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American mid-term elections:
Results from states and cities
By Brian Baker
11 November 2006: In the US, the success of the Democratic Party in taking control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections and their increased numbers of Governorships will mean new opportunities and challenges for cities in the next two years. There are now Democrat Governors in 28 states and in 15 of those they control both houses of the state legislature too.
| California | Maryland | Washigton DC | Virginia | Kentucky | Rhode Island | Colorado | Arizona |
Most of the mayoral contests were in California where there was speculation that Republican and non-partisan conservative candidates might prosper throughout the ballots on the coat-tails of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s remarkable turn-round in the last year. However, this didn’t materialise and Democrat and other liberal candidates did well in California.
One contest where there may have been an Arnie factor was in Chula Vista. In the rapidly growing city close to the Mexican border, Republican Cheryl Cox defeated incumbent Democrat Steve Padilla by 55 per cent to 45 per cent.
Just up the coast in San Diego, Mayor Jerry Sanders won the backing of voters for the privatisation of council services. San Diegans voted for outsourcing of functions to be introduced by 61 per cent 39 per cent. But implementation may still be difficult as some council members are threatening to thwart the ballot.
A bullish Sanders told the media on 8 November that he wanted the new city laws to be passed in time to begin the tendering process for contracts next year. He plans to engage a consultant to advise on which functions might be most appropriate for the first wave and put forward proposals to Council before the end of the year. Amongst those which may be contracted out are waste collection, recycling, grounds and forestry maintenance , street paving and recreational services.
The mayor may have to compromise with the woman he defeated in last year’s mayoral race. Councilwoman Donna Frye wants rules that require contractors to submit their business documents to scrutiny and a cap on any political donations they can make. More contentiously, Frye is pressing for contracts to only be awarded to companies offering ‘ decent’ health benefits.
But Mayor Sanders, who plans to create a seven-member review board to evaluate bids, says that requiring contractors to offer comparable wages and benefits as those employed by the city would defeat the purpose of the change which is to save money.
Escondido Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler won re-election by a comfortable 3 to 2 majority. Pfeiler is also chair of the regional transportation and planning agency and it had been thought some conservative voters may oppose her for her support of the new regional rail line linking the San Diego North County cities which opens for service next year.
Santa Ana in Orange County became the first council in the country to have an all Latino council though that may not last as there will be an immediate election for a replacement for council member Jose Solario who won election to the state assembly.
San Jose was the largest city in the US to have a mayoral contest on November 7th. It was won by Chuck Reed who secured a comfortable 60-40 margin of victory over Cindy Chavez. Chavez is the city’s deputy mayor and may have become too closely associated with outgoing mayor Ron Gonsales who is now facing corruption charges.
Both Reed and Chavez are registered Democrats though in the campaign Chavez supporters suggested that for Reed it was a badge of convenience. The new mayor is a real estate lawyer and former planning commissioner.
Californian councils are busy preparing bids for schemes to go to the state legislature following voter approval of a raft of bond measures to raise finance for infrastructure projects. Altogether, voters approved $42.7 billion of borrowing. There are few named projects. Most will be determined through a bidding process and cities and counties will have to identify matching funds for many of the schemes.
Those projects, which have long been promoted by local governments are likely to be amongst the beneficiaries in the early years. These may include the restoration of the Los Angeles river, which has been buried under concrete for over half a century, repair and renewal of the state’s levees which are crucial to its water supply and the installation of pollution control equipment on school buses.
Four of the ballot measures were put forward jointly by the state legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger and the other by a coalition of environmental groups. The measures provide for a pot of $11.3 billion dedicated to improving roads and reducing congestion, $4 billion for public transit schemes and $1 billion to help schools replace portable buildings with permanent classrooms.
Earmarked funds for housing include $200 million for deferred low interest loans for people of moderate means to buy their first homes and $345 million for low interest loans for rental apartment and other multi-family housing at locations which do not contribute to sprawl.
Mercedes Marquez, General Manager of Los Angeles Housing Dept, told the LA Times that “ this is a huge boost to what we are doing. Certainly, the city’s voice was heard on these issues.”
Cities and Counties will be in competition with not for profits, schools and private and government entities for some of the investment. It is estimated that the 442 billion will lever another $80 billion from other sources towards the programme.
