Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen

Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen on election night. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun / November 5, 2013)

Josh Cohen says he was at the sink doing dishes when his mind began to wander.

His thoughts landed on Annapolis' failing dam at Waterworks Park. Should it be repaired? Should it be breached to allow water to flow through into a stream?

As he contemplated the options, it suddenly dawned on him: The dam isn't something he needs to worry about any more.

"It hit me," Cohen recalls. "I'm not going to be mayor."

After 12 years in public office, the last four as mayor of Annapolis, Cohen will leave office Monday as Mike Pantelides is sworn in as the capital city's next mayor.

"The two hardest things about not winning is: I won't be in office to continue working on these things; and saying goodbye to the people I worked with, because we had a good team," Cohen said.

Cohen, a Democrat, lost a nail-biter election by 59 votes to newcomer Pantelides, a Republican.

In an interview at a downtown coffee shop as his term wound down, Cohen acknowledged last week that he never thought he would lose.

"I thought I would win. I thought it would be close," he said, "but not that close."

Since Pantelides was declared the winner Nov. 8, Cohen has been packing up his office at City Hall, wrapping up his final official duties as mayor and looking toward an uncertain future.

Cohen has tried to be helpful to Pantelides, having lunch with him and texting to coordinate the transition.

He said he's been careful not to step on Pantelides' toes. For example, Cohen ordered city staff to halt reviews of the controversial Crystal Spring development on Forest Drive at the edge of the city that Pantelides has spoken out against.

At the same time, though, Cohen is leaving his mark on his way out the door. In an announcement of the annual tradition of making downtown meters free during the holidays, Cohen slipped in a mention that he asked the city's transportation director to draw up proposals for a new pricing plan for parking. He did note, however, the proposal would be considered by the next mayor and city council.

Cohen also has been looking for a job.

Being mayor of Annapolis is a full-time position. Before that, when Cohen served on the Anne Arundel County Council and as an alderman on the Annapolis city council, he worked in criminal justice at the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center and as a parole and probation officer.

As of Monday, he'll find himself between jobs. He said he's looking for a good fit, whether it's the private sector, a nonprofit or government.

"I need to feel like I'm making a difference," he said.

For the past 12 years — since he was first elected as a 28-year-old alderman in 2001 — Cohen said he's strived to make a difference for Annapolis, his hometown.

As mayor, he focused on righting the city's listing financial ship, reopening the landmark Market House and planning for the long-term future of City Dock.

He acknowledges that his focus on those issues was, at times, unpopular. He laid off city employees with his first budget, raised water rates and cut trash service to once a week.