Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, November 04, 2013

2013 Election Roundup

Tuesday November 5th is election day in many places, as many cities and a handful of states have their elections in so-called "off years," to ensure that local and state races are not overshadowed by the races for the US House and Senate and every four years, for President.

1.  New York City.  Many call the likely election of Bill de Blasio as a rise of the progressives, in large part as a reaction to the hyper development focused agenda of Mayor Bloomberg ("Contesting the Bloomberg Legacy," Architect's Newspaper).

Although sustainable transportation advocates got a scare when in a radio interview, De Blasio seemed to equivocate on supporting various pro-transportation measures ("De Blasio: “Transportation Determines Opportunity, Livability, Biz Climate”," Streetsblog) initiated by Mayor Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan ("Bloomberg bigs head for the exits," Crain's New York Business).

There is no question that of all US mayors, no one has been better than Michael Bloomberg in terms of support of sustainable transportation over his term of office, which was all the more difficult because the Mayor of New York City has limited input into the running of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which is run by New York State.

Mike McGinn for Seattle Mayor, reelection campaign digital ad, "Making Seattle Streets Safer"Digital ad for the McGinn campaign, Seattle.

2.  Seattle.  Seattle gives NYC a run for the money in terms of which city is more progressive, although Seattle has an advantage in being smaller with more likely conservative outer city or suburban voters ensconced in King County, while in NYC, instead such voters live in Staten Island and Queens.   Granted that San Francisco still is probably #1 overall...

There is a battle of progressive candidates for Mayor.  Incumbent Mike McGinn, considered by many to be too much of a brawler, is opposed by Sate Senator Ed Murray.  See "In last days of Seattle mayor’s race, a final push to get out the vote " from the Seattle Times.  The conservative Seattle Times doesn't favor the incumbent.

Also on the ballot, Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant against Richard Conlin ("Is Seattle Ready for Kshama Sawant?," Seattle Weekly).  She seems to be getting support from other councilmembers ("Mike O’Brien Expected to Make ‘Significant Statement’ In Support of Sawant," "Tonight It’s Licata and Sawant In The Spotlight," Seattle Weekly).

The Stranger alternative weekly endorses McGinn and Sawant ("The Stranger's Voters' Guide!").  From the article:
As for mayor, do you want Mike McGinn, who's backing a citywide light-rail network? Or do you want Ed Murray, who, we shit you not, recently held a fundraiser that used destroying bike lanes as its main tactic to raise money? We're sticking with pro-transit, pro-bike Mayor McGinn, thank you.

We're also telling you to vote against city council member Richard Conlin, whose biggest accomplishment is legalizing miniature goats (perhaps for gay-marrying purposes), and to instead vote for Kshama Sawant, a socialist economist who wants to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. And, even more important, we want more challengers like Sawant to run for office so we don't have the same washed-up, goat-loving, Metamucil-swilling incumbents dying at city hall after fruitless multi-decade careers.
Note that there is a referendum to move Seattle's elections to being district-based instead of at large, which could allow for "more progressive" candidates to be elected more generally.  A public funded campaign initiative is also on the ballot.  The Stranger supports both, arguing that running at large requires more financing and favors pro-business candidates, while smaller districts and public funding of campaigns would allow for a greater range of candidates.

Note also that Washington State has mail-in ballots and people don't have to go to a polling place to vote.

Plus also in King County, Washington on the ballot for the City of SeaTac, which includes the airport, is a referendum for a $15 minimum wage for jobs in the city.

3. The New York Times had a piece a couple weeks ago about reforming primary elections, California Sees Gridlock Ease in Governing," suggesting that moving to a format where in an open primary, the top two vote getters move to the general election, results in a broadening or moderating of the candidates, as opposed to how the system works in a closed primary, where the electorate tends to be more conservative.

Although the Washington Post has a piece "Reforming primary elections won't make government better" by GWU professor John Sides which cites various political science studies that conclude that reform won't make much difference.


It might be that this change works better at the scale of local elections, that national elections, especially if the gerrymandering of district boundaries continues, are more immune to these kinds of structural changes to the process.  Seattle shows that the effect from this kind of change at the local level can be significant.  How many cities--other than Minneapolis--have a declared Socialist running for a City Council seat that has made it past the primary?

In Seattle, having the top two vote getters in a primary moving on to the general election appears to provide the opportunity for a broadening of the candidates in terms of the political orientation they would bring to the job, rather than a narrowing which is more typical of the winner takes all method that is used most everywhere else across the US.

Such a change could make a difference in DC as well.  Because the city is almost exclusively Democratic, the top vote getter in the primary is virtually a lock for getting elected, having no real competition in the general election from alternative parties (Statehood-Green is a local party that hasn't had anyone on Council for more than 10 years; Republicans had one Councilmember, but in a Tea Party like move, deposed her in the primary and unrealized by them at the time, ended up consigning them to the sidelines.

