By Nick Blazer, Manager, Social Media Services
While the national media remains enthralled with the distant 2016 presidential and Senate races some of the largest cities across the nation will select their policymakers this year. The deficit of attention regarding these local-level elections is surprising considering the number of people affected. More than half of the 100 most populated cities will hold elections this year for their executive and legislative positions.
For the third installment of this year’s blogs about the state and local government elections in 2015 and 2016, I take a first look at the local government elections happening this year.
Local Governments Seize Control of State Issues
Local governments are increasingly active in tackling public policy issues that were once entirely the purview of state or federal governments. The impetus for rising local government activism is debatable, but Seattle Mayor Ed Murray might have summed up the sentiment last summer when he said:
“With the federal government fairly stuck, and as we see states more and more adopting that same dysfunction, cities are the place to lead right now.”
Many of the cities holding elections this year have chosen to increase the minimum wage, one of today’s most debated issues. This list includes San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Oakland, Washington D.C. and Seattle. Activists are beginning another attempt this year in D.C. and Los Angeles County is studying the possibility as well.
It is not the only labor issue receiving the patchwork policy treatment. Philadelphia, Oakland, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland passed measures mandating paid sick leave and a number of New Jersey cities just joined the list. In addition, San Francisco enacted a predictive scheduling measure last year; the same city supervisor who introduced that legislation is now a member of the California Assembly, and he introduced a similar bill this session.
Environmental issues have been prominent as well. Plastic bag bans have been passed in 128 California cities, Portland (Oregon), Chicago and Seattle. Minneapolis and Portland (Maine) chose to pass foam container bans. Some municipalities have even weighed in on hydraulic fracturing. A compromise last year kept a ballot initiative granting local control of hydraulic fracturing off of the fall ballot in Colorado. Activists have also qualified a GMO ballot initiative in Benton County, Oregon for the May 19 election. Last year, Jackson County, Oregon voters approved GMO crop ban ballot initiative in the May election.
Most recently, several New York county legislatures participated in an effort by non-governmental organizations to pressure the state government to enact precedent-setting restrictions on chemicals in children’s toys.
Which Cities are Holding Elections?
This year, more than 50 of the 100 largest cities will hold or have held elections for either mayoral positions, city council positions or both. For a larger idea of the total number of city elections this year, the United States Conference of Mayors website lists roughly 450 cities across the United States who will either elect or the council will select a mayor between May 15 and the end of December.
A handful of these are special elections – Washington, D.C., for instance, held elections to fill seats representing Wards 4 and 8 – but the lion’s share are regularly scheduled elections. Listed below are summaries for the May elections in Philadelphia, Columbus, Indianapolis, Denver and San Antonio. Each of these cities will hold another election – either general or runoff – later this year.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (2010 Census Population: 1,526,006)
Philadelphia voters will participate in a partisan primary election May 19 to select the Democratic and Republican candidates for mayor and the seventeen city council positions. Mayor Michael Nutter (D) is term-limited and the competition to replace him is fierce, with seven mayoral candidates – six Democrats and one Republican – occupying the spring stage and independent groups supporting the two leading Democrats.
The Mayoral Candidates
- Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham (D)
- Former Judge Nelson Diaz (D)
- Former City Councilmember Jim Kenney (D)
- Former mayoral aide Doug Oliver (D)
- Former State Senator. T. Milton Street, Sr. (D)
- State Senate Minority Whip Anthony H. Williams (D)
- Melissa Murray Bailey (R)
The Democratic Primary
Lynne Abraham, a former district attorney of nineteen years, was the Democratic field’s early frontrunner and a poll conducted on behalf of her campaign in mid-March indicated she had twice as much support as her closest rivals. However, her lead – fueled by neither campaign funds nor the support of third parties – evaporated sometime thereafter as Anthony Williams and Jim Kenney grew in prominence, spurred on by third party support.
Philadelphia’s branches of major unions are split between Kenney and Williams, although Jim Kenney has garnered a majority of the endorsements, including the AFL-CIO and AFSCME. The major news sources are divided as well. The Daily News’ editorial board backs Jim Kenney, as does Philadelphia Magazine, while The Inquirer’s editorial board sides with State Senator Williams. Yet neither candidate attracted the official support of Philadelphia Democrats; due to its divided support between the two frontrunners, the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee decided against issuing an endorsement in April (they are, however, solidified in their support for nearly all of the incumbents running for re-election on the city council).
Not only have a large number of endorsements been cast in the last two months, but independent groups have been waging their own campaigns over the Philadelphia airwaves in an attempt to get Williams and Kenney elected, and they have been spending big bucks. NewsWorks observed in mid-April that “ad spending in the mayor’s race by independent groups is nine times greater than the ad spending of candidates’ campaigns.” The Inquirer noted last week that the mayoral primary hit “another monetary milestone” with a nearly $1 million ad buy for the final week before the primary election (also by an independent group).
