Annapolis voters will start the process of selecting a mayor and city council to serve for the next four years with primary elections Tuesday.
The Democratic and Republican primaries feature a total of five people running for the seat currently held by Mayor Josh Cohen: Democrats Cohen and Bevin Buchheister, and Republicans Frank Bradley, Bob O'Shea and Mike Pantelides.
Cohen is fighting to keep the job he won by less than 500 votes four years ago.
"I feel truly blessed to have had this opportunity to serve as mayor," Cohen said. "I don't see being a politician as a bad thing. I view it as a mitzvah, a way to do something meaningful in serving my community."
Cohen has come under fire, especially in the past few months as he pursued controversial plans for the future of downtown's City Dock and rezoning a key portion of the waterfront.
He's also been criticized for the drawn-out and expensive process to renovate the Annapolis Market House, and for his conceptual support for the Village at Crystal Spring, a proposed mixed-use and senior living development on Forest Drive.
Opponents of his City Dock efforts formed a group, Save Annapolis, to fight the mayor's plans.
Still, Cohen says he's optimistic he has support.
"A lot of voters I've talked to believe I've done a good job and they recognize that the past four years have required unpopular decisions, but they support the direction the city's going in and they want to see me continue," Cohen said.
Buchheister, an attorney and downtown resident who works for the Chesapeake Bay Commission, filed to challenge Cohen just before the deadline at the beginning of August.
She has been aggressive about getting her name out, planting scores of signs with her green-and-blue sailboat logo around Annapolis.
For instance, when Cohen "walked the plank" and jumped into "Ego Alley" at the Market House reopening last weekend, a pickup truck with a large "Bevin Buchheister for Mayor" sign was strategically parked nearby. After Cohen climbed out of the water, two boats carrying sign-waving Buchheister supporters circled near City Dock.
A downtown resident who has been active in the Ward One Residents Association, Buchheister has said she's frustrated with how the city has been run and would do a better job bringing people together to find collaborative solutions to problems. She did not respond to requests for comment last week.
On the Republican side, three men are vying for the nomination.
Bob O'Shea, a businessman who lives in Murray Hill, says he has the best life experience and business experience of the three Republican candidates.
O'Shea said he's "a little bit of an underdog" who came into the race with no name recognition.
Pantelides is the son of developer and consultant John Pantelides, while Bradley is known as a popular Santa Claus.
O'Shea said he's been busy meeting voters and expects to have knocked on more than 2,000 doors by Tuesday. He said the city has spent too much money on flawed projects such as renovating the Market House.
"I think the people of Annapolis are being taken advantage of. I've had it with money that is spent and wasted where it could be used in other areas, and it's time to change it," O'Shea said.