Democrats, Women and LGBT Win Big in 2015 Mayoral Races

Most incumbents won re-election, while several cities elected their first female or openly gay mayors.

Jackie Biskupski, who will be the first openly gay mayor of Salt Lake City, celebrates her win against two-term incumbent Ralph Becker.
(AP/Rick Bowmer)
This is part of our 2015 elections coverage. Get more results here.

Most mayors who were on the ballot Tuesday easily won re-election, but incumbents were ousted in Salt Lake City and Portland, Maine.

In Philadelphia, Democrat Jim Kenney was elected mayor, as expected. Meanwhile, the mayors of San Francisco; Orlando, Fla.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Spokane, Wash.; Toledo, Ohio; and Boise, Idaho; all won new terms.

Democrats scored a victory in Indianapolis, with Democrat Joe Hogsett easily picking up the office being vacated by Republican Greg Ballard. He will be working with his party's new single-seat majority on the city-county council.

Democrats will now serve as mayor of 22 of the nation's 25 largest cities. That is, if Sylvester Turner can win a runoff in Houston on Dec. 12.

Turner, a Democratic state representative, paced a large field on Tuesday, collecting 27 percent of the vote in the race to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker. That put Turner just ahead of Bill King, a Republican former mayor of Kemah who managed to consolidate the GOP vote. Some observers question whether such a matchup will lead to a runoff with racial overtones. Turner is African-American, while King is white. Houston tends to favor Democrats.

"This is a great development for Turner," said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist. "He wants to run against a Republican in the runoff."


Democratic state Rep. Sylvester Turner, center, will face Republican Bill King in a Dec. 12 runoff in Houston. (AP/Eric Gay)

The race to replace Joe Riley, the 40-year mayor of Charleston, S.C., is also heading to a runoff on Nov. 17. Businessman John Tecklenburg and state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis are the two finalists. The two of them, along with third-place finisher Ginny Deerin, all raised more money and easily outpolled the three African-American candidates.

"Obviously, the shooting at Emanuel AME Church has highlighted the need for improved race relations," said Gibbs Knotts, who chairs the political science department at the College of Charleston. "There's a pretty good consensus that the African-American community hasn't benefited from Charleston's rise to prominence in the same way as the white community."

Female candidates also scored some victories. Jennifer Roberts, who beat Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Dan Clodfelter in the Democratic primary, won the office outright on Tuesday. Emily Larson was elected as the first woman mayor in Duluth, Minn.

Jackie Biskupski will be the first openly gay mayor of Salt Lake City after defeating two-term incumbent Ralph Becker -- though the margin was so close that Becker didn't concede on Tuesday night.

"Generations of LGBT people could've only dreamed of this," state Sen. Jim Dabakis told the Salt Lake Tribune. "Jackie is now an iconic gay leader. This is a great moment for Salt Lake City -- we're not the stereotype people across the country think we are."

Becker is highly regarded among mayors nationwide and had support from most of the city council. But Biskupski argued that downtown development hadn't done enough to help neighborhood residents and had come with a big price tag. Becker was also hurt by his handling of harassment claims within the police department.

Voters also ousted an incumbent mayor in Portland, Maine. Ethan Strimling, a former state legislator and nonprofit director, got into the race late, but he raised more money and unseated incumbent Michael Brennan. Portland's elected mayor, a position created by a charter change in 2010, carries no real power. But Brennan had managed to feud both with the city council and Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

In Columbus, Ohio, Andrew Ginther, the city council president, will replace Mayor Michael Coleman. Ginther had been dogged by ethics investigations but he retained support from local party and business leaders.

In Bridgeport, Conn., Joseph Ganim staged a comeback despite having served seven years in prison following a corruption conviction. Before serving time, Ganim was the mayor from 1991 to 2003.

Luke Bronin, who had unseated Hartford, Conn., Mayor Pedro Segara in that city's Democratic victory, won victory outright on Tuesday. "Bronin, with the full support of the governor and over $1 million, ran a very competent campaign for the primary to defeat the incumbent, and as a result won the general with no real opposition," said Matt Hennessy, a Democratic consultant based in Hartford.

In Manchester, N.H., GOP Mayor Ted Gatsas won a fourth term by just 75 votes out of nearly 20,000 cast. It's not yet clear whether his Democratic opponent, Joyce Craig, will call for a recount.

This is part of our 2015 elections coverage. Get more results here.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.