Racing Down the Home Stretch
Annapolis mayor Josh Cohen and challenger Mike Pantelides pause in their pre-election schedules to talk with Bay Weekly
How are you managing this last week before Election Day November 5?
Josh Cohen A campaign is kind of like a pregnancy. You forget how difficult it is, so you do it again. We’ve been through this several times, and we’ll get through this one. But — and I just had this conversation with my wife — I’ll be a little more stressed than usual this week.
Mike Pantelides About two weeks ago, I took a leave of absence from my job to campaign 24-seven. In the morning, I wake up to phone calls to potential or undecided voters. At night I’m door-knocking. My team of volunteers and I have knocked on, hard to say, over a thousand doors. The other day an aldermanic candidate and I knocked on 100.
I go to a different African American church every Sunday. I told my church, Ss. Constantine and Helen, that you’re probably not going to see me for the next two months, but I’m not leaving the faith.
How do you manage the stress?
Josh Cohen Sleep is very important, and I’m doing my best to get six hours. When my head hits the pillow, I’m out.
Mike Pantelides I have been very stressed. I normally swim, lift weights and do yoga, but I’ve pulled back.
One thing is doing different tasks. If we’re burning out dialing for money or volunteers, we switch to reviewing a piece a direct mail or preparing for a debate.
Is there room for anything else in your life this last week, or is it all campaigning?
Josh Cohen It’s very hard on my family, especially my two girls, ages nine and five. Even though the nine-year-old understands intellectually, both feel my absence. When I’m home for dinner with the family, I turn the phone off.
After they go to bed, I’m back on the computer, responding to emails, or I’m writing follow-up cards to people I’ve talked to.
At the same time, I’m being mayor. The next thing on my agenda is meeting with the city planning director to prepare for tonight’s final meeting on the City Dock master plan.
Tonight is the last council meeting of my term in office, so today, except for talking with you, is all mayor work.
Mike Pantelides Campaign is everything. The hardest thing is balancing the rest of my life with the campaign. It all went on hold: my girlfriend, my job, working out.
What’s been your high point in the campaign?
Josh Cohen In a campaign, there’s a point when it transforms. When a candidate first files, it’s about him and putting a campaign together. So much has to happen, getting operational and logistical systems going. But at the transformation point, a campaign is less driven by the candidate and more about community vision and mission for the next four years.
Mike Pantelides The people you get to meet, ranging from nice people who invite you in, offer food, water or sunscreen, to ones who answer in their underwear, scream profanities and slam the door. I want to say, No issue in so important that I can’t wait for you to put on your pants.
I’ve seen all different parts of Annapolis, streets I never go down.
Who — or what — do you turn to when it gets you down?
Josh Cohen People are staffing the campaign office 24 hours each day. The second-to-last weekend before the election, over a dozen people were out knocking on 1,000 doors throughout the city.
When I see all the folks volunteering endless hours, it’s humbling. People care about this city, and seeing all that energy helps keep me going.
Mike Pantelides Building this team. When I started off, by no means did I think I’d raise close to $70,000 and have this many big signs or people coming in wanting to volunteer.
How do you deal with the current of distrust for government?
Josh Cohen I’m running to make government work. I have a record behind me. In 12 years of public service, I have always stood for supporting community.
In reality, people who distrust government are not going to vote for me. The skepticism I’m facing has more to do with specific issues, City Dock and Crystal Spring. That people care so much is a good thing. But the trust dynamic is big for me because I’ve always supported the integrity of the historic district. As mayor, there are other issues that have to be responded to, sea level rise being one and modern building codes another. We should be able to have this discussion without rancor.
I was not on the Annapolis Small Area Planning Committee; the [plan to] upzone was requested by private property owners. Similarly, City Dock Advisory Committee came up with the recommendations now so controversial. It is not my agenda. The advisory committee thought outside the box, and it is my role and the council’s to bring those ideas down to earth.
Mike Pantelides There’s definitely a huge sentiment of distrust out there, especially with the shutdown and the trials of former Anne Arundel County executive Leopold and former Baltimore mayor Dixon.
I think politics is a noble calling, and I’m doing it for all the right reasons. I want to make a positive impact on my community. When people complain about taxes and fees, I say look to other ways to raise revenues. We have a closed landfill at Waterworks Park that costs the city $180,000 just to maintain. Yet private green energy companies ask to lease, set up solar panels and drill for methane, which brings us a check. Lease out what we don’t need.
What’s the value of the city’s new Sustainable Maryland Certification and certification as a Community Wildlife Habitat?
Josh Cohen They speak to the city’s longstanding environmental ethos (to use a word from my St. John’s education). It’s a credit to the folks who serve in my administration, to the city council and to former mayor Ellen Moyer, who really moved the ball forward in terms of making us a model environmental municipality. It speaks to our active private citizens and non-profit groups who do so much for environmental restoration. It says the environment is very important to people who live in Annapolis.
And, in terms of the proposed Crystal Spring development, it helps reaffirm that the city is doing a good environmental job. Crystal Spring has been in review three years because the mayor and professional staff are doing a thorough review.
Mike Pantelides It shows we have people working to achieve a goal of making Annapolis the Emerald City of Maryland.
What happens in our capital city matters to all Marylanders. What have you done — or will do — for all of us who aren’t city voters?
Josh Cohen We’ve made big strides in mobility, in doing a better job with parking and transit, and that is a big focus moving forward. We have hundreds of parking spaces available, but not everyone knows how to find them. So we need to do a better job of communication: real time parking data so you can pull out your mobile phone and see spaces available and get direction. We’re also developing attractively designed Wayfinding signage similar to BWI.
We also need to do better on traditional ways of getting around, biking and walking, and that’s part of what the City Dock Master Plan speaks to. Annapolis should be more safe and considerate to bike around, for families as well as serious cyclists, and that’s one of the things we’re working on. We have a Bicycling Master Plan, and we’re acting on it, most recently building new bike lanes on Bay Ridge.
Mike Pantelides Four million tourists come to Annapolis. We get $50 million a year just from boat shows. A regional transit system, as the county executive has championed, is one of the things worth exploring as clearly people want to come to the city and go places from it as well.
After the race, what’s first on your agenda?
Josh Cohen Take some time off in the first couple of weeks and spend a lot of time with my kids’ schools and reconnecting with my family — not to mention that my honey-do list is very long.
Mike Pantelides Personally, I haven’t even begun to think yet. Probably wrap up with work, take my girlfriend somewhere — but first sleep all day.
As mayor, work begins before you start, with getting a transition team. Once at work, I’d sit down with the city manager and all department heads, then go to lunch with each alderman. We’d go to Annapolis restaurants starting with Market House.