Budge set to shift gears from activist to alderman

Joe Budge has been a familiar face at Annapolis city council meetings, speaking out on issues related to downtown.

Later this month, he'll move from the public microphone to the dais as he's sworn in as the council's newest alderman.

Budge, 60, was selected by the Annapolis Democratic Central Committee on Tuesday to replace former Ward One Alderman Richard E. Israel, who stepped down in April because he planned to move out of the city and into an assisted-living facility.

Budge joins the council at a busy time, as aldermen finalize the city's annual budget and prepare to deal with planning and rezoning issues for the City Dock area.

He's no stranger to those issues — he's currently president of the Ward One Residents Association. Ward One includes downtown Annapolis, the historic district and neighborhoods along inner West Street.

"As an alderman, the way in which I lead the community is going to change," he said. "While I may have a strong opinion on certain subjects, as a member of the city council, I have to retain an open mind."

Mayor Joshua Cohen said he's looking forward to working with Budge. The mayor will swear Budge into office at the next council meeting May 13.

"He's been someone I've gone to when I've needed guidance or input on issues in Ward One," Cohen said.

Budge will serve out the remainder of Israel's term, then plans to run for a full term as alderman in city elections this fall.

Budge said he thinks the city council has opportunities to enhance the downtown area by promoting businesses and making the City Dock area more vibrant.

One of his ideas is to designate someone to work full time to promote downtown. While there are pro-business organizations in place — such as the Annapolis Economic Development Corp., the Downtown Annapolis Partnership and the Annapolis Business Association — Budge thinks the downtown needs more aggressive marketing.

"The organizations now are focused on citywide promotion. We need someone who will champion Main Street and downtown and help us compete," he said.

A concern for Budge and other downtown residents and businesses is that shoppers are lured to other shopping areas, such as the Westfield Annapolis Mall and the Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole, because of free, accessible parking.

In addition to serving as president of the Ward One Residents Association, Budge has served on city committees on planning, West Street, City Dock and parking garages. In presenting himself for the Ward One vacancy, Budge swayed central committee members by emphasizing his experience in the community.

Budge has lived in the Annapolis Historic District for 10 years and is retired after a career in software development. He is married to Sharon Kennedy, chairwoman of the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission, an official city board.

That connection caused some concern at the alderman selection meeting. When asked how he would handle any potential conflicts of interest, Budge told central committee members he'd recuse himself when his wife is up for reappointment. He'd take other issues on a case-by-case basis.

"It will be no secret that my wife has this position," Budge said.

Alderman Ken Kirby, who is a substitute member of the central committee and voted in the absence of member Chuck Weikel, said he was troubled by the potential conflict. Kirby said in an interview that he was "in Joe Budge's corner until the 23rd hour," but ultimately voted for Thomas McCarthy, another candidate.

Kirby had his own conflict of interest to deal with: As a sitting alderman, was it appropriate to vote on a replacement alderman? Kirby said he consulted lawyers and the central committee's bylaws and decided it would be OK. No one at the meeting objected to Kirby's vote.

McCarthy, a Department of Natural Resources employee, earned two votes from the central committee. Cable engineer Paul Clar also earned two votes. Budge won the appointment with five votes.

Central committee member Nick Berry said he was impressed with all three candidates, but liked Budge's experience.

"He has served Ward One diligently," he said.

Joe Budge

Age: 60.

Position: Alderman-designate for Ward One of the Annapolis city council.

Experience: President, Ward One Residents Association; member of various city advisory committees.

Career: Retired from a career in software development.

Personal: Married to Sharon Kennedy, chairwoman of Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission; has three grown children; enjoys fly-fishing and is a licensed pilot.

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