Moyer's tenure comes to an end
Mayor's 22-year career in public office full of accomplishments, controversy
Published 11/29/09

Early next week, Ellen O. Moyer's second term as mayor of Annapolis will come to a close, the capstone of 22 years in office and five decades of public service.

But Annapolitans wrestling with her legacy must decide for themselves if her mercurial personality and famous stubbornness were assets or liabilities.

Supporters would say those traits are what helped her build 19 street-end parks, renovate City Dock, open the $16 million Truxtun Park Recreation Center, create an arts district, improve pay for police officers and establish an unrivaled record of environmental commitment.

Opponents would say those traits caused the city to pay $2.5 million to regain control of the Market House and run years behind schedule and nearly $2 million over budget on renovating police headquarters. They might also maintain they're just plain inappropriate for an elected official.

Her detractors maintain Moyer's abrasive personality and management style are the epicenter of the city's ills. During her eight years, they say, politics all too quickly turned into personal attacks. They say she's open to discussing anything - as long as you agree with her.

But Mayor-elect Josh Cohen - whose own critics compare him to Moyer - says the incumbent's resolve and tenacity are not problems but admirable assets. They were, in fact, the driving forces behind countless projects that ultimately reshaped the city, he said.

While her environmental initiatives and some of her other accomplishments will endure for generations, some come with strings attached. For example, the new recreation center will be understaffed and require debt service at a time when the city faces mounting fiscal challenges. Meanwhile, the city needs to overhaul some of its infrastructure, like the sewer system.

It's a divide in Annapolis with little middle ground. There are Ellen Moyer Haters and Ellen Moyer Lovers, and not much else.

Moyer, a Democrat in a heavily Democratic city, said her accomplishments are too numerous to count. She said she certainly has her opponents, but she stands by her career and is not about to let anyone skew it one way or the other.

"I'm not too worried about that. In the first place, there are too many things in the city I know I made happen," she said Monday, hours before her final City Council meeting.

Lengthy resume

Moyer, 73, became mayor on Dec. 3, 2001, after serving 14 years on the City Council. The ex-wife of former Mayor Roger "Pip" Moyer, she is the first woman to hold the job.

By the time she took the oath of office, she already had a lengthy resume of public service. She came to Annapolis for a job with the Girl Scouts, had worked as a teacher, and was appointed to the Maryland Commission for Women, the state Board of Education and other organizations.

Eventually she became a lobbyist for the Maryland State Teachers Association. Her experience on various volunteer boards and commissions was just as extensive.

She'll leave behind long list of accomplishments (officially, 47, according to a list compiled by her spokeswoman), with an emphasis on public works projects, the arts, education and the environment. In fact, all of the nine candidates who ran to be her successor praised the incumbent for her work to protect the environment.

"I'm accused, quite rightfully so, of being a tree-hugger," Moyer said.

But there were also major and costly missteps on the Market House and police station projects, infighting in her own party, and looming fiscal challenges left behind for Cohen and the new council to resolve.

Moyer said she has always had her critics. Some, she said, had honest problems with her policies; others just didn't like her or her style.

"It probably has more to do with gender, gentry and styles," she said. "Disagreement is OK. I don't have a problem with legitimate disagreement. I have a problem with hypocrisy."

Her accomplishments may be more clear in years to come, the mayor-elect said.

"I think Ellen was ahead of the curve in pushing Annapolis to be more green and cultural. And I think we will reap the benefits of her activism in that respect," Cohen said.

But some of her shortcomings - particularly when it comes to her personality - may take time to overcome, said Trudy McFall, a mayoral candidate and a frequent political sparring partner of Moyer's.

"Chaos and nastiness, that's what she has created," McFall said.

Moyer either aced things or seriously bungled them - but no matter what she did, she brought attention, said Carl Snowden. A former alderman and currently the director of civil rights for the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, Snowden was appointed by Moyer to serve on the city's housing authority.

