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Annapolis voters have grown increasingly dissatisfied with a city leadership that has experienced notable failures of civic management and seen a ballooning of spending while developing a reputation for divisiveness. On Tuesday, they have an opportunity to turn the page by electing a new mayor. They have three good choices - Democrat Joshua J. Cohen, Republican David H. Cordle Sr. and independent Chris Fox.

Josh Cohen

Pros: Young and ambitious, Mr. Cohen has served five years as an Annapolis alderman and three as a county councilman. He has been away from the city council long enough to offer fresh perspective, and he pledges to clean house by bringing in a new city administrator (not to be confused with a city manager) and cutting waste from the budget.

Cons: Young and ambitious, Mr. Cohen says he wants to improve city management but has relatively little management experience himself (three years at a nonprofit, where he has managed a federal grant).

Vote for him if you want: Someone with ties to county and state officials who believes City Hall is dysfunctional but can be fixed through better management rather than changing the form of government.

David Cordle

Pros: Older and with a broader base of experience than his opponents, Mr. Cordle is an Army veteran and a county prosecutor. He comes across as a non-ideological pragmatist. He has been on the city council for two terms and has served on the finance committee, giving him a good sense of where the budget can stand to be cut.

Cons: He is a sitting member of the council and has been involved in some of the decisions that have proved unpopular in the city, such as an ill-fated sidewalk tax, though he has opposed many spending proposals on the finance committee.

Vote for him if you want: Someone who has experience in City Hall but will push for a municipal tax cap like the one Anne Arundel County has and who wants to switch to a city manager form of government, in which the mayor and council jointly hire an executive to run the city's operations.

Chris Fox

Pros: A tavern owner in Annapolis with no political resume, Mr. Fox is totally unencumbered by the taint on City Hall. He brings an outsider's perspective and understands business issues. His thoughts on alleviating downtown parking problems, such as moving city government spaces farther away, are solid.

Cons: He doesn't have a track record on many issues, so voters may not know what they're getting. And, as much of a virtue as outsider status may be, Mr. Fox may find that cleaning up City Hall is tougher than it looks.

Vote for him if you want: To take a chance on someone young and energetic who would form a clean break from the current government, someone with business experience and someone who will take a strong stance to clean up Annapolis' public housing.

Our take

Tempting though it is to like an outsider, Mr. Fox underestimates the difficulty of a nonpolitician to get things done in a political system. That leaves a tough decision between Mr. Cordle and Mr. Cohen. We like Mr. Cordle's ideas for Market House better - he envisions a few food vendors but also fresh produce, seafood and butcher's stalls - and appreciate his nuanced view of the need to provide better support to the city's public housing residents. His breadth of life experience is also a big plus.

Mr. Cohen has good ideas about economic development and streamlining the city's permitting and zoning processes, as well as capitalizing on the unique charms of Annapolis. He also has a realistic view on solving Annapolis' budget problems.

Either one would probably make a good mayor, but two issues lead us to support Mr. Cohen: the tax cap and the city manager proposal. The tax cap may sound appealing in a city where property tax assessments are rising, but as Anne Arundel County has found, it's a real handicap in difficult times. The city would be forced to look for revenue in other places, most likely through regressive fees. And although dissatisfaction with Mayor Ellen O. Moyer may make many Annapolitans eager for a new form of government, we think Mr. Cohen is right that the problem is who is leading the government, not how it's structured.

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