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.
Bradley, who admits to getting into the race to "stir things up," has run a bare-bones campaign. In campaign finance reports, he said he would raise and spend less than $100. He put a sign on his car and has worn a "Bradley for Mayor" T-shirt.
Bradley has said he would abolish unions for city government employees, would seek open bids on city contracts and doesn't support giving tax money to charities.
Pantelides' campaign slogan is "Sweep Annapolis Clean," which has been posted on signs throughout the city. A software sales representative, he's a lifelong Annapolitan who is president of his neighborhood civic association.
Pantelides has said he supports creating a more business-friendly climate and has spoken out against the proposed Crystal Spring development and the drawn-out renovation of the Market House. He did not respond to requests for comment last week.
Voters will also fill eight seats on the Annapolis city council this fall, but only two of the seats have contested primaries.
In Ward 1, which includes downtown Annapolis, Alderman Joe Budge is challenged by Thomas McCarthy in the Democratic primary. Earlier this year, the Annapolis Democratic Central Committee selected Budge over McCarthy to fill a vacancy that was created when Richard Israel resigned as alderman because he moved out of the ward.
Budge is a retired software executive who was president of the Ward One Residents Association before he was appointed alderman. McCarthy has worked in sail-making and the mortgage industry and currently works at the state Department of Natural Resources for Program Open Space.
The Democratic winner in Ward 1 will face Republican candidate Allen Furth in November.
In Ward 2, which includes West Annapolis and Admiral Heights, the Democratic primary features a matchup between Timothy Mennuti and Kurt Riegel.
Mennuti is a Navy veteran and teacher who served as president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, while Riegel teaches at the Johns Hopkins University and has been involved in Severn River restoration efforts.
The Democratic winner in Ward 2 will face Republican Alderman Fred Paone in the general election.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday. Voters are encouraged to check their polling place before they head out to vote. Election information, including a tool for finding polling locations, is posted at http://www.annapolis.gov under "Elections 2013." Voters also can call 410-263-7929.
Occupation/experience: Maryland director for the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which advises state lawmakers on environmental policy. Former chief of staff to the chairwoman of the House of Delegates Environmental Matters Committee. Former president of Ward One Residents Association.
Top issues: City budget, underfunded pension plans, City Dock, Crystal Spring.
Personal: Lives in downtown Annapolis. She and her husband have three sons, ages 13, 23 and 25. Enjoys gardening, sailing with friends, listening to local music and traveling.
Occupation/experience: Mayor of Annapolis. Former member of Annapolis city council and Anne Arundel County Council. Previously worked in criminal justice, including as a parole and probation agent.
Top issues: Enhancing quality of life in Annapolis, improving transportation and parking, and continuing to improve city's financial outlook, including dealing with long-term liabilities.
Personal: Lifelong Annapolis resident currently living in West Annapolis with wife and two daughters. Enjoys running, the Baltimore Ravens, fantasy football and taking trips with his family.
experience: Semi-retired following a career in the flooring industry. Active in neighborhood watch and served on the Annapolis Republican Central Committee.
Top issues: Reforming government, removing city employee unions, making sure contracts are open-bid.
Personal: Lives in the Parkwood neighborhood. Appears as Santa Claus for local businesses and community events. Sends out a "Quote of the Day" email to friends and supporters.
Occupation/experience: Consultant for manufacturers in the defense and medical industries for more than 30 years.
Top issues: Unification of Annapolis, balancing the budget, dealing with underfunded pensions and resolving City Dock's future.
Personal: Lives in Murray Hill with wife and son. Enjoys sailing, skiing and running.
Occupation/experience: Sells government relations software to businesses and organizations. President of the Germantown-Homewood Civic Association. Member of Annapolis Republican Central Committee. He also previously worked in newspaper ad sales for The Baltimore Sun and The Capital in Annapolis.
Top issues: Fiscal responsibility, improving the business climate.
Personal: Lifelong Annapolis resident. Enjoys working out, spending time with family and fishing.