he attended Gonzaga College High School.
While Gonzaga was an athletic powerhouse, Paone was there for the academics, he said. The Jesuit teachers taught him lessons that stuck with him more than 50 years later, including the school’s motto: “Men with and for Others.”
That saying has been the activating principle for Paone his entire life.
From being a prosecutor in the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office to serving on Annapolis’ July Fourth Committee and finally serving on the Annapolis City Council for 14 years, “it’s something I’ve never really forgotten,” he said. Earlier this year, Paone announced he was retiring after three-and-a-half terms. Karma O’Neill, a Democrat, was elected this month to succeed him.
While “nothing in particular” led to him not seeking reelection, Paone has lamented the “partisan politics” and “little concern for permanent solutions” when it comes to certain city issues, including the budget and crime. With Paone’s departure, a moderating voice on the council will go away. For the first time in at least 70 years, Democrats will control both the mayor’s office and all eight City Council seats.
“Most people in Annapolis are down the middle. There is not a lot of want or need for extremists,” said former Mayor Mike Pantelides, who served with Paone from 2013 to 2017. “People are just looking for that moderate voice on the council that Fred had.”
‘It was about the show’
Before he served 14 years on the Annapolis City Council, Paone was the king of fireworks in Annapolis.
In 1985, Paone was asked by then-mayor Dennis Callahan to lead the city’s July Fourth Committee. Paone agreed and set about raising donations to pay for a fireworks show downtown. An attorney by trade, Paone negotiated the contracts with the fireworks and barge companies.
Occasionally, he’d receive a note from a young child who had saved their pennies and donated them to the cause.
“It’d be like $5 or something like that. And those were the best ones,” he said.
Over time, the show grew to the point where more than 1,000 shells were fired off from a barge over the Severn River in a display Paone reckoned rivaled any other in the state, including Baltimore.
“It was about the show. It wasn’t about me,” said Paone, who eventually retired from the post in 2001 after his 17th summer doing the job.
He was burned out and ready to take a break. He said: “I wanted to enjoy my own July Fourth.”
Prosecution to politics
Politics always floated around the periphery of Paone’s life and career, but he only entered it in full until after a near-death experience.
For 37 years, Paone was a prosecutor in the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office, and was chief of the Violent Crimes Unit for nearly two decades. There he witnessed and prosecuted some of the worst deeds committed by people in the county. For Paone, the job was fulfilling not because he was working to put away criminals, but because he was able to give solace to the families of victims.
“I loved what I was doing,” he said. “I didn’t do it for who I was prosecuting, I did it for who the victims were.”
In 2007, Paone suffered what he called a “massive, dead-when-I-hit-the-ground” heart attack that spelled the end of his legal career. As he recovered, Paone pondered what he should do next.
As a freshman at Washington and Lee University, Paone was recruited by a freshman dorm counsel named Joe Wilson to join the Young Republicans Club. Wilson would later get elected to Congress in South Carolina and become infamous for yelling, “You lie!” at then-President Barack Obama during a speech to a joint session of Congress.
“He was, and I think still is, the most courtly, well-mannered Southern gentleman, you could ever imagine,” Paone said of his college friend. “You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard who the dummy was that yelled that.”
In the 1970s, Paone soured on the Republican party after the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
“Richard Nixon made a Democrat out of me,” Paone said. “He was such a liar [and] intellectually dishonest.”
Paone wouldn’t return to the GOP until years later when he witnessed the Democratic Party start to creep left on fiscal policies.
During his sojourn between the parties, Paone has developed a staunchly middle-of-the-road outlook politically. He abhors former President Donald Trump and deeply respects the late Arizona Sen. John McCain who was known for shirking party loyalty.
“I don’t mind telling you that the middle-of-the-roaders like me are feeling very left out by each party,” he said. “The Democratic and the Republican Party ought to be able to attract people that are not within the mainstream of each party. They shouldn’t be throwing them under the bus.”
Ward 2 opening
In 2007, Ward 2 alderman Mike Christman re-signed, which meant a special election would be held to find a replacement. Paone, on the mend from his heart attack, jumped at the opportunity.
“I said, ‘This looks like fun,’ not fun-fun, but an opportunity,” he said. “It was a good way to help people.”
Paone campaigned on a tough-on-crime agenda and won the seat by 69 votes.
During his tenure, he prided himself on his moderate views and for speaking out when he disagreed with a piece of legislation or policy.
Former Mayor Ellen Moyer, who was the head of the city when Paone came aboard, recalled Paone being a “big voice” for his constituents on matters like the 2009 Comprehensive Plan and protecting residents around the Navy-Marine Crops Memorial Stadium.
“He had made his voice heard,” Moyer said. “He didn’t have any enemies; he’s a nice guy.”
Mayor Gavin Buckley often joked that his only goal as mayor was to convince Paone to vote for one of his operating budgets. The hope will never be fulfilled, however. Paone voted against all four of the mayor’s budgets during Buckley’s first term. Paone chalked his no-votes up to not being willing to approve a spending plan that doesn’t do enough to cut costs or even attempt to lower taxes.
“I don’t talk much about it necessarily, but I’m very cheap with other people’s money,” he said.
When he steps down officially on Dec. 6 and the new council is sworn in, Paone will leave behind a legacy of being the lone conservative voice on a legislative body that often leaned heavily Democratic. Despite being outnumbered by his colleagues from the opposing party, Paone found ways to be effective even if his legislative victories were few and far between.
For instance, in 2017, Paone was named to the Audit Committee, a lesser-known council standing committee tasked with providing independent oversight of the city’s financial reporting processes and internal and external auditing; in essence, making sure the city’s departments are running as effectively as possible. Paone said he was proud of the work he was able to get done as the committee’s chair despite having little auditing experience.
“Starting about a year and a half ago we really hit our stride,” Paone said.
The committee completed an audit of cash procedures in the Department of Recreation and Parks and brought in local consulting firm Forrest Consulting to provide performance measures training for departmental employees. The training was meant to help city employees work more effectively and efficiently in their day-to-day jobs, which could, in turn, lead to savings in the budget.
The training was a “huge step in the right direction,” said Kati George, an Audit Committee member, who has three decades of auditing experience. George ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 8 City Council seat in the Democratic primary.
“If we’re talking about effective and efficient city governance, to me, that was a huge accomplishment,” George said.
Paone has not yet decided what’s next. If a vacancy opens up on the Audit Committee, he may agree to serve on it, this time as a civilian.
First, he will spend a few weekends at a home his family keeps in Garrett County.
He plans to “take a breather and try to be a recovering alderman briefly, and then I’m sure I’ll go back to work doing something.”