I think a top two vote getters in the primary moving on to general election could make a difference in DC elections, adding a significant dose of competition to a system that works to eliminate it--DC's primary election is held 3-4 months earlier than is legally required, which I believe is designed to protect incumbents.

4.  Virginia and the Tea Party.  The federal government shutdown brought new attention to candidate for Governor Ken Cuccinnelli's links to the tea party and his conservative credentials.  While many voters have not unjustifiable reservations about the Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, they like Cuccinelli even less.  The polls show a likely win by McAulliffe.

Similarly, the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor is quite wacky as well, and is likely to lose.  It's closer for the candidates for Attorney General.  The Republican AG candidate is campaigning as less conservative than he is.  That election is maybe too close to call.

It's hard to say whether this is a bellweather nationally.  See "Dem favored in Va. gov race; voters seem wary of tea party" from the Seattle Times.  As much as 1/3 of Virginia's economy is dependent on the federal government, and in Northern Virginia in particular many people work for the federal government.

Traditionally the Virginia Senate and House are dominated by Republicans.  If some of these seats are picked up by Democrats it could herald a change in mood to which the National Party will have to pay attention.   See "In NoVa, veteran GOP delegate Rust fights for his seat" from the Washington Post, "Ken Cuccinelli Making Bad Candidate History in Virginia" from the Daily Beast, "Stark Choices: Much is at stake in Tuesday's Election" and "Headwinds may cost GOP seats in House" from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and 

From the second RTD article:
It’s a pattern playing out across Northern Virginia; Hampton Roads, a defense-rich region also rattled when Washington went dark for 16 days; and, possibly, pockets of the western countryside. It’s energizing Democrats and alarming Republicans. It could augur what neither party had anticipated in early October: That badly outnumbered House Democrats could make significant gains, because of their party’s stronger-than-expected statewide ticket and backlash to the shutdown.
Recent internal polling by both parties suggests as much. Operatives in both parties disagree on how many House seats actually may be in play: Democrats believe there could be 10. Republicans put the number at six, maybe, eight, if conditions continue to erode.  ...
Gerrymandered House seats, coupled with the lower turnout of an off-year election, ensure that Republicans will retain control of the 100-member House of Delegates, where they now outnumber Democrats 2-to-1. But House pickups for Democrats — three to five seem realistic — would be a psychological boost, more so if they followed a sweep for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, which both parties agree is a distinct possibility.
Note that the Virginia House faces election every two years, while the Senate is up for election every four years.  See "Even if seats lost, GOP predicted to keep big majority" from the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.
5.  Fallout on the Republicans from the federal government shutdown.  Because national elections are held in even years, there is little short term impact from the shutdown on candidates this year, although efforts to knock off tea party Congresspeople are underway in Michigan, Florida, and elsewhere.  There is a special election for a Congressional seat in Alabama ("In Alabama Race, a Test of Business Efforts to Derail Tea Party," New York Times), and big business including the US Chamber of Commerce has weighed in financially with support to a non-tea party type.

Over the next year, we'll see how the shutdown impacts the Republicans internally as well as in competition with the Democrats and whether or not the US House of Representatives could switch to a Democratic majority--still somewhat unlikely because of gerrymandering and a rural bias in how election districts are mapped.

6.  Takoma Park Maryland has extended the voting franchise in local elections to people as young as 16 years of age.  See "Some of Takoma Park's 16-, 17-year-olds excited to vote" from the Gazette.

People against the measure say other things need to be done to engage young people in community affairs.  Sure, that's true.  Do that stuff too.  It's not a zero sum game.  You can do both.

7.  Minneapolis also has a Socialist Alternative candidate on the ballot, Ty Moore in District 9.  See "Socialist Alternative: Minneapolis Ward 9 Council Candidate Revives City's Socialist Heritage " from the Uptake blog. Six candidates are vying for the seat but Moore is a front runner ("Minneapolis City Council could see up to 7 new faces," Minneapolis Star-Tribune).  Another leading candidate is Alondra Cano, a Mexican-American, who if elected, would be the first Hispanic on the City Council.  From the MST article:
“Ty Moore has the strong street organizing skills but risks being seen as a protester who won’t be effective in City Hall,” Schiff said. “Alondra’s challenge is convincing people that a DFL candidate can hold strong against corporate welfare.”

Moore is an activist who co-founded the local Occupy Homes movement, which stages sit-ins to prevent banks from seizing particular foreclosed houses. His campaign has focused heavily on stopping foreclosures and raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour — the latter of which would require state action. He has been endorsed by the Service Employees International Union, and he accuses Cano of being too close to corporate interests and the mainstream DFL.  ...

Cano is a communications specialist for Minneapolis Public Schools who would be the first Mexican-American on the council. She is a former aide to Sixth Ward Council Member Robert Lilligren, worked as an activist on Latino issues, and has billed herself as the candidate with the most relationships at City Hall and elsewhere to help advocate on behalf of the ward. Mayor R.T. Rybak attended a fundraiser for her earlier this month.
 8.  There are a handful of transit related measures on ballots across the country as well, but the measures are mostly very local.

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