What follows is a guide to this November's most exciting mayor races. All of these cities have a population over 250,000 (with one notable exception). A number of large cities are holding mayoral elections that are not expected to be competitive and are therefore not included here. For instance, in Atlanta (population 444,000) Mayor Kasim Reed faces only token opposition, so his election is not in this diary. Below is a chart of what cities to watch in November.
Mayor Thomas Menino’s retirement gives Beantown its first open-seat race since 1983 and two Democrats have advanced to the Nov. 5 general election. City Councilor John Connolly has led state Rep. Marty Walsh in every single publicly released poll to date, but by inconsistent margins: A MassINC survey gave Connolly a one point lead, while a University of New Hampshire poll from the same time period showed Connolly up by nine points. Connolly has made education reform a centerpiece of his campaign and he enjoys support among the more upper-middle class areas of the city.
Walsh has some advantages that may allow him to overtake Connolly. He has extensive union support and a base among working class Bostonians. While Connolly has a strong cash-on-hand lead, Walsh's allies are more than making up the difference in outside spending. Walsh also has the endorsements of a number of former rivals who were defeated in the preliminary election but performed very well in the city’s heavily African-American and Hispanic areas. With neither Walsh nor Connolly having a natural base of support among minorities, these endorsements could be vital for Walsh. The stakes are particularly high in this race: There are no term-limits for the office and no Boston mayor has been unseated since 1949, meaning the winner could be here for a long time.
Anthony Foxx’s appointment as Secretary of Transportation has led to an open-seat competition as both parties seek to claim North Carolina’s biggest city. The Democratic nominee is longtime City Councilor and Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon. Cannon will face Republican Edwin Peacock, a former Councilor and 2012 Congressional candidate. Charlotte leans Democratic but it has a long history of electing Republican mayors, and Peacock’s name recognition, cash-advantage, and reputation as a moderate gives him a shot here. The state Republican Party sees a chance to pull off an upset and is sending staff to help Peacock; the state Democrats have not yet done the same.
Two Democrats are running to succeed termed-out Mayor Mark Mallory. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls has extensive union and environmental support, as well as Mallory’s endorsement. Her opponent, former City Councilor John Cranley, has far more money. Local transportation issues have emerged as the major dividing line between the two candidates: Qualls supports constructing a downtown streetcar and leasing city parking, while Cranley is against both. The two are also at odds on abortion rights, with Qualls being in favor and Cranley against. Cranley out polled Qualls 56 to 37 percent in the September primary and is likely the frontrunner heading into November.
Former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan appears poised to complete a remarkable political comeback. Duggan, who is seeking to become Detroit’s first white mayor since the early seventies, was thrown off the primary ballot in June and briefly ended his campaign. When Duggan reentered the race, he waged a difficult write-in campaign in the August primary. Not only did Duggan win a spot on the general election ballot, he won a majority of votes and far more than his chief opponent, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.
Duggan (now listed on the ballot) and Napoleon will face off again in November. Duggan has been emphasizing his success at turning the Detroit Medical Center’s finances around, arguing he can do the same for the city. Napoleon has made public safety a major part of his campaign. The election has taken a negative turn: Duggan is attacking Napoleon for not doing enough to stop crime, while Napoleon is criticizing Duggan for leaving Detroit for the suburbs. So far, the early indications are good for Duggan: A September poll has him up 49 to 29 percent.
Moderate Republican Robbie Perkins rode to victory in 2011 by decisively unseating the far more conservative Bill Knight. However, Perkins’ personal problems are complicating his reelection as he seeks another two-year term. Perkins has been through an ugly divorce and personal bankruptcy, with a court holding him in contempt for not paying his ex-wife what she was due.
Perkins opponent Democratic City Councilor Nancy Vaughan has not focused on Perkins difficulties but she is benefiting from them. In the primary, Vaughan out-polled Perkins 49 to 39 percent. Perkins is hoping he can make up ground in November by getting his African American base to the polls (Yes, a Republican has an African American base) but it looks like Vaughan is the clear favorite to win this seat.
