Phoenix mayor Phil Gordon faces the electorate on 11 September

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Mayoral contests dominate
America’s off-year elections

By Andrew Stevens, Deputy Editor

5 September 2007: Ahead of the widest open presidential election in living memory set for November 2008, city races across urban America will provide few pointers to its outcome. The 'lame duck' presidency of George W. Bush and the slow-burning decline of his administration through staged departures of key allies, as well as the wooing of voters by his putative successors, will have negligible effect on mayoral races. With only three gubernatorial races penciled in this November and no elections to Congress, mayors will have the stage to themselves. Instead, the usual routine concerns and personality politics will determine the future occupancy of city halls in November's off-year elections.

Under laws reserved for state level, the timing of mayoral races is not unified across the US, though the elections cycle usually kicks in around autumn, generally speaking, with special elections held throughout the year in only a small number of cities. Another unique feature of the US mayoral races is that the outcome is often determined in party primaries staged before the actual vote, while those cities with non-partisan elections can often see frontrunners' fortunes evaporate in run-offs. Similarly, voter disaffection with parties in DC does not ripple down to the local level, though in any case the battle is often between competing Democrats in urban America, rather than a straight two-party fight.

The first scheduled election proper is Phoenix, Arizona, where 56-year old Phil Gordon is seeking and looks certain to obtain a second term as mayor on 11 September 2007, with only one opponent left in the race after Gordon's campaign had the other challenger's candidacy voided through electoral irregularities. Phoenix operates the mayor and council manager system and the opening of the city's new METRO system in 2008 and new university campuses rank as key Gordon achievements other than his signature policies on crime and firearms. September 11 will also see Baltimore's Democratic primary, where incumbent Sheila Dixon hopes to secure a new mandate following her partial term on taking over from Martin O'Malley, who was elected Maryland Governor last November. Former council president and its first woman mayor Dixon is being challenged by councilmember Keiffer J. Mitchell, who has struggled to dent the incumbent's rock solid poll lead or secure any endorsements of note. The race for city council president is particularly close however, with Dixon ally and successor Stephanie Rawlings Blake tied with Michael Sarbanes.

In Philadelphia current mayor John Street is prevented from running again by term limits. Council member Michael Nutter is seeking to replace his council sparring partner Street in the Democrat stronghold, with challengers in the form of Republican Al Taubenberger, Socialist John Staggs and an independent write-in "punk rock" candidate, cartoonist Larry West, who despite being below the city's age of public office (25) at 22 years of age is seeking election. With Nutter all but assured victory following his victory in the Democratic primary, West's legal challenge to the city's charter's age restriction will be the only tangible other outcome in the race.

One of the more interesting races this November is Charlotte, North Carolina, where six term incumbent Republican mayor Pat McCrory is seeking a record seventh term. McCrory's Democratic challenger will also be decided in a September 11 primary. Though electing Republican mayors since 1987, Charlotte is nominally a Democratic city (amid a heavily Republican state), with McCrory forced to tread a more centrist path as mayor. That said, McCrory has both worked with Democratic opponents on the council and voted down more of their ordinances than any other mayor (while the city has the council manager system, the mayor has considerable powers over the council itself).

Finally, San Francisco's 6 November mayoral race, where Democrat Gavin Newsom is seeking a second term, is doubly notable for being the first to use instant run-off voting (IRV), thus eliminating the need for a run-off poll. In spite of recent indiscretions such as his well-publicised affair with an aide's wife and treatment for alcoholism, Newsom looks well-placed to receive a second term. If anything, the scandals appear to have humanised Newsom and endeared him to voters in the strongly liberal city. Newsom's principal challenger Tony Hall withdrew from the race citing a lack of opposition to the incumbent by voters, leaving an array of candidates including a naked yoga practitioner and a sex club owner, as well as well-known local anarchist entertainer 'Chicken' John Rinaldi.

The main races this autumn are:
Phoenix, AZ, 11 Sep
Memphis, TN, 11 Oct
Akron, OH, 6 Nov
Baltimore, MD 6 Nov
Birmingham, AL, 6 Nov
Charlotte, NC, 6 Nov
Columbus, OH, 6 Nov
Des Moines, IA, 6 Nov
Flint, MI, 6 Nov
Grand Rapids, MI, 6 Nov
Greensboro, NC, 6 Nov
Houston, TX, 6 Nov
Indianapolis, IN, 6 Nov
Philadelphia, PA, 6 Nov
Raleigh, NC, 6 Nov
San Francisco, CA, 6 Nov
Springfield, MA, 6 Nov
Worcester, MA, 6 Nov

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