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Annapolis Ward 2 general election: First-time candidates Karma O’Neill and Scott Gibson vie for seat held by same alderman since 2007

The race for Ward 2 City Council seat will determine the first new alderperson to represent the West Annapolis ward since 2007.

Democratic candidate Karma O’Neill, a small business owner, and Republican Scott Gibson, a top executive at a health equity nonprofit organization, are seeking to replace Republican Alderman Fred Paone, who is retiring after 14 years on the dais.

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The pair, both first-time political candidates, are running in one of five contested City Council and mayoral races to represent Ward 2, which includes neighborhoods centered around Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, including Admiral Heights, Germantown and West Annapolis.

The Ward 2 voting precinct at Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library at 1410 West St. will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. Voters can return their completed ballot to any of the eight drop boxes throughout the city between now and when polls close or return the ballot by mail so long as it’s postmarked by Nov. 2.

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The Capital sat down with both candidates to ask them why they are running for City Council and what they would hope to do if elected.

Scott Gibson

Soon after moving to Admiral Heights in 2016, Scott Gibson attended his first Admiral Heights Improvement Association meeting where he asked questions about a structural deficit in the organization’s budget and the crumbling community-owned docks, considered the “third rail” of Ward 2 politics.

When friends told him not to tackle the docks problem, Gibson, who became the association’s president in 2018, was unphased, “I swear that’s an instant call to me of, ‘Yep, you’ve got to do something,’” he said.

The race for Ward 2 City Council seat will determine the first new alderperson to represent the West Annapolis ward since 2007. Republican Scott Gibson faces Karma O'Neill to fill the seat.
The race for Ward 2 City Council seat will determine the first new alderperson to represent the West Annapolis ward since 2007. Republican Scott Gibson faces Karma O'Neill to fill the seat.

Five years later, Admiral Heights has renovated the docks and is building up its rainy day funds for future dock projects. Along the way, Gibson created the “Walkable Ward Two” Facebook group, dedicated to making the city safe for walking and biking. Through that group, he has advocated for safety improvements like a proposed sidewalk project on Cedar Park Road. The project has been added to the fiscal 2022 capital budget.

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Gibson is looking to bring that same initiative to the City Council. He has campaigned on reducing the city’s budget, improving police recruitment and making the city more walkable.

“In my mind, $152 million should be enough of a budget for a city of our size,” said Gibson, who is the chief strategy officer at Melwood, a health equity nonprofit that advocates for people with disabilities. “I think it’s important that we have people in the council who are willing to be a check and balance and ask critical questions and not fight for the sake of fighting but stand up and offer constructive criticism where it’s going to make a better product.”

Gibson said he would use his expertise in managing a major organization to find efficiencies to make sure the city can reduce its costs while still providing services and implementing much-needed infrastructure projects.

Chief among those services is a fully staffed police force, Gibson said. To solve the officer shortage, Gibson said he would support funding a budget to ensure officers are paid competitively compared to nearby jurisdictions.

“My biggest fear is to solve the community challenges, we need to keep our best officers,” he said.

During the campaign, Gibson has promised the first bill he sponsors will be a charter amendment to both eliminate city primaries — allow candidates from any party to run in the general election — and install a ranked-choice voting system.

He has also called for Whitmore Garage to be demolished and replaced with a building that would provide resources for residents.

Gibson already has some experience working on major city development projects. He served on a task force that investigated the Public Works building land swap. While the deal was eventually scrapped in favor of a different property, Gibson said it was an example of working across party lines with a Democratic mayor to find a solution that was best for the city.

If elected, Gibson would donate his $15,000 aldermanic salary back to the city and limit his service to just two terms, he said.

Karma O’Neill

On a whim in 1995, Karma O’Neill moved with a friend from Vermont to Annapolis.

Twenty-five years later, after living in three different city wards, she’s settled in Ward 2 with two kids and her husband. She runs a thriving events business and has built a long list of public service.

Now, O’Neill has set her sights on the City Council by using her deep connections in the community to increase access to city services and improve the walkability and safety in Ward 2.

“I’m a helper. I’ve always been that way. I’ve always stepped up,” said O’Neill, who has led the Maryland Seafood Festival, coordinated food deliveries through an Office of Emergency Management program and served in various roles for her children’s PTAs at Germantown Elementary, Annapolis Middle and Annapolis High, among numerous other responsibilities.

“I love the aspect of feeling like someone can count on me,” she said.

At the top of her priority list on the City Council is improving public safety in the ward. O’Neill said she agrees with Gibson that increasing police recruitment is vital to a safer town but incentivizing officers to live here and making sure every resident, regardless of where they live, feels safe is critical. She compared the issue to recruiting good teachers; the city must do more to retain its officers.

“Depending on where you are in Ward 2, there are people that say, ‘Our city’s pretty great. My life’s great. I don’t have a single complaint,’” she said. “And then you might go a couple of blocks over and people say, ‘I’m worried. I don’t feel comfortable walking down the street at night.’”

Among her campaign proposals, O’Neill wants to bring the Main Street Maryland Program to her ward, a state grant program that provides money for small businesses to get off the ground. Clay and West Washington streets would be ideal candidates, O’Neill said, as both were once part of a thriving business community of the Old Fourth Ward but were devastated by urban renewal.

“I’ve talked with like three or four people that were like, ‘I would love to open my business, but I need help with rent or help with finding the location,’” O’Neill said. “The Main Streets Program would really help bring in some funding to help revitalize, give some incentive for people to think about it again, as opposed to having their shop on Annapolis Town Center or someplace else.”

Projects like the completion of the long-fought-over sidewalk project at Cedar Park Road will also bring the community together and improve safety. She plans to sponsor a bill to implement a “clearly definable and repeatable process” for future sidewalk projects.

“We need to be able to have this process so every single time we want to put a sidewalk in we’re not starting all over,” she said. “Whether its a sidewalk or a crosswalk or a street-end park, this is how you get from concept to reality.”

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Appointed to the Art in Public Places Commission in 2019, O’Neill has plans to expand the West Street art district into her ward, highlighting a community of artists she says deserve more community recognition.

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O’Neill also has hopes for a revitalized Stanton Community Center. While the city has spent money to renovate parts of the aging building, more could be done to bring resources like a computer lab, workforce development programs and college classes to residents.

“We have resources that people don’t even know about and are so underutilized,” she said.

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