Mayor Annise Parker had a surprisingly close call two years ago, barely averting a runoff against several unknown and underfunded candidates. This time Parker faces a much more credible foe in fellow Democrat and former City Attorney Ben Hall. Hall, backed up by $2 million from his own pocket, is attacking Parker for the city’s pension problems and is portraying Parker as guilty of unethically rewarding campaign contributors. However, Hall’s campaign has run into trouble over his late tax payments, an issue Parker has not hesitated to attack him on. Parker is not assured victory and it is quite possible this race will go to a December runoff, but Hall’s problems and Houston’s economic successes make the Mayor the favorite to win one final two-year term.
Incumbent Ted Gatsas is frequently mentioned as a Republican candidate for governor of New Hampshire; however, he must win a surprisingly tough re-election before he can set his sights on higher office. In the primary Gatsas out-polled Democratic Alderman Patrick Arnold 55 to 40 percent, a surprisingly narrow margin given how little attention Arnold attracted.
Arnold’s performance has Democrats excited and an upset is quite possible: Now-former Mayor and Congressman Frank Guinta won a similar percentage in his 2005 primary before unseating the incumbent in the general. Arnold has attacked Gatsas for insufficiently handling Manchester's crime; Gastas is accusing Arnold of trying to politicize the issue. Whoever wins here will likely become a major figure in New Hampshire politics, an enviable job given the state’s importance is presidential politics.
Mayor R.T. Rybak’s departure has led to a very crowded and unpredictable race, with thirty-five candidates running. Complicating things farther, the city employs an instant runoff system, where voters rank their top three choices and have their votes distributed to their next favorite candidates after their initial preferences are eliminated.
Of the many contenders, a few stand out. Former Council President Dan Cohen, a Republican turned independent, left office in the early seventies but he has used his personal funds to advertise early and remind voters who he is. Democrat Mark Andrew, a former Hennepin County commissioner and state party leader, has the most money of anyone in the race and a good deal of establishment support; however, he angered many voters when he attacked charter schools. Democratic Councilor Betsy Hodge is playing up her ties to Rybak and has the Minneapolis Star Tribune's endorsement. Don Samuels, another Democratic Councilor and the only major non-white candidate, is emphasizing education, crime reduction, and the need to eliminate racial gaps in the city. However, his relationship with African American leaders has often been uneasy. Former Council President Jackie Cherryhomes, also a Democrat, suffers from weak fundraising and a lack of name recognition.
Between the crowded field and instant runoff system, almost anything can happen. But one thing is almost certain: this guy won’t win.
New York City
Democrats haven't won this office since 1989, but the long drought is about to end. Bill de Blasio, the party’s nominee and Public Advocate, has a massive lead in the polls over his Republican opponent former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chair Joe Lhota. The only real question is whether de Blasio will win closer to 65 or 70 percent of the vote in this heavily Democratic city.
Democratic incumbent Mike McGinn has had a very rough term in office. He has faced criticism for leading an unsuccessful and unpopular fight to stop the construction of a downtown tunnel and has long had poor relationships with his city council and with state leaders. McGinn’s opponent is Democratic state Senate leader Ed Murray, who would become the city's first openly gay mayor.
Murray is running as a candidate who can bring people together and has the endorsements of the city council and both his former rivals in the August primary. Murray appears to be the clear frontrunner: a mid-October SurveyUSA poll shows Murray leading McGinn by an intimidating 52 to 32 margin, while a Strategies 360 survey shows a similar result. Unless McGinn can pull off an upset for the ages, Murray will easily win this race.
