Mayor's Races That Won't Be Close (I Think)

You may have noticed that I haven't written much about the New York mayoral race, in which Democrats nominated New York City Comptroller William ...
by | September 16, 2009

You may have noticed that I haven't written much about the New York mayoral race, in which Democrats nominated New York City Comptroller William Thompson yesterday. I think something must be wrong with me because I'm struggling to generate much enthusiasm for this election.

Thompson's race against Republican-backed independent Michael Bloomberg has been stuck in pretty much the same place for weeks. Bloomberg has led in every poll by double digits. His lead, combined with his limitless supply of campaign cash, suggests to me that, just like in 2005, this race won't have much suspense.

Yet his lead is small enough (50%-35% most recently according to Quinnipiac) that I feel bad about ignoring the election. Bloomberg can never feel completely safe in such a Democratic city, but until (or unless) Thompson gains some ground I won't get too interested.

The New York City race got me thinking about which big city mayoral elections will be close this fall and which won't. Some clearly are competitive, including the open seat races in Houston, Atlanta, Seattle (after incumbent Greg Nickels' primary defeat), Charlotte, Miami and Toledo. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez is facing two state legislators who are giving him a stiff test.

Some clearly aren't.

In an all-candidate primary yesterday, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman took 68% of the vote. In an all-candidate primary last week, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson took 72% of the vote. Why don't these cities have a rule that if one candidate breaks 50% of the vote in the first round of voting, he wins? Regardless, Coleman and Jackson clearly are safe.

Likewise, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has raised 19 times as much money as all of his challengers combined.

In Raleigh, Mayor Charles Meeker, a Democrat, faces a "trio of novices" who won't give him much trouble.

Then, there are some slightly tougher cases, but ones I don't think will be competitive.

In Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl is the nominee of both the Democratic and Republican parties. While his two independent challengers actually have impressive credentials (and one is the son of Steelers star Franco Harris), Ravenstahl is a heavy favorite.

While political rookie Brad Wenstrup is raising some decent money in Cincinnati, the Republican doesn't appear to have much of a chance against incumbent Democrat Mark Mallory.

In Detroit, Mayor Dave Bing won 74% of the vote in the all-candidate primary last month, but since then has proposed budget cut and privatization plans, angering public employee unions. AFSCME has endorsed his opponent, Tom Barrow. I can't imagine Bing losing (he just won a special election earlier this year to replace Kwame Kilpatrick), but the size of the protest vote against him in the general election is worth watching.

I'd be lying if I told you that I know a lot about politics in Riverside, California (which I dutifully include as a big city because it has 300,000 people), but incumbent Ronald Loveridge has been mayor for 16 years. I don't detect that he's in a whole lot of trouble.

The safest of all is Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown -- because he won reelection yesterday.

The toughest case is Boston. There's a reason that Thomas Menino is sometimes called "mayor for life." He's been mayor for 16 years, winning reelection easily three times. In the most recent poll of which I'm aware, he scored a 73% approval rating.

On the other hand, he has well-funded challengers. The e-mail investigation into Menino's administration might or might not be a big deal, but it has at the very least produced some unflattering press for the mayor right before the election.

The all-candidate primary will take place next Tuesday. My guess? Menino wins easily. However, this is one that I'm at least going to keep watching.

Update: As a commenter notes, I forgot about Memphis, where a special election will take place in October. I have a few thought on the Memphis election here.

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

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