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Volume 14, Issue 35 ~ August 31 - September 6, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Meet Dennis Callahan

This former mayor of Annapolis wants to be Anne Arundel County Executive

If citizens can be expected to support the Chesapeake Bay they must have access to enjoy it.

—Dennis Callahan, candidate for

Anne Arundel County executive.

Sixty-five-year-old Dennis Callahan has access to the Chesapeake, seeing that he lives on the east side of Spa Creek in Annapolis. But following successful treatments for skin cancer, he doesn’t get to enjoy the Bay as much as he’d like, and he misses sailboating and fishing.

When the former mayor of Annapolis — who resigned as director of county Recreation and Parks to campaign for county executive — and I chatted for more than an hour at his home overlooking Edgartown Harbor, he continually reiterated his aim to give all citizens access to the Bay and to protect it by keeping development within bounds.

We had met only twice previously, this year during a ruckus over building a boat ramp in a new park off Fort Smallwood Road. More on that later. I was curious about this Annapolitan and politician who goes about talking about the Chesapeake and people needing access to it. Face it, talk is cheap in politics, and the Bay and people being able to enjoy its bounty is an apple-pie-and-motherhood topic.

Everybody is for both; my quest was to determine whether the candidate’s background, commitment to and awareness of Bay problems were bonafide. Or, to put it bluntly, if it was just talk to get votes in the upcoming Democratic primary.

The top dog of any county in Chesapeake Bay Country indeed plays a significant role in the present and future of the Bay. Two big issues from the perspective of Bay environment are preservation of rural areas and better-controlled development.

The Man and His Record

Dennis Callahan was born in Baltimore, where his father was a deputy chief of firefighters, and he lived in Linthicum before moving to Annapolis. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland, spent three years in the army, and started two successful businesses, Maryland Laboratory and Tuxedo International/Brenda’s Bridal (named for his wife), which have since merged with other businesses.

He has lived in the county for 34 years and has two sons and five grandchildren, He got into politics, he said, when his wife challenged him to put up or shut up when he aired his objections, even shouted at his television set, while reading about and watching what politicians were doing.

He did, was elected mayor of Annapolis, served from 1985 to ’89, then lost to Al Hopkins and took over the helm at Recreation and Parks until last May, shortly after he started campaigning for the county’s top job. That brings us up to date.

So let’s look at the record as outlined by the candidate who insists he still isn’t a political person.

“I’m too blunt and direct to be a politician,” says Callahan. “Sometimes you have to give answers people don’t like. And I do.”

As for the Chesapeake and the environment, Callahan goes back to his days as mayor when Annapolis passed the first critical area legislation in the state. On a wall in his home is a large plaque from the Maryland Watermen’s Co-Op for his work to ensure that watermen weren’t squeezed and taxed out of their traditional areas. He says he’s for everyone having access to the Bay, and now there’s the little Maritime Museum at Spa Creek to preserve the watermen’s heritage.

Popular Downs Park in Pasadena — the jewel of county parks with its trails, picnic and recreation areas, and earlier this year the opening of a fishing pier — came about on his watch as director of recreation and parks.

He says it is embarrassing that the county doesn’t offer better access to the Chesapeake via launching facilities for the boating public; the last one came about in 1988 at Tucker Street Landing in Annapolis. He was mayor at the time, and he says it came not without controversy.

“A pregnant woman stood before a bulldozer. A policeman asked me what to do, and I told him to arrest her if she didn’t move. Then she left,” he recalls.

Under his parks regime, work was started on a park of nearly 300 acres, with 9,000 feet of shoreline, in Pasadena via the Harry and Jeannette Weinburg Foundation. Before he left parks, he took on objectors to a state-of-the-art launching ramp at the new facility just off Fort Smallwood Road. The matter is now being studied by a Citizen’s Advisory Committee.

At the same time, the county took over Fort Smallwood Park from Baltimore City on a long-term lease; Callahan is confident the planned pier there will be installed. Earlier this year, $1.4 million was spent cleaning up and making repairs at the park at the confluence of the Patapsco and the Chesapeake.

Under his watch, he said, more acreage has been preserved under Agricultural Preservation and Rural Legacy than ever before: a total of 11,000 acres, much of it in South County.

Beyond the Bay

Callahan is not a one-issue candidate. He says he’s committed to freezing property taxes for citizens 65 and older with no subsequent back-tax penalty or income requirement. He’s against what he calls the “traffic-plagued $114 million horse park” and wants to keep the old Naval Academy dairy farm agricultural. He also supports upgrades to Routes 195, 175 and 3.

With education, he sees the biggest challenge is getting parental involvement. “When you have 60 students and only two parents show up at a PTA meeting, you know the problem,” he says. On budgetary matters he says “with the good times over with the $1.4 billion budget,” things boil down to who can best manage that budget. He suggests that legislators don’t necessarily have qualifications in that department.

He says he developed innovative programs that have made the county’s Recreation and Parks volunteer background checks a model across the country. He’s against the Wal-Mart project on Route 3, for the improvement of infrastructure at the Fort Meade in West County, Open Space programs and strong advocacy for youth activity opportunities and environmental programs.

That’s who Dennis Callahan says he is.

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