- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races may have dominated the political headlines so far, but the real star of this off-year election is Hizzoner.

More than a dozen big and mid-sized cities are electing mayors on Nov. 3. California and New York also feature special congressional elections, while other states are pondering ballot measures that would limit state spending, roll back gay marriage and domestic partnerships, and legalize medical marijuana.

The big fish in the 2009 electoral pond is the New York City’s mayor’s race. Although the outcome isn’t in serious doubt — incumbent Republican Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is expected to win a third term — the backroom maneuvering has made the race more compelling than expected.

Before he could seek re-election, Mr. Bloomberg had to convince the city council to bend the term-limit rule, which allows the mayor to serve only two terms. A billionaire, Mr. Bloomberg has also spent an eye-popping $65 million of his own money on the race.

“Most polls and politicians will say Bloomberg will win fairly easily, but it won’t be outrageously easy because this is a Democratic town and there’s some resentment over term limits,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

A Quinnipiac poll released Sept. 24 showed Mr. Bloomberg with a 16-point lead over his Democratic opponent, city Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr.

Mr. Bloomberg’s quest for a third term is small potatoes next to that of Boston’s Thomas M. Menino, who’s seeking a fifth four-year term as mayor of Beantown. His opponent, fellow Democrat Councilor at Large Michael F. Flaherty Jr., trails the mayor in the polls and in fundraising.

So Mr. Flaherty, once a political ally of the mayor’s, is trying an unusual tactic: He’s joined forces with fellow Councilor at Large Sam Yoon, who was knocked out of the general election after finishing third in the primary. The two are running on a platform for mayor and “deputy mayor,” making so many appearances together that the Boston media have dubbed them “Floon.”

They’ve even performed a duet, “Flaherty and Deputy,” sung to the tune of “Ebony and Ivory.” Mr. Menino has called the alliance a “gimmick,” but the Flaherty campaign is betting that the combined star power of the two candidates will be enough to overpower the incumbent mayor.

The Seattle mayor’s contest has no incumbent — two-termer Greg Nickels was stunningly eliminated after finishing third in the Aug. 21 Democratic primary. Instead, the contest features two political newcomers, Sierra Club activist Mike McGinn and T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan.

The race’s key issue is “the tunnel,” a four-lane, two-level highway project designed to replace the rickety Alaskan Way Viaduct. Mr. McGinn’s campaign has centered on his opposition to the $4.2 billion tunnel, arguing that the city should focus on mass transit instead of continuing its reliance on automobiles.

Mr. Mallahan supports building the tunnel, a stance that has earned him the endorsement of labor unions, business leaders and Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire. But he’s also come under attack for failing to vote in 13 previous elections.

Races across the country feature some up-and-coming political stars, some changing of the guard and some hot-button referendums. Among the contests to watch Nov. 3:

• In North Carolina, Charlotte city councilman Anthony Foxx is running to become the first Democratic mayor in more than 20 years, but first he’ll have to defeat Republican city councilman John Lassiter. Both are vying to replace Republican Pat McCrory, who’s stepping down after 14 years.

• Byron Brown II became the first black mayor of Buffalo, N.Y., four years ago. Now he’s seeking re-election, which shouldn’t be difficult, given that he’s running unopposed.

• Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, fresh from hosting the Group of 20 economic summit in September, is also favored to win re-election, although he does have competition from two opponents, lawyer Kevin Acklin and Franco “Dok” Harris, son of Pittsburgh Steelers legend Franco Harris.

• In Minneapolis, Mayor R.T. Rybak is running for a third term, but he may not keep the office for long. The Teamsters recently endorsed him for Minnesota governor, although Mr. Rybak hasn’t officially announced that he’s seeking the job. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota’s governor, is widely seen as laying the groundwork for a run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

• Detroit’s Dave Bing, the National Basketball Association legend-turned-businessman, won a special election in May to replace disgraced incumbent Kwame Kilpatrick after his conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

Mr. Bing has had to turn around and run again to keep his seat in the regular election. He’s expected to retain his job in a contest with accountant Tom Barrow, even though Mr. Bing has already angered public-service unions by making unpopular cuts in payroll to reduce the city’s $300 million deficit.

“Bing is the best thing that’s happened to Detroit in a long time, and voters should hang on to him,” said the Detroit News in its Oct. 16 endorsement.

• The Houston mayor’s race features a four-candidate field led by city Controller Annise Parker and former City Attorney Gene Locke. They’re vying to succeed outgoing Democratic Mayor Bill White, who’s running for Senate.

• In special elections for vacant congressional seats, voters in California’s East Bay will select a replacement for former Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher, who vacated her seat to join the Obama administration. The race boils down to a contest between the newcomer, Republican David Harmer, and the veteran, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Garamendi.

Calling himself “the proven Democrat,” Mr. Garamendi touts his 32 years of public service, including stints as state insurance commissioner, state senator, state assembly member and a top Interior Department post under President Clinton.

Mr. Harmer is making his first bid for public office, but can point to his political bloodlines: His father, John Harmer, served as California lieutenant governor for a year and state senator from 1966 to 1974. An attorney, David Harmer worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Pacific Legal Foundation before settling into private practice.

In what may be a preview of the 2010 election, Mr. Garamendi is highlighting his ties to President Obama, while the Harmer campaign is playing up the Democratic candidate’s links to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and his support for the controversial public option in health care reform.

• In New York, the race to succeed Republican Rep. John M. McHugh, who resigned to become Secretary of the Army, is too close to call. In an upstate district that has long been controlled by the Republicans, polls show a tight race between Democrat Bill Owens and Republican Dede Scozzafava; the wild card is Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, who’s likely to pull votes from the Republicans.

• The Nov. 3 initiative contests are few but hard-fought. Two states, Maine and Washington, are considering taxpayer “Bill of Rights” measures that would tie state spending to inflation and population growth.

Maine voters will also decide whether to reverse the state legislature’s decision to legalize gay marriage, and if the state should expand the use of medical marijuana. Voters in Washington are also weighing a “people’s veto” of the state’s domestic-partnership law.

The Texas ballot contains a whopping 11 ballot measures, notably Proposition 11, an eminent-domain proposal that would ban the state from confiscating private property in order to expand the tax base by turning over the land to developers.

Voters in Ohio, who have rejected several past attempts to introduce gambling in the state, are debating again whether to go Las Vegas by approving four casinos. Proponents argue the measure will increase jobs and tax revenue by keeping revenues in Ohio, instead of watching Ohio gamblers spend their money in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Canada. Foes contend that gaming will not cure the state’s economic ills, noting that pro-gambling states are also suffering.

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