"Overall, her administration will be considered successful," he said. "Although, when there were mistakes, they were mostly not small ones, notably the Market House."
Defining issue

Of her struggles, the most notable was the Market House, the landmark, city-owned building that faces picturesque City Dock.

The trouble began during her first term, when she decided to go ahead with painting, repairs and major upgrades that had been consistently delayed, and were then exacerbated by Tropical Storm Isabel. The project was so involved that it required the businesses in the Market House to move out.

However, many weren't interested in moving back in once they left, Moyer said.

So her administration tried to woo high-end Manhattan grocer Dean and DeLuca. Later Annapolis Seafood was added to the negotiations.

While negotiating with the companies, the mayor was accused of exaggerating the city's success and concealing what was really happening in the deal. But the complaints came from people who were more interested in defeating her in the 2005 campaign than making the Market House better, Moyer said.

"It was a wedge issue for political reasons and it has not stopped," she said.

Later, the City Council, with Moyer at the helm, leased the Market House to Site Realty, a company that was responsible for finding tenants and managing the facility.

Businesses moved into the Market House, but many quickly left because the new air-conditioning system proved inadequate - ultimately driving out both potential customers and the vendors themselves. A series of lawsuits between the city, Site Realty and the tenants ensued, and the Market House, a building that was supposed to make the city money, ended up costing it $2.5 million in an out-of-court settlement.

"It happened on Ellen's watch and she's responsible for that and she knows that. But it pushed everything (else she did) aside and I don't think that's fair," said Steve Carr, a city contractor and longtime friend of the mayor.

Moyer was the only politician with the moxie to actually try to tackle the lingering problems at the Market House, Cohen said, though she could have just taken a pass on it like many mayors before her.

If she could do it over, Moyer said, she would have upgraded the air-conditioning system in the spring, not the winter like Site Realty requested. It would have been more inconvenient, but it wouldn't have created as many hassles and may have prevented the slow but steady exodus of businesses from the property.

In McFall's opinion, Moyer made a bad situation worse.

Throughout the process, it seemed like the mayor was obviously having trouble yet never asked for help, McFall said. She just kept struggling as problems mounted, and whenever someone offered assistance they were usually abruptly turned away, she added.

"You never thought of her as a person who thought she needed help. She was very hard to talk to. She was a terrible listener. You have to battle your way to get to her," McFall said.

Setting the tone

While some opponents criticize Moyer for her decisions as the city's boss, others attack her for her tone, noting that she would sometimes shout at people who disagreed with her at council meetings.

Defending her communication capabilities, Moyer pointed out that she was instrumental in fostering round-table discussions in the city about things as wonkish as transportation policy as well as more emotional topics like diversity and civility. Open discussions ultimately led to the First Sunday Arts Festival and the Let's Talk string of community discussions, she said.

But she also has argued publicly when talks did not go her way. While an alderwoman, she left a 1994 City Council meeting midsession after she was turned down for a post on the powerful Finance Committee. A year later, after she was appointed to the committee and became chairwoman, she left again after a fight about the city budget.

Detractors have regularly painted her as a hypocrite, claiming she calls for civility but is herself uncivil.

Paul Foer, publisher of the Capital Punishment blog, columnist for The Capital and a former city employee, said he agrees with the mayor nearly every time she votes, but he dreads being in the same room with her because of the fight he faces whenever he makes a suggestion.

"It's outrageous of the mayor to treat citizens in such a manner. She works for us, we pay her salary, she's here to serve, not rule," he said. "It's such a shame because she has such a long time in public service. If she could have just learned, learned to grow emotionally."

McFall, who helped Moyer in her first campaign for mayor, eventually saw her relationship with the mayor spoil. She said she's not certain what caused it, but oftentimes it felt like city politics became a free-for-all quietly sanctioned by the mayor.

"It fostered a system of meanness and dirty tricks, this tolerance of 'You're my political enemy and I will go after you tooth and nail,' " McFall said. "It's going to take a good, long doing to clean it up."