Despite much of the third party interest in the mayoral election, it has been hard to come by independent polling information about the candidates’ standing among the Philly electorate. All but one of the polls in this summary were conducted on behalf of either the campaigns or their backers.
The most recent poll – and the first independently conducted one – arrived this week. Jim Kinney’s lead has continued to widen and the survey conducted by National Research Inc. on behalf of NBC10/The Inquirer/Daily News/philly.com indicates he is most likely the Democratic candidate who will face Melissa Bailey in the November 3 general election. He also had the greatest favorable opinion among the six Democratic candidates in the May poll.
About the Candidates
For more information about the candidates, Philly.com has produced profiles on all of the candidates complete with video interviews.
Coverage of the Spring Debates
- General Debate
- Daily News: Candidates talk tech at mayoral forum
- Temple University Debate
Further Reading: Mayoral Race
- (4/16/15) NewsWorks: Which of these Philly mayoral candidates will best improve city schools?
- (4/17/15) NewsWorks: Leading Questions: A City Election Special – Part II [full audio]
- (4/27/15) The Inquirer: Candidates ignore city’s biggest issue: Pensions
- (5/10/15) Daily News: Mayoral candidates state what they’re worth
Columbus, Ohio (2010 Census Population: 787,033)
Columbus voters began the process of selecting a mayor and four of the seven city council positions May 5, and will pick another city councilmember via a special election in August. After this year’s elections, much of the municipal government will be relatively new.
The mayoral race this year is an open seat race. Mayor Michael Coleman, a four-term mayor first elected in 1999, opted to retire this year. His decision prompted three Democrats and a Republican, plus two write-in candidates, to seek his executive position. Since Andy Ginther, the current council president, is one of the Democrats who (successfully) jumped into the race to succeed the mayor, Columbus will have a new city council president after the inauguration. The council president will lead a mostly-fresh faced council too; The Columbus Dispatch observes there has been “four vacancies on the seven-member council in about a year.”
Columbus operates on a top-two system, meaning eight of the ten city council candidates advanced to the November 3 general election. While Columbus elections are officially nonpartisan, the primary election unofficially narrowed the field of city council candidates to four Democrats and four Republicans. However, the results of the mayoral primary are not so balanced – two Democrats, Zach Scott and Andy Ginther, will square off in November.
- (4/29/15) Columbus Underground: Voter Guide: 2015 Columbus Mayoral Primary
- (4/30/15) WBNS: On The Record: Columbus City Council Candidates
- (5/7/15) The Columbus Dispatch: Zach Scott pins mayoral hopes on bigger general-election turnout
- (5/12/15) ThisWeek Community News: Ginther, Scott will face off in general election
Indianapolis (2010 Census Population: 820,445)
Indianapolis is one of the few major cities which holds partisan elections and this year the partisan stakes are high. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (R) decided against seeking a third term in 2015. In tandem with the coincidental open seat race, the number of seats on the Democratically-controlled city-county council will change after this election.
A few years ago the Indiana Legislature passed a bill which eliminates the four at-large city-county council positions – all controlled by Democrats – and redraws the district lines. As it stands, the partisan split is currently 15-14 in favor of the Democrats, meaning the redistricting changes have given Marion County Republicans an advantage and a chance to claim the council. Furthermore, five of the twenty five city-county council races are open seat races this year.
Whereas Republicans could flip control of the legislature, Marion County Democrats have a shot at winning executive control. Former United States Attorney Joe Hogsett (D), also a former secretary of state, entered the race last November and began setting fundraising records for the Indianapolis mayoral race. He has the backing of the Marion County Democrats. Chuck Brewer, an Iraqi war veteran and Indianapolis businessman, is the Republican-backed candidate, and he has the backing of Mayor Ballard, who donated $400,000 to his campaign.
The primary elections were held with little fanfare – most of the city-county council primary races were uncontested for the party nominations, while Hogsett and Brewer easily defeated their opponents. Two Democratic councillors, Angela Mansfield and LeRoy Robinson, were forced into a primary race against each other; and after the primary election, Christine Scales (R) and Pamela Hickman (D), both councillors, will face off for control of District 3.
Marion County Democrats and Republicans now have six months to out-maneuver one another before the November 3 general election.
- (2/6/15) Indianapolis Star: Indy Council up for grabs; mayoral field set
- (4/29/15) Indianapolis Star: Election preview: Upset unlikely in Indy mayoral primary
- (4/29/15) Indianapolis Star: Quick profiles of Indy’s mayoral candidates
- (4/30/15) Indianapolis Star: Profiles of candidates in contested Indy council races
- (4/30/15) Indianapolis Recorder: Political battle royale?