However, the amount raised through this is likely to be around 15 per cent of the total resources California needs for infrastructure investment in the next two decades. During that time its population is expected to increase by 25 per cent.
San Francisco maintained its liberal image by becoming the first city to approve sick pay for all city employees and in six states voters set new minimum wage levels usually in spite of well-financed campaigns for a no vote by local business organizations. This reform may be less radical now that the Democrats control both houses of Congress as they have pledged to increase the Federal minimum wage.
Elsewhere, Baltimore mayor Michael O'Malley won the race to be the next Governor of Maryland defeating Republican incumbent Robert Ehrlich by 53 per cent - 46 per cent. O’Malley attributed his success to good organization and especially the large number of local volunteers in all parts of the state who worked to get the vote out. Republicans also lost their last seats in the close-in Washington suburbs on the Maryland state legislature.
Within the District of Columbia itself, the new mayor is 35 years old Adrian Fenty. He secured 90 per cent of the vote with his Republican opponent winning just 6 per cent and only narrowly holding second place. Fenty has been a full-time council member for several years.
South of the capital, it was the people who have moved into the fast growing Northern Virginia suburbs who ousted Republican Senator Charles Allen. He was beaten by 7,000 votes in the closest national contest of the midterms by Democrat Jim Webb. It was the result, declared on the following afternoon, that gave the Democrats control of the Senate. In 2000 Allen lost the Northern Virginia area only narrowly. This year he lost it by 17 per cent. The population has increased by 400,000 in the six years.
Incumbent mayor Teresa Isaac lost in Lexington, Kentucky, though in nearby Louisville Democrat Jerry Abramson was re-elected with 67 per cent of the votes. Isaac was defeated by 49-year old corporate attorney Jim Newberry. Newberry said he was stunned by his 63 per cent to 37 per cent victory margin. He said the key factors in the campaign were the local media question and answer sessions and the bad relations Isaac had had with the city council during last four years. Twice they unanimously rejected her budgets. The new mayor is likely to be closer to the city’s business community. He spoke to the Lexington Forum business networking group the day after the election.
David Cicilone was comfortably re-elected for a second four-year term in Providence, Rhode Island. Cicilone, whose reforms have won widespread approval, secured 83 per cent of the votes.
Problems with the electronic voting technology, which has been introduced widely in the US since the ‘chads’ dramas in Florida in 2000 occurred throughout the country. Colorado was one of the worst hit. Some voters queued for four hours to cast their votes. Afterwards there was some blame passing amongst politicians. Many of the voters pointed out that the volunteers at the voting centers did not understand how the computers vetting voters and the voting machines worked. Many suggest that a switch to Sunday voting might be prudent in the light of the apparent inability of the US to overcome these problems.
Voters in nine states approved eminent domain proposals restricting the rights of public authorities. In Arizona, a measure that will require state and local authorities to compensate property owners if land-use regulations lower the value of their property was approved. Electors in Arizona had a record number of proposed measures on their ballot papers and the outcome was mixed. They became the first state in the country to reject the marriage can only be between a man and a woman measure whilst also passing new restrictions on illegal immigrants.
San Diego voted for the privatisation of council services
Also by Brian Baker
US cities to try
More than 210 US mayors have signed up to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels’ initiative on taking local responsibility for carbon emissions in the absence of support for Kyoto from the current US federal government. Attention now turns to what they are doing to meet the challenge with limited powers and resources. Denver mayor John Hickenlooper told City Mayors at the recent 2006 New Partners for Smart Growth conference, held in his city: “In the US our federal government has shown no inclination to address this issue. As cities we are going to conform to the Kyoto protocol. Instead of top down in terms of our climate we perhaps need to tackle it from the bottom up.”
The mayor was an early signatory to the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, endorsed in June 2005 by the US Conference of Mayors, which committed signatories to meet or beat Kyoto Protocol targets in their own communities and to press state and federal governments to act similarly.
One measure of success will be seen in the pace at which jurisdictions change their policies towards smart growth and densification and green building. Because much of this requires regional co-operation, it will constitute a key test for those cities signed up to the carbon reduction initiative. More