Mayoral Storylines from New York City to Albuquerque

This week's Boston mayoral election was completely dull if you're only interested in partisan politics. All of the candidates were Democrats. But, if ...
by | September 24, 2009

This week's Boston mayoral election was completely dull if you're only interested in partisan politics. All of the candidates were Democrats. But, if you like a good story -- voters deciding the fate of a 16-year mayor and old-school politician whose time, critics say, has passed --  it was a fun one to watch.

And, that's the case with most of the big-city mayoral elections this fall. We only have a few partisan showdowns, but they all give us some good story to follow.

One of the good partisan contests is in Albuquerque. While the race is nominally non-partisan, Republican State Rep. Richard Berry is running against Democratic Mayor Martin Chavez with the support of his party. And, the election is shaping up as something of an ideological battle, with Berry positioning himself to the right of Chavez on taxes and immigration.

But, the election is also a referendum on Chavez himself. Former State Sen. Richard Romero, a Democrat, is also in the race. Romero's positions on the issues don't seem that different from Chavez's, but he's charging that the mayor hasn't worked well with other political leaders. Chavez is gunning for a fourth term (and third consecutive term) as mayor. To run again, he won a court reversal of a term limits rule. Do voters want a change? The first round of voting is October 4 and, if no one tops 40%, the top two face off November 24.

In Atlanta, there are two big questions: Will the race be about race and, if so, who wins? Mary Norwood, a member of City Council, is trying to be the first white mayor elected in the capital of the South since  Maynard Jackson's historic victory in 1973. She has a chance because Atlanta's white population was increased substantially this decade.

Norwood is opposed by Council President Lisa Borders and State. Sen Kasim Reed (both of whom are black), among others. The candidates are focused on standard municipal fare -- crime and taxes -- but the backdrop of race has been hard to avoid. The top two candidates in November, likely Norwood and either Borders or Reed, advance to a December runoff.

Democratic-leaning Charlotte has had a Republican mayor ever since Harvey Gantt left office in 1987. Is this the year Democrats break through in the this key city in a newly minted presidential swing state? Polling shows that the open seat race between Republican John Lassiter and Democrat Anthony Foxx is close.

For an outsider, it's hard for Annise Parker not to be the story in Houston. If Parker is elected mayor, the City Controller (and early frontrunner) would arguably be the most politically powerful open lesbian in American history. Houston is the 4th most populous city in the United States. Other top contenders include City Councilman Peter Brown, former City Attorney Gene Locke and school board trustee Roy Morales (Morales is the only leading Republican). With a 50% threshold to win in November, a December runoff seems likely.

In Memphis, the clear frontrunner is Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton. Wharton, though, is the leading advocate of a controversial idea: consolidating the governments of Memphis and Shelby County. Opposition to consolidation is stronger in the suburbs than in Memphis, so that if Wharton's position doesn't play well in the city that will be a clear sign that the concept is a non-starter.

In Miami, the superficial similarity between Tomás Regalado and Joe Sanchez -- both Republicans, both on City Council and both Cuban-Americans -- belies a philosophical difference. Regalado is a contrarian populist. Sanchez, a strong supporter of outgoing Mayor Manny Diaz, is more of an insider. A fun flashpoint for this divide is the debate over a new Florida Marlins stadium, which Sanchez supported and Regalado opposed.

While New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg appears to be a safe bet for reelection, the campaign may offer clues as to the future plans of America's foremost political chameleon. The election is also a test of party loyalty. I'll be watching which Democrats endorse the mayor (an independent who is running on the Republican line), which endorse Democratic candidate William Thompson and which stay out.

In Pittsburgh, incumbent Democrat Luke Ravenstahl (who also is the Republican nominee) faces two independent candidate who are well-credentialed, but don't seem to have the connections to make the race close. However, Ravenstahl does face one big test before the election: the G-20 gathering in Pittsburgh today and tomorrow. Ravenstahl should win if he can simply avoid becoming another Paul Schell, the Seattle Mayor who lost in part because of the 1999 WTO protests.

In Seattle, I'm wondering how many candidates one little viaduct can defeat. Ever since an earthquake damaged the city's Alaskan Way Viaduct, state and local politicians have been debating what should be done about it. Mayor Greg Nickels' support for the current plan, a tunnel replacement, is one reason he lost in the first found of voting, coming in third behind environmentalist Mike McGinn (whose campaign has been defined by his anti-tunnel stand) and businessman Joe Mallahan.

Now, however, the Viaduct may doom McGinn. Mallahan has been endorsed by business and labor groups, which agree with his stance in favor of a tunnel. McGinn's candidacy will be a test of a municipal ideology that unites liberals and conservatives but sometimes loses the middle: That local governments should focus on basic services over big projects such as stadiums, convention centers and giant new tunnels.
Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
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