For John Astle, who has represented the city of Annapolis at the State House for 36 years as a state senator and delegate, his loss in the Democratic primary for mayor to Gavin Buckley, an Australian-born restaurateur, was a crushing defeat. Buckley whipped Astle 62% to 38%, gaining almost a thousand votes more than Astle, who had the support of the Democratic establishment.
In many ways, it was a sign of things to come for the Democratic Party and the election next year. (Many other municipalities in Maryland have non-partisan elections.)
A generation younger and more progressive, Buckley, 53, brought strong business credentials to the table, starting several successful restaurants that have helped revive West Street. With community support, he beat the old pols. It is happening across the state, as younger, more liberal Democrats are challenging the old guard for Senate seats, particularly in Baltimore City.
While Annapolis is a small city with a politically weak mayor by charter, the town has outsized influence as the historic state capital, county seat, home of the U.S. Naval Academy, sailing Mecca and tourist magnet.
Drive for Five
Astle, 74, is one of five moderate Democrats remaining in the Maryland Senate. His seat has long been targeted for takeover by Republicans, part of their “Drive to Five” campaign, hoping to pick up five Senate seats. If they get 19 senators, they will have enough to block veto overrides and other measures that need supermajorities.
Legislative District 30 leans more conservative than the city itself. The mayor’s race was presumably Astle’s last hurrah. He barely held onto the seat in the last election. A younger, more progressive Democratic woman, Sarah Elfreth, 29, filed for the seat back in June.
Former Republican Del. Ron George, the top vote-getter before he gave up his seat to run for governor in 2014, filed for Astle’s seat in February, and has the support of the GOP establishment, including County Executive Steve Schuh.
Republican Mayor Mike Pantelides easily won his primary. Pantelides, 34, was the boy wonder of the state GOP when he beat incumbent Democratic Mayor Josh Cohen four years ago. But like most mayors of struggling older cities, he now has the baggage from four bumpy years of governing.
State Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews said recently that the races for mayor of Annapolis and Frederick “will be bellwethers” for next year’s election, and the party’s hope of defeating Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, an Anne Arundel County resident. “I think you’re going to see in both these races, they will go from red to blue.”
Because of the high symbolism of Annapolis, expect to see both state parties put resources into these races.
Del. Herb McMillan has been toying with running for Senate against Ron George, but party leaders are hoping the Republican delegate will run for reelection instead. McMillan said in an interview that he would announce his plans on Nov. 9, but declined to hint at what he might do.
State Republicans, of course, would love to pick off the Democratic delegate in District 30, House Speaker Michael Busch — who is back to work, but still recovering from his June liver transplant.
Dr. Mark Plaster is running for delegate in the district after losing a race for Congress in 2016 against Rep. John Sarbanes, D-3rd. Plaster, a physician who created a business doing publications for emergency room doctors, has a new job: He just became chief medical officer at Turning Point Clinic, which calls itself “the nation’s largest substance abuse clinic, treating over 3,000 patients daily” in Baltimore City.
“For decades, I saw the effects of substance abuse every night in the ER,” Plaster said in an email. “The trauma, the secondary disease, the fall-out from the destruction of family were all there, but I was not able to get at the root of all these problems. Now I will have a chance to treat the heart of the epidemic. I feel as though I have been preparing for decades to take on this mission.”
The heart of the heroin epidemic may no longer be in the inner-city, with opioid addiction and death having moved to the suburbs, particularly Anne Arundel County.
According to county officials, the opioid crisis in Anne Arundel has steadily gotten worse in recent years. In the first quarter of 2016, drug and alcohol overdose deaths increased more in the county than in any other Maryland jurisdiction. The county’s opioid prescription rate remains above the national average and is nearly three times higher than in 1999. There were as many opioid-related overdose deaths suffered in the county within the first three months of 2017 as the entire year of 2016.
That’s why Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh said the county had hired the law firm of Motley Rice to pursue legal action against opioid manufacturers, distributors and local “pill mill” doctors. Anne Arundel County is the first jurisdiction in Maryland to file such action, a growing trend around the country.
“Those who have had a hand in this epidemic must be held accountable,” Schuh said.
Steve Schuh did the expected on Sept. 8 at his annual end-of-summer blowout at Kurtz’s Beach, which attracted almost 1,000 people: He announced he’s running for re-election.
Schuh is plugging the same themes that got him elected: reducing taxes and fees, improving schools and building a new Crofton High School, investing in public safety and streamlining government. Since his election, he’s made improving the quality of life as a goal and overall “to make Anne Arundel County the best place to live, work and start a business in Maryland,” a mantra Schuh repeats over and over again.
County Councilman John Grasso continues to tell people he will run against Schuh. That race might be fun to watch, because of Grasso’s loud and unpredictable flamboyance. Schuh is a much more disciplined candidate, and Grasso’s best hope would be goading Schuh into losing his temper, which is rarely (if ever) on public display. Grasso, who can barely find his temper sometimes, enjoys goading opponents. He could also change his mind, since he originally said he was running for state senate.
Neither Schuh nor Grasso has filed to run for county executive; Schuh’s campaign has more than $1 million cash on hand, according to a campaign press release.