Cate Pettit first met Gavin Buckley at a campaign event in Annapolis in 2017.
Pettit, an Australian who had moved to the city with her husband for work the previous year, knew nothing of the ongoing mayoral race between Buckley and his opponent, Mike Pantelides. Upon arrival, she was introduced to the jovial Aussie restaurateur and remembered thinking, “Another Aussie, great. Now, where’s the guy running for mayor? »
She quickly realized her compatriot was the Democratic underdog with no prior political experience trying to unseat an incumbent Republican. She was struck by Buckley’s hopeful vision of “One Annapolis,” a unifying message from a city that over its long history has excluded large swaths of its population, especially communities of color.
“In communications, when you’re trying to get your message across to people, almost everything comes down to one of two things. It’s either hope or fear,” said the 57-year-old with extensive experience in communications, education and government. “We live in a difficult time and Gavin’s message is about hope and that really spoke to me.”
Five years later, Pettit has agreed to become Buckley’s new chief of staff, succeeding Susy Smith, who is retiring after four years in the role. Pettit’s first day is Monday. She will earn $106,000 a year.
Buckley sees Pettit as the ideal choice to help achieve the goals he has set for his second term, including the completion of the Hillman Garage rebuild, the City Dock redevelopment and other capital projects, while continuing the community outreach initiatives undertaken by its Hispanic and Black Liaison Officers. communities.
“She will be a great asset,” Buckley said. “She’s an incredible communicator and she was central to my communications strategy throughout the first campaign and through [the second] a.”
After their first meeting, the couple gradually built a relationship of trust in which each leaned on the other for advice and guidance.
In 2019, Pettit and her husband, Michael Smith, who works for the Australian government, returned to her home country and remained there throughout the pandemic. Despite being thousands of miles away and in many time zones, Pettit led Buckley’s communications strategy for his re-election in 2021.
Prior to coming to the United States, Pettit worked as an elementary school teacher and in educational product development, teacher training and sales. A graduate of the University of Canberra with a degree in communications, she has worked with disability advocacy groups and with the Aboriginal community in Victoria, Australia. For a time, she worked for the Australian government and before coming to Annapolis in 2016, she worked for the Australian Election Commission, the federal body that manages the country’s elections.
Pettit and her husband fell in love with Annapolis during their stay in the waterfront city. As she begins her new role in administration, Pettit will focus on building relationships with city department heads and other employees. Establishing and maintaining those ties as well as forging inroads with the community will be key to helping Buckley succeed in his second and final term, which ends in 2025.
Days of the week
Update you on the biggest news of the day before the evening ride.
“I’ve been following Annapolis for the past two years through COVID and so on, and I’ve been so impressed with this community’s generosity, commitment and connection,” Pettit said. “I’ve moved around a lot and lived in different places, but it’s rare that you find it so easy to get to know people when you’re a new person in town. We loved that.
Susy Smith was appointed chief of staff in April 2018, succeeding Jane Hruska. Smith was convinced to come out of retirement after decades of service at various levels of local, county and federal government, including chief of staff to several congressmen and senators, and in several presidential administrations.
Last year, Smith, 78, informed Buckley that she planned to leave after the election. Pettit quickly emerged as a candidate to take her place, but the succession plan was slightly delayed by the pandemic. Pettit was granted an E3 visa, which applies to Australian nationals as well as their spouses and children. She arrived in Annapolis last week.
Over the past week, as Pettit and Buckley met with city staff to discuss the transition, Smith said she noticed why Buckley chose Pettit.
“She’s a good fit — and I watched her in a few meetings last week — because she makes people think she’s listening to them,” Smith said. “And she can capture what people are trying to say. She is attentive to what Gavin’s views are and is able to get the rest of the staff to implement it.
Pettit also developed a relationship with Smith, whom she described as “extremely generous and supportive” during the transition.
“I know I’m going to rely on her a lot,” Pettit said. “I am so grateful to her for the support she has given me and I have big shoes to fill in that regard.”