In Major Cities, Most Incumbent Mayors Glide to Reelection

But the races in Phoenix and Little Rock, Ark., are headed for runoffs.
by | November 7, 2018
Providence, R.I., Mayor Jorge Elorza celebrates victory on Tuesday. (AP/Steven Senne)

Most of the big city mayors who sought new terms had little trouble on Tuesday. The mayors of Austin, Texas; Providence, R.I.; Louisville, Ky.; and other sizable cities all won reelection.

Washington, D.C., and Oakland, Calif., both reelected mayors for the first time since 2002. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf had each escaped major opposition.

The contests in Phoenix and Little Rock, Ark., however, are heading to runoffs.

The two leading candidates in Phoenix, Kate Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela, are both former members of the city council, where they were both allies of Greg Stanton, who stepped down as mayor to run for Congress. Gallego finished well ahead but fell short of the majority needed to win outright, so a runoff election will be held in March.

Each drew support within their old districts, with Valenzuela stronger in the western part of town and Gallego ahead in the southwest. They also split support among labor unions.

"He's been able to bridge the gap between individuals and groups that don't normally get along with one another," said P.J. Dean, secretary of the United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association, which backed Valenzuela -- who is a firefighter and says he'll stay on that job even if he's elected mayor.

But Gallego has support from labor and some party leaders. Her campaign has been supported by huge influxes of cash from women's groups eager to have a woman serving as mayor of a Top 10 city.

Little Rock's race will go to a runoff on Dec. 4. The finalists will be Frank Scott Jr., a former state highway commissioner, and former Little Rock schools superintendent Baker Kurrus. Issues like policing, an interstate expansion and city development will come prominently to the fore.

There is "racially decipherable voting" in the city, said Max Brantley, a columnist with the Arkansas Times, which benefited Scott, who is African-American.

Kurrus has drawn support from the business community but also endorsements from some of the city council's most liberal members.

"I personally happen to think that while there's no doubt Baker would provide some comfort to the business establishment, he wouldn't blindly go along with it," said Brantley, who is backing Kurrus.

Democrat Greg Fischer won a third term in Louisville, Ky., which hasn't elected a Republican mayor since the city merged with Jefferson County 15 years ago.

Providence, R.I., Mayor Jorge Elorza handily defeated two challengers in the Democratic primary in September, but he ran into an unexpected bump on the road to reelection. Diane "Dee Dee" Whitman, a political fundraiser, entered the race as an independent after the primary. She loaned her campaign $500,000 and has spent freely on the race, picking up endorsements from Elorza's two erstwhile Democratic rivals in the process.

Still, Elorza came out ahead in the end, taking 64 percent of the vote, to 33 percent for Whitman.

Positions on issues were drawn more cleanly in the Lexington, Ky., mayoral race -- even though the partisan leanings were more mixed up than usual. Linda Gorton, a former vice mayor and member of the city council, won the race.

Gorton is a registered Republican, while her opponent Ronnie Bastin, a former police chief and public safety commissioner, is a registered Democrat. But Gorton is not a conservative and won support from Democrats, including outgoing Mayor Jim Gray.

In Austin, Mayor Steve Adler easily avoided a runoff, despite a citywide advisory to boil the tap water that lasted six days in October.

The city's population has more than doubled since 1985, making the city the 11th largest in the country. His opponent, Linda Morrison, a former councilmember, had criticized him about proposed changes to the city's land development code. That plan died this summer, but Morrison continued to make development an issue.

But Adler raised more than six times as much money as Morrison. He touted the city's growth as a positive, while noting the progressive stances the city is well-known for on mobility, climate change and LGBT rights.

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