- (5/1/15) Indianapolis Star: Election preview: Indy council incumbents face primary fights
- (5/4/15) WISH-TV: Indy mayoral candidates focus on crime
In addition to the primary elections in Indianapolis, 114 mayoral positions were on the May 5 ballot in municipalities across Indiana.
Denver, Colorado (2010 Census Population: 600,158)
Denver voters must select a mayor and thirteen city council positions in 2015 – two councilmembers elected at-large and eleven members representing districts throughout the city. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and seven members of the city council ran for re-election this year, leaving six of the thirteen city council seats as open seat races. This year’s nonpartisan municipal election is overshadowed by a new city council district map, forcing candidates to campaign in new areas.
Mayor Hancock was expected to coast to an easy re-election victory and he did. Six of the seven city councilmembers won re-election, including City Council President Christopher Herndon. Four of the thirteen races – Districts 2, 7, 10 and 11 – will advance to runoff elections June 2. Chris Nevitt, who represented district seven, made an unsuccessful attempt to be city auditor.
- (3/26/15) The Denver Post: Denver City Council District 2: Suburban slice looks to stay the course
- (4/6/15) The Denver Post: Issues reflect entire city in race for south Denver District 7 City Council seat
- (4/14/15) The Denver Post: Denver City Council District 10: Five candidates vie to serve district of contrasts
- (4/15/15) The Denver Post: Denver City Council District 11: Far-northeast district fights disconnection, seeks opportunity
San Antonio, Texas (2010 Census Population: 1,327,407)
San Antonio voters must elect a mayor and ten city councilmembers in the nonpartisan elections this year. Mayor Ivy Taylor is running for re-election, despite originally indicating she would not run. In part because of the early decision, the field was crowded with fourteen candidates, and the race attracted two Texas legislators, former State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D) (also last year’s Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor) and former State Representative Mike Villarreal (D). All ten city councilmembers ran for re-election.
Of the four frontrunners (Taylor, Van de Putte, Villarreal and Tommy Adkisson) in the mayoral race, Ivy Taylor and Leticia Van de Putte received the most votes in the May 9 municipal election. They, along with the top-two candidates in the District 7 race, advance to the runoff elections which will be held June 13.
Further Reading: Mayoral Race
- (3/31/15) KSAT12: Mayoral candidates discuss San Antonio’s future
- (4/22/15) Texas Public Radio: The Source: Competing Mayoral Visions Of San Antonio’s Future
- (4/27/15) San Antonio Express-News: Candidates for mayor explain their positions
- (4/30/15) San Antonio Express-News: Taylor’s robust poll numbers bolstered by religious right
- (5/9/15) The Texas Tribune: 2 Advance to Runoff in San Antonio Mayoral Race
- (5/11/15) San Antonio Express-News: In mayoral election, San Antonio was a city divided
Additional Major Municipal Races in May, Past and Present
- Anchorage, Alaska (2010 Census Population: 291,286)
- Lincoln, Nebraska (2010 Census Population: 258,379)
- Toledo, Ohio (2010 Census Population: 287,208)
- Arlington, Texas (2010 Census Population: 365,438)
- Dallas, Texas (2010 Census Population: 1,197,816)
- Dallas voters will elect a mayor and 14 city councilmembers this year, of which are six open seat council races.
- Election Results: Mayor Mike Rawlings won his re-election bid, as did all councilmembers who ran for re-election (eight total). Runoff elections will be held June 13 for the races in Districts 3, 7, 8 and 10.
- El Paso, Texas (2010 Census Population: 649,121)
- El Paso voters will elect four city councilmembers this year, of which is one open seat council race.
- Election Results: All three city councilmembers won their re-election bids. A runoff election will be held June 13 for the race in District 1.
- Fort Worth, Texas (2010 Census Population: 741,206)
- Fort Worth voters will elect a mayor and eight city councilmembers this year.
- Election Results: Only one city councilmember lost their re-election bid. Mayor Betsy Price was unchallenged.
- Plano, Texas (2010 Census Population: 259,841)
- Plano voters will elect four city councilmembers this year and all four races are open seat races.
- Election Results
- Colorado Springs, Colorado (2010 Census Population: 416,427)
- Colorado Springs voters will pick a mayor in the runoff election. Former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers (R) and former Colorado Springs Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace are the two candidates in the race.
- Jacksonville, Florida (2010 Census Population: 821,784)
- The City of Jacksonville will hold a general election for the mayoral and city council races.
- Los Angeles, California (2010 Census Population: 3,792,621)
- The City of Los Angeles will hold a runoff election for District 4.
Riverside, California will hold a municipal election for Districts 1, 3, 5 and 7 June 2. After the aforementioned June runoff elections, major city elections pick back up in August with Seattle, Nashville and Phoenix. Most of the remaining major cities – including Orlando, who just moved its municipal elections to avoid the partisan presidential primaries in the spring – will close out the year on November 3.