Cohen, Pantelides face off in Annapolis mayoral election

  • Josh Cohen, left, and Mike Pantelides
Josh Cohen, left, and Mike Pantelides (Baltimore Sun and Submitted…)
November 04, 2013|By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun

Annapolis voters will choose Tuesday who will lead the capital city for the next four years: incumbent Democratic Mayor Josh Cohen or Republican newcomer Mike Pantelides.

Cohen says he'd continue to correct the city's financial woes, carry out a new vision for City Dock, and improve parking and transportation.

Pantelides says he'd bring a business perspective to government, holding city employees responsible for providing good service and putting an end to tax and fee increases.

For weeks, the two have traded barbs in forums and through campaign mailers. And they've leveraged big names to advance their respective causes: Harford County executive and gubernatorial candidate David Craig has knocked on doors for Pantelides, while Gov. Martin O'Malley's O' Say Can You See PAC sent out an email blast on Cohen's behalf.

In 2009, Cohen won the election by fewer than 500 votes.

Cohen points to his experience and ability to make decisions, even if some are unpopular. He laid off city employees to help balance the budget and persisted with a City Dock master plan that many opposed. He also raised water rates — a necessity, he said — and dropped trash collection from twice to once a week.

Things got bad financially in Annapolis in 2010, so much so that then-Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold offered to pay the city its share of property taxes and revenues from the Eisenhower Golf Course early to keep the city afloat. The city also took out short-term loans to help keep the government running — a practice that has ended, the mayor announced last month.

"Annapolis is in much better shape today those four years ago, across the board," Cohen said.

Pantelides, however, blames Cohen for helping create the city's financial problems. He points out that when Cohen was an alderman from 2001 until 2005, he served on the Finance Committee.

Pantelides said because he works the private sector, he's used to "results, goals and deadlines." He said the top concern he's heard from voters is increased taxes.

"I don't come from the tax-and-spend mentality," Pantelides said.

At 30, Pantelides is the youngest candidate running for office in Annapolis this year, but he's no stranger to politics. Four years ago, he worked on the campaign of Republican mayoral candidate David Cordle. He's also served on the Republican Central Committee and served as vice president and president of his local civic association.

Pantelides doesn't think his youth is a detriment, and points out Cohen was 36 when he was elected mayor in 2009, and popular Mayor Roger "Pip" Moyer was 28 when he became mayor in 1965.

Cohen, now 40, also got into public office early. He was elected as alderman representing Eastport in 2001, was re-elected in 2005 and then won a seat on the Anne Arundel County Council in 2006. Cohen said Pantelides has a bright future in politics — with an emphasis on "future."

"He's a very nice guy," Cohen said of Pantelides. "I think he has a genuine calling for this. … This is not the time for on-the-job training as mayor."

Pantelides counters that Cohen is a "career politician."

Pantelides has made a splash with promises to cut water rates. He says estimates for replacing the aging city water plant have come in lower than expected, so water rates can be rolled back.

Cohen said it would be irresponsible to cut water rates and risk having the city back in a state of deficit spending.

The two also have differed on City Dock, which has been the dominant issue for the mayor and city council for months.

Pantelides said the process was rushed and thinks the new master plan for the downtown dock area will allow the landscape to change too much. He said it also fails to account for the National Sailing Hall of Fame, which is proposed to be built downtown.

He also questions whether there's a need to rezone the Compromise Street side of the waterfront, which Cohen has proposed to spur redevelopment of the vacant building that once housed Fawcett's Boat Supplies. Pantelides thinks a project could be viable with the existing maritime zoning, which allows a portion of the property to be used for nonmaritime uses.

"People come to City Dock for what it is, not what it will be," Pantelides said.

Cohen was the chief supporter of the City Dock plan, which was approved by the city council shortly after midnight Tuesday. He said it's necessary to have a vision for downtown to guide city projects — such as a bulkhead project and replacing a parking garage — and to guide redevelopment as it happens.

He said additional studies required by the City Dock plan will ensure that any changes maintain the dock's historical value and don't hamper parking.

"Annapolis has to show it can rise up and face difficult challenges, and not just fall away in the face of debate and disagreement," Cohen said.

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