The Trump Effect?

November 12th, 2017

What is the message behind Gavin Buckley’s stunning, lopsided victory over Mayor Mike Pantelides in the Annapolis city elections this past week? What does it say about how Annapolitans feel about their city, about politics today and about President Donald Trump one year after his upset victory?
“Trump and turnout,” Pantelides immediately volunteered to me as he stepped down from the microphone after his concession speech Tuesday night when I asked him what explained Buckley’s remarkable win.
“Annapolis wanted a change,” he conceded, and indeed, despite a rainy, chilly election day, nearly a thousand more voters turned out Tuesday than during the hard-fought, incredibly close mayoral election four years ago. Clearly the voters of Annapolis had something to say and wanted to be heard.
“The national factor played a big part,” the Mayor continued. “Trump has ruined the Republican label.”
Pantelides may have been making excuses for his own poor showing, but his bitter feelings about the President were echoed among his supporters gathered in the second floor ballroom of the Annapolis Waterfront hotel. All the trappings for a blowout victory party were there: tables laden with hors d’ourves, music, a free-flowing, cash bar. But the Republicans in the room, almost all of them white and prosperous-looking in coats and ties and dresses, were angry with their national standard-bearer.
“I’m heartbroken,” said a blonde-haired woman standing with her grown daughter. “I’m a conservative and a lifelong Republican, but Trump has destroyed the party right down to the local level. “ “It is pretty scary,” her daughter agreed, “The Trump effect is real.”
Pantelides confessed that he had known he was in trouble two weeks before, when he got the results of a private poll conducted by his campaign. “It showed Gavin ahead 46-to-43 per cent, ” he said. That was when his supporters began flooding the city mailboxes with attack fliers mocking Buckley’s Australian accent, questioning his business record and accusing him of planning to raise taxes.
“The fliers hurt,” I know that.,” Pantelides conceded ruefully Tuesday night.
If the mood in the Republican gathering was sour and flat, the scene at the Metropolitan Kitchen and Lounge celebrating Buckley’s success was joyful and raucous. Hundreds of supporters, black, white and Asian, young and old, packed the three floors of the restaurant, laughing and cheering over the pulse of a disco beat. They applauded their hero’s acceptance speech, traded high fives and hooted approval when a reel of “Gavin’s Bloopers” – stumbling outtakes of Buckley’s video ads — flickered across the screen.
Buckley himself was exuberant. When a television reporter asked him on camera what his first act would be after the swearing-in on December 4, Buckley said: “Signing a peace treaty with Eastport!”
When Steve Schuh, the Republican County Executive shook his hand and promised that they would work together, Buckley said: “Great. Can I buy you a drink?” and led Schuh through the crowd to the bar.
The contrast between the two election-night parties mirrored the candidates themselves: Pantelides, the earnest, methodical plodder who trumpeted his first four years and promised more of the same; Buckley, the rakish, adventurous outsider who promised change, new ideas and excitement.
How big was the Trump factor? While the results here reflected the same-day Democratic sweep in Virginia, New Jersey and New York City and clearly represented a wider Republican setback, the Annapolis outcome was mostly local, mostly about the sharply contrasting candidates and the voters’ frustration with the glacial pace of improvements in their venerable city.
Annapolitans seemed to be looking at the endless squabbles over the Market House, the empty storefronts on Main Street, the frequently clogged traffic, the non-stop development, the shabby public housing, the increased crime, the repeated “nuisance flooding” lapping at the edges of downtown and the parked cars littering City Dock and asking: “Can’t we do better?”
Gavin Buckley seemed to be taking a page out of the Obama playbook and answering: “Yes we can.”
Come December 4, he’ll get his chance to prove it.


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