The city’s 62nd administration officially took office Thursday, and one day into the job, Mayor Michael O’Connor was fielding his first public question about the proposed downtown hotel and conference center.
Peter Samuel, long a vocal opponent of the project, sat in the front row at O’Connor’s first press briefing Friday at City Hall. And when it came time for public questions, Samuel jumped at the chance to ask the mayor and former alderman how he plans to approach the project. In the same breath, Samuel also took a dig at former Mayor Randy McClement for his efforts promoting the project and moving it through the steps.
O’Connor’s answer did not address Samuel’s criticisms of McClement, which included the appointment of Mark Gaver as the first chairman of the Downtown Hotel Advisory Committee in 2010. Gaver is facing federal charges in a $50 million bank fraud case, allegations not involving any part of the hotel project. The mayor did say the hotel project is a high priority about which he is already having discussions, but he declined to give any information beyond a pledge to work with the project partners to move it along.
“What I am cautious about doing over the next four years is committing to a timeline that I don’t feel I can meet,” he said. “I am not prepared to stand up here today and give details on what I would or would not do differently. I know we will do everything we can as a city to work with our partners on that project.”
He also vowed to remain transparent throughout the process.
“I have no desire to hide anything we don’t have to hide,” O’Connor said.
The planned four-story, 180-room hotel and 20,000-square-foot conference center at 200-212 E. Patrick St. are set to come to fruition with both public and private dollars. Developers Plamondon Hospitality Partners are putting in the lion’s share of the funding, and the city, Frederick County and the state of Maryland are set to pay the remainder of the multimillion-dollar cost.
The project is currently in the design phase, with processes running parallel through the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and Maryland Historical Trust to design the buildings and develop a plan to identify and mitigate the historic elements of the existing site. The state’s share of the money is still held up with the Board of Public Works. Board members must cast the final vote for its release.
O’Connor said after Friday’s press briefing that he is waiting for city officials, developers, and members of the trust and Department of Housing and Community Development to ink a memorandum of understanding mapping out the details of the mitigation plans before he plans to lobby for the state money.
“My understanding is that we need more information regarding the MHT process,” he said. “Once that is complete we will have a better case for the Board of Public Works to release the funds.”
As an alderman, O’Connor voted consistently in favor of the city supporting the project over the past eight years.
No huge surprises in final city candidate campaign finance reports
On Dec. 7, the candidates who ran for city office in the 2017 primary and general elections were required to submit their fourth and final campaign finance reports.
According to the submitted reports, which are listed on the city’s election website, the earnings then-Mayor McClement reported in the homestretch between Oct. 28 and Dec. 3 exceeded the total amount of money O’Connor reportedly earned by about $1,500. In the first three reports, O’Connor raised more money than McClement each time.
McClement also reported slightly more cash on hand in his ending balance, at $6,850 to O’Connor’s $6,615.
The reports also show McClement shelled out $2,000 from his campaign funds for his election night party at Brewer’s Alley, and that the Frederick County Republican Central Committee reimbursed $500 of the total.
O’Connor’s election night bash at La Paz restaurant reportedly cost him $848, according to his expense report.
The Board of Aldermen candidates’ earnings during the time period of the fourth report pretty much followed the trends of the first three, with the reports submitted showing the Democratic candidates far outpacing the Republicans. The efforts apparently paid off, too, because all five of the Democrats who ran were elected during the Nov. 7 election.
Democratic Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak, who was re-elected to a second consecutive term, raised the most of any of the candidates for the time period at $2,325. New Alderman Ben MacShane reported the next highest earnings for the time period, followed by Alderwoman Kelly Russell, who was re-elected to a third consecutive term. New Alderman Roger Wilson raised the fourth highest amount of money, followed by newly elected Alderman Derek Shackelford.
Katie Bowersox, a Republican candidate who did not respond to multiple attempts for interviews and did not respond to any survey questions during the campaign process, raised the most of any of the four balloted GOP candidates who turned gun reports from Oct. 28 to Dec. 3. Alan Imhoff reported the second highest earnings, followed by Hayden Duke and Nate Power. A fourth campaign finance report from GOP candidate Bryan Chaney was not posted on the city’s website.
The latest report is also the first time Power, who raised only $200 throughout his campaign, reported any expenses. The expenses, according to the report, were for yard signs, bank fees and a television advertisement.