By MELANIE DZWONCHYK
After steering the city of Laurel over a landscape of cultural and societal change during the last 21 years, Mayor Craig A. Moe is stepping down with this month’s mayoral and city council elections. As the new mayor, elected Nov. 7, Keith Sydnor will be sworn into office Nov. 27, together with the winning city council candidates.
Ignoring a former Laurel mayor’s advice to “get in, do the job, and get out,” Moe accumulated more than three decades of public service, serving six terms on the city council and five consecutive terms as mayor.
Prior to Moe’s tenure in office, the longest serving Laurel mayor was Merrill Harrison, who served for a total of 14 years between 1948 and 1972.
With no immediate plans to take on another job or move from the city, Moe said, “I came in quietly, and I’m going out quietly.”
Moe points to his parents, Barbara and Robert Moe, as being the inspiration for his dedication to public service. Both volunteered for 36 years at Laurel Regional Hospital, beginning when it opened in 1978 as Greater Laurel Beltsville Hospital.
“My parents told us, if we wanted to gripe about something, to get involved,” he said.
At 16, Moe joined the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department (LVFD), where he is now a life member and has served as president and fire chief.
Craig Frederick, a Laurel business owner, has been friends with Moe since the two were in 10th grade at Laurel High. He remembers his teenage friend being “quite a character” at school, but so serious about his fire department work that he practically lived at the fire station.
“He would do the fire runs at night, and go to school during the day,” Frederick said. “He’s all about public service. He’s devoted himself to public service.”
Moe showed leadership potential early in his firefighting career, said LVFD President Vic Whipple, becoming an LVFD officer and eventually serving as president of the Prince George’s County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.
“He listened to everyone’s perspective in the fire department,” Whipple said. “We knew he was going to do the right thing,” when making a decision.
After serving on the city council, taking the seat as mayor in 2002 was initially “quite an experience,” Moe said. Working to support the city council’s decisions “was time-consuming, difficult at times,” he said.
“It was hard to say no to so many people,” Moe added. “That’s what keeps you up at night.”
The city of Laurel experienced a surge of growth and change in the two decades of Moe’s tenure as mayor. According to U.S. Census data, the city’s population grew about 39 percent, from 21,169 in 2000 to 30,060 in 2020. Race percentages among residents reflect a change from a majority white population in 2000 to majority Black in 2020, with 15% of the population now identifying as Hispanic/Latino.
Whipple said Moe was “that steady hand,” who knew his decisions as mayor weren’t going to please everyone, adding that Moe “understood the balance of running a municipality,” working with the councilmembers and within the constraints of the city’s budget.
Moe lured former Deputy City Administrator Kristie Mills out of retirement to serve as his first city administrator. Mills, whose career with the city included working for seven mayors, said Moe was “one of the few that have come into office knowing what he wants Laurel to become. I enjoyed going to work every day I worked for him.”
She remembers Moe’s habit of taking walks through the city at night. When his staff urged him to be cautious, Mills said he told them, “I’m not going to be afraid to walk in my town at night.”
During Moe’s tenure, the city’s budget grew from $14M in fiscal year 2003 to $41M in fiscal 2024, and he’s quick to point out there was no increase to the property tax rate.
Managing the city’s money was always a challenge, and will continue to be for the next administration, Moe said.
“Dealing with employee benefits, making sure city services are provided,” were constant tasks, he said.
Moe said he and his current staff have worked to put the city in a good position for the next administration by establishing reserve accounts for such areas as emergency services and parks and recreation.
As he completes his tenure as mayor, Moe said the city is “financially stable, looking good.”
In 2009, Moe was elected president of the Maryland Municipal League (MML), a nonpartisan association of all the cities in Maryland that advocates for elected officials and staff and provides training and education.
Scott Hancock, former executive director of MML, said Moe’s 21-year tenure as mayor is somewhat unprecedented among the MML’s member municipalities.
“They don’t usually last that long,” Hancock said. “Most mayors move on, they run for office at the state and county [levels].”
Moe considered a county office just once. In 2018, he made a run for the Democratic nomination for the District 1 seat on the Prince George’s County Council, losing to current County Council Chair Tom Dernoga.
Hancock attributes Moe’s long tenure as Laurel mayor to one thing: “He believes in Laurel, he loves Laurel, it’s Laurel first and foremost. [Moe] knew that what he could give Laurel as mayor was head and shoulders above what he could do” in a county or state elected office, Hancock said. “Laurel is going to miss him.”
In 2015, Moe led the city’s response when Dimensions Healthcare announced plans to downsize and close Laurel Regional Hospital, co-chairing the Laurel Strategic Planning Work Group.
Frederick Smalls, who was a city councilmember for 17 years during Moe’s mayoral tenure, was a member of the Dimensions board and chair of the hospital’s board at the time.
Smalls said Moe was “on the ground and never gave up in keeping the hospital open,” driving home the point that Laurel would be adversely impacted on a healthcare front if the hospital were to close.
Eventually, the hospital campus was redeveloped by University of Maryland Capital Region Health into UM Laurel Medical Center, shifting the medical facility’s focus from inpatient to outpatient care and services.
“Moe deserves a lot of credit in helping advance the rebirth of Laurel Regional Hospital,” Smalls said.
The 2017 death of Laurel Public Works employee Marcus Colbert, 30, is something that surrounds him every day, Moe said. According to police, Colbert was struck by a car as he was loading trash onto a city truck. Colbert’s death was the city’s first on-the-job fatality.
The Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Office declined to prosecute the alleged driver due to insufficient evidence. Moe said he was disappointed that no charges were filed in the incident.
“We lost a good young man in a freak accident,” Moe said tearfully. “I think of Marcus every day. The city and public works live with it every day.”
Last month, the city dedicated an athletic field on Overlook Way in Marcus Colbert’s memory.
In 2019, Moe’s administration established a Homelessness and Community Services Task Force. A ribbon-cutting was held in October for the first phase of a new Multiservice Center housed in a former athletic facility on Fort Meade Road, which the city purchased with state funds augmented by funding through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The center will provide a range of services recommended by the task force, including temporary transitional housing.
“I wanted to have it done, and have it done right,” Moe said of the center. “I’ll look back at this as one of the positive things I did for the community.” The center will offer “help and support, making a difference in the lives of residents,” he said.
While he’s sure the next city council and mayor will “do things differently,” Moe said he is convinced they will look out for city residents and do what’s best for the community, both goals he always strived to accomplish.
Moe retired in 2018 as deputy director, Operations Support, Maryland Transit Authority.
Whipple, of the LVFD, predicted that Moe’s leaving office is “going to be an adjustment” for the former mayor. After all those years providing leadership to the city, “you are used to being the man they look to,” he said.
Whipple said Moe’s career serving the city of Laurel “was really a good story for us who knew him all those years, to see him climb into those positions, always do the right thing. His commitment and dedication to the community is unmatched. He’s handing a healthy, thriving city to the next mayor.”
What is Laurel. Maryland?
In 2003, Moe was featured in a $1,600 question on a double jeopardy round of the popular TV show Jeopardy.. Under the category “Population Under 50,000,” Jeopardy contestants faced this answer: “Mayor Craig Moe probably knows everyone in this tree-named Maryland town about 20 miles from Washington.” Turns out the answer, Laurel, was a triple-stumper, with none of the three contestants answering correctly.
Moe, in his first year as Laurel’s mayor, might not have been easily identified nationally as the top elected official of a city called Laurel. Today, as he prepares to step down after two decades as mayor and more than 30 years in Laurel’s city government, there’s a good chance one Jeopardy player would walk away with some cash.