Republican incumbent Bill Foster is facing a fierce fight against former Democratic state Rep. Rick Kriseman in a contest both of Florida's state parties are spending big money to win in this critical swing region. Foster is touting the city’s progress while depicting Kriseman as ineffective during his time in the legislature. Kriseman is firing back, criticizing Foster for changing his positions on constructing a new pier and new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. Foster earned a fairly weak 40 percent in the primary, underscoring his vulnerability.
A St. Pete Polls survey from mid-September gives Kriseman a 48 to 43 percent edge, while a recent Braun Research poll has Kriseman up 40 to 34. However, both sides' spending indicates no one believes this race is over. Both Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his likely Democratic rival Charlie Crist are getting involved in the race in support of their party's candidate. A victory here would also be a good omen as both sides prepare for next year's competitive special election in the St. Petersburg-based 13th congressional district. With both parties badly wanting to win, this race will be one of the most interesting to watch on election night.
Democrats are hoping to unseat Mayor Mike Bell, an independent who has frequently aligned himself with Republican Gov. John Kasich on labor issues. However, no Democrat survived the primary, leaving independent City Councilor Michael Collins as Bell’s general election opponent in this predominantly Democratic city. Collins is criticizing Bell for supporting right-to-work, earning him a good deal of union support as well as the state Democratic Party’s backing, though many Democrats remain skeptical of Collins.
Bell is casting the race as a battle between a mayor who eliminated a huge deficit and a challenger who opposed his policies. Bell also has the backing of Kasich and the county Republican Party and has heavily outspend Collins. Nov. 5 will be a test to see if Collins and his reluctant Democratic coalition will be able to upset Bell.
Post Nov. 5 Races
Tulsa (Nov. 12)
Incumbent Republican Dewey Bartlett faces his Democratic predecessor Kathy Taylor in Oklahoma’s second largest city. Both Bartlett and Taylor have problems from their tenures their opponents are exploiting. Bartlett has been dogged by a controversy over police layoffs, while Taylor is being criticized over a lawsuit payment under her watch. Bartlett is also tying Taylor to national Democrats, while Taylor is criticizing the incumbent for the city's budget problems.
Taylor may have an edge here: she out-polled Bartlett 42 percent to 34, with conservative Republican Bill Christiansen earning 23 percent. While Bartlett may gain much of Christiansen’s base, Christiansen’s refusal to endorse the Mayor is not making Bartlett’s life any easier.
San Diego (Nov. 19)
Former Mayor Bob Filner’s scandal and resignation has led to a special election that almost certainly will not be resolved until early 2014. Currently Nathan Fletcher, a former assemblymember, 2012 mayoral candidate, and Republican-turned independent-turned Democrat, looks like the frontrunner. SurveyUSA has him leading the primary with 32 percent, with Republican city Councilmember Kevin Faulconer at 28, Democratic Councilmember David Alvarez at 20, and former Democratic city Attorney Mike Aguirre far behind at 8.
In the almost certain event that no one wins more than 50 percent on Nov. 19, a special election will be held sometime in early 2014. The SurveyUSA poll indicates that Fletcher would defeat Faulconer or Alverez by double digits in a runoff, while a Faulconer-Alvarez race would be far closer. However, while Fletcher is still in a dominant position, his lead has slipped somewhat in the polls. Alverez does have an advantage in one important metric: he and his allies have $1 million stockpiled, more than Fletcher’s $765,000 and Faulconer’s $635,000. Faulconer, who is running as a social moderate and fiscal conservative, has the backing of much of the local business community. The state Republican Party also sees a Faulconer victory as a way to start regaining their lost influence in the state.
Alvarez and Fletcher both have their share of local and state Democratic supporters. Both Alvarez and Faulconer are hitting Fletcher over his party-switch, painting him as untrustworthy. Fletcher in turn is portraying himself in turn as a consensus builder. While San Diego leans Democratic, Republicans held onto city hall for twenty-years until Filner’s 2012 victory. With the stakes high in California’s second-largest city, this race should be competitive until the end.
Have an exciting mayoral election that didn't make the list? Add it in the comments!