By Olivia Bobrowsky
July 19, 2009
Chris Fox landed his first job before he turned 7. He took up a paper route, mowed lawns, shoveled snow and then served hot dogs on a street corner in Washington from the age of 12 to 19.
In all those years, the 35-year-old Annapolis resident said he never wanted to get into politics.
That was before he left his stand, bounced around the hospitality industry and opened an Irish pub on Church Circle in 2002. Since then, repeatedly trekking up to city hall to fight business policies made him grow tired of the current administration.
He quit complaining in 2007 and started a petition to join the 2009 mayoral race. Five-hundred signatures later, the independent candidate is officially on the ballot.
"Our nation was founded by regular people who were mistreated by their leaders," Fox said. "We need to stand up and fight."
Although Fox's fight stems from his business grievances, his biggest issue concerns the proposed city manager form of government. He's encouraging Annapolitans to sign the petition to push forth the referendum, and said if he's elected, he'll hire a professional city manager right away.
But he clarified that it's not enough to change the title of city administrator and call it a day. If he's elected, he said he'll make sure the city manager focuses on day-to-day operations, including the budget - giving aldermen more accountability.
A city manager would have had the oversight to sidestep the Market House issue, he said. But it's too late for what-ifs, so Fox has developed a comprehensive, long-term plan for the property. He wants to divide Market House into two parts, a cold side and a hot side. A wall would separate a fresh market and deli from vendors who serve hot food.
"When you have pizza next to flowers and fudge, the airspace is never going to work," he said. A malfunctioning heating-and-cooling system led to a legal battle over the property in 2006. "I've had structural engineers look at my plan and they say it's very feasible and cost effective."
Fox urges the city to avoid a long-term deal regarding Market House until the next administration takes over. Then, he wants the space filled with locally owned and employed shops.
Annapolis' businesses come into play again as part of Fox's proposed solution to the city's public housing problem. He wants to get physically and mentally capable residents out of public housing and into local jobs through a tax credit program.
"It's not feasible for them to drive in a car to Baltimore or D.C. to go to work," he said. "Local businesses have to be part of the solution."
Eric Brown, the executive director of Annapolis' Housing Authority, said Fox's solution is "worthwhile" to explore, although it all banks on whether the city can afford it.
"The Housing Authority is looking to continue a partnership with the city with respect to enhancing affordable housing opportunities in the area," said Brown, who doesn't endorse any candidate.
In order to fund such a program, which Fox proposes would reward businesses with a one-time tax credit of $2,000 per public-housing resident hired, Fox emphasized the need to cut expenditures. For example, he said, the city's decision to spend $75,000 predicting where the water level will be in (ninety-)five years was excessive.
Still, he doesn't support the proposed cap on property taxes. He'd like to lower the taxes, if possible, but said imposing a limit is irresponsible.
"You can't handcuff local government into making necessary expenditures," he said. "What if they [government officials] have to raise taxes by a penny and they can't do it?"
All of these issues, he said, revolve around common sense, a message that's reflected in his campaign theme. If he were in office at the time, he never would have let Market House sign a 20-year lease with Site Realty, he said. And if he's ever in office, he'll make sure no business has to suffer all the little headaches he's had as owner of the Sly Fox Pub.
Joe Mack, an Annapolis real estate appraiser who has known Fox for about seven years, said Fox will serve the city well even though he's never been involved with politics.
"His lack of experience is one of his greatest attributes because he doesn't have any serious political affiliation," Mack said. "There's no room for partisan politics in a small city government."
Experienced people are the ones responsible for most of Annapolis' misfortunes, Fox said.
"We need someone who loves this town and has a good vision regardless of experience," he said. "I don't think anyone is more qualified."