The problem, said Alderwoman Julie Stankivic, R-Ward 6, is that Moyer doesn't differentiate between disagreements and attacks.

"Ellen takes things personally rather than seeing them as policy arguments," she said.

When that would happen, her demeanor would change, said Stankivic, who was often the council's lone vote against legislation.

Moyer was intent on asserting her power, but she also knew when to bow to experience, said Joseph Johnson, a former city police chief who retired in 2008.

She insisted that the department consider her concerns about law enforcement, oftentimes clashing with the heads of the department. But ultimately, it was the people with badges who were the final authority on police matters, Johnson said.

"She would let me know who was boss, but I would always prevail," he said. "She has that little mean streak in her when she would say, 'God damn it, I'm going to get it done.' "
A soft side

There's also an incredibly soft side to Moyer that isn't seen from her burgundy seat in Council Chambers. She's an extremely compassionate woman with a particular soft spot for animals, particularly horses and cats.

Moyer would loudly dress down a critic, but later the same day go home to fret over one of the stray cats she cared for around her home, Carr said.

She was also anxious about making any decision that would cost a city employee their job, Carr said.

"The feminine soft side, she shows privately. You only get the ... growling Ellen. But Ellen is one of the most giving people - she cares about anything that's helpless," Carr said.

But that doesn't mean she's excessively mushy either, said Loni Moyer, the mayor's only daughter and youngest child.

Loni said she refers to her mom as the "mother lioness" because she preferred her kids have adventures rather than warm cookies, that they were challenged rather than content and complacent.

Regardless of public perception of her eight years in the mayoral spotlight, Moyer's reign in the cross hairs will end next week. Hours after Cohen is sworn into office, she will pile into her Ford Escape hybrid and escape Annapolis for a meandering three-month road trip, going wherever weather and whim dictate.

She has no job to return to or aspirations for another office waiting for her, just her home on Eastern Avenue, her family, her cats and the Annapolis she spent 22 years helping to shape.

On Dec. 7, she will regain the title she left behind decades ago: Citizen Moyer.

Moyer's career
Mayor Ellen O. Moyer’s second term as mayor of Annapolis will come to an end Dec. 7. Here is a timeline of her personal and political legacy:

    * Feb. 12, 1936 — Ellen Moyer born in Camden, N.J. The family soon moves to Glen Burnie.
    * Late 1950s — A recent Pennsylvania State University graduate, Moyer comes to Annapolis for a job with the Girl Scouts.
    * June 30, 1972 — Moyer appointed to the state Board of Education.
    * June 1977 — Moyer named to Maryland Commission for Women.
    * April 1978 — Moyer joins staff of Maryland State Teachers Association.
    * January 1981 — Moyer announces her first campaign to represent Ward 8 on the City Council. She lost.
    * 1987 — Moyer appointed to the City Council to represent Ward 8.
    * Nov. 6, 2001 — Moyer, a Democrat, is elected mayor, defeating Herb McMillan.
    * Dec. 3, 2001 — Moyer is sworn into office, becoming the city’s first female mayor.
    * November 2004 — Renovations, then expected to cost $8.1 million, begin on city police headquarters.
    * Dec. 31, 2004 — Market House closes for renovations.
    * Nov. 8, 2005 — Moyer wins re-election with 46 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
    * Nov. 28, 2005 — City Council approves Market House lease with Site Realty.
    * Dec. 5, 2005 — Moyer sworn into her second term.
    * July 31, 2006 — Market House reopens.
    * Oct. 17, 2007 — $9 million City Dock renovation begins.
    * May 2, 2008 — City Dock renovations completed.
    * May 22, 2009 — Moyer announces $2.5 million Market House settlement.
    * June 2009 — First business moves into arts district created during Moyer’s administration.
    * October 2009 — With financial challenges looming, $16 million Truxtun Park Recreation Center opens.
    * Nov. 18, 2009 — Police station rededicated.
    * Dec. 7, 2009 — Moyer will leave public office for the first time in 22 years.

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