In Mayoral Elections, the Status Quo Loses

You know, of course, that all politics is local. But there's a little-known corollary to that rule: All local politics is really local. If ...
by | May 15, 2009

Bear Cop You know, of course, that all politics is local. But there's a little-known corollary to that rule: All local politics is really local.

If you don't believe me, consider this important question in the Anchorage mayoral race: "Does the city of Anchorage need a bear cop?"

So, you see why I'm hesitant to draw conclusions from the mayoral elections that took place over the past two weeks. Still, if there is a message, it's this: In 2009, it's still time for a change.

In Detroit, voters chose Dave Bing, a businessman and basketball star who had never run for office, over the interim mayor, city hall insider Ken Cockrel.

In Anchorage, the interim mayor didn't even make it to the runoff. The winner, Republican Dan Sullivan, ended a six-year run of Democratic control of the mayoralty.

In Omaha, former mayor Hal Daub failed in his campaign for his old job. So did Carole Keeton Strayhorn in her comeback bid in Austin. In San Antonio, 34-year-old Julian Castro claimed a convincing victory.

It's important not to take this theme too far. Voters reelected incumbent mayors in El Paso, Fort Worth and Arlington, Texas. The winners in Anchorage, Omaha and San Antonio all had insider experience, as did the two candidates who advanced to a runoff in Austin. Detroit was alone in opting for a dramatic change in leadership, which makes sense -- Detroit needs a change more than most places.

Still, I think these mayoral races, combined with the plummeting approval ratings of governors, suggest that voters didn't quench their thirst for new leadership in the 2008 elections. What we're seeing is an interesting reversal from the Bush years.

In Bush's second term, a large majority of Americans said the nation was on the wrong track. But, if you asked people whether their own state or city was on the right course, they were much more likely to say yes.

That made sense. People were upset at the federal government because of the Iraq War and congressional scandals. Generally, they were happy with local leadership because the economy was good -- we all had really nice houses, with no money down!

Now, despite the lingering recession, more and more Americans say the country is moving in the right direction. They're not as happy with state and local leadership because the effects of the economy are hitting close to home.

While the political dynamics could shift dramatically by 2010, politicians that are up for reelection this year, such Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey, appear to be in quite a bit of trouble. Then again, it could be that the American people simply are clamoring for more bear cops.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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