This Election Day may not have the same political pop in Maryland as it does in states like Virginia and New Jersey, but there are still many important races across the state — including some that may be considered bellwethers for critical 2018 contests.
There are 13 municipal elections on the ballot Tuesday, and a handful of others are scattered throughout November. Voters will head to the polls Tuesday in Annapolis, Bel Air, Chestertown, College Park, Denton, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Greenbelt, Greensboro, Laurel, Marydel, Pittsville and Takoma Park.
Annapolis and Frederick are the big prizes. These are partisan elections, in contrast to the others — and both political parties have a lot at stake.
There is “an opportunity to win back seats for Democrats in Frederick and Annapolis,” Maryland Democratic Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews wrote in a recent email to party supporters.
In Annapolis, where current Mayor Michael Pantelides (R) upset the Democratic incumbent, Josh Cohen, four years ago, it was a harbinger of things to come — especially Larry Hogan’s surprise victory in the 2014 gubernatorial election.
“People saw that the status quo wasn’t moving their community in the right direction,” said Gerry Wosewick, municipal political director for the Maryland Republican Party.
Democrats are putting the same stock in this year’s election, with restaurateur Gavin Buckley (D) gunning for Pantelides. The Republican won by a mere 59 votes in 2013, to become Annapolis’ first Republican mayor since 1997.
Buckley moved to Annapolis from Australia in the 1990’s and began his life in the city as a bartender. He has since opened several restaurants along West Street, helping to transform that part of the city.
Buckley won the Democratic nomination in an upset over veteran state Sen. John Astle, who had the backing of much of the party establishment. But party leaders have closed ranks behind Buckley, who has clashed with Pantelides over development issues, public safety, and making the city more inclusive.
Pantelides and Buckley did not respond to Maryland Matters inquiries.
In Frederick, incumbent two-term Mayor Randy McClement (R) is running for re-election against City Alderman Michael O’Connor (D). McClement won by 18 points when elected for his second term in 2013, proving a difficult target for O’Connor.
O’Connor has been an alderman for two terms and has focused his campaign around pushing for a greater sense of urgency from the city government. He said that “people around town” raised the concern that there “seems to be a lack of focus and energy” when it comes to confronting the problems facing the community. He has made boosting the city’s affordable housing stock a major priority.
McClement, considered a steady hand at City Hall, said wants to “see to fruition” the projects he’s been working on as mayor, including building a downtown hotel and conference center and a new police headquarters.
“What I want to do is continue to keep the character [of Frederick] that we have established, and move it into the future,” McClement said.
Although this is a partisan election, neither candidate is considered a partisan firebrand. McClement works with a Democratic majority on the Board of Aldermen.
Both mayoral elections are taking place in cities where there will be hotly-contested state Senate elections in 2018: Astle’s Senate seat is a major Republican target, and he is expected to retire rather than seek a seventh term. In the Frederick area, state Sen. Ron Young (D) is also vulnerable.
There will be competitive races for county offices in the Frederick and Annapolis areas next year as well.