CategoryLocal

Castor and Straz advance to April runoff for Tampa mayor

Former police chief Jane Castor and philanthropist David Straz advanced from a field of seven candidates to an April 23 runoff election for Tampa mayor. Castor’s 48 percent put her two percentage points shy of the threshold required to win outright. Straz took second place with 15 percent of the vote and Councilman Harry Cohen finished third with 12 percent. Castor won 101 of the city’s 103 precincts, while Straz won the other two.
 
The candidates are running to replace Mayor Bob Buckhorn (D), who is term-limited and unable to run for re-election. Both Castor and Straz are registered Democrats, meaning partisan control of the city won’t change based on the result of the runoff.


Sedgwick County Commissioner acquitted on 21 counts of wire fraud

In Kansas, Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell (R) was found not guilty of 21 counts of wire fraud on March 4. O’Donnell could still be retried by prosecutors on the additional five counts—two charges of wire fraud and three charges of money laundering—that the jury could not agree on. As he was leaving the courthouse, O’Donnell said, “I’m very happy with the results. I’ve never broken any laws.”
 
The charges that the jury could not come to a decision on were related to a pair of $1,000 checks that O’Donnell gave to two friends following an Aspen ski trip. The two friends, Colby Rankin and Jonathan Dennill, told jurors that they were unsure why O’Donnell gave them the checks and then asked for the money back. O’Donnell said that the checks were bonuses for previously unpaid campaign work and that Rankin and Dennill used the checks to repay him for the money that he fronted for the trip.
 
In May 2018, O’Donnell was indicted by a federal grand jury on 23 counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering. The indictment alleged that in 2015 and 2016, O’Donnell wrote checks from his campaign account to three of his friends who cashed the checks. Prosecutors had alleged that O’Donnell’s friends did little or no work on his campaign and that some of the money from the cashed checks went into O’Donnell’s personal checking account.
 
O’Donnell was first elected to the Sedgwick County Commission in 2016, and his seat is up for election again in 2020. Prior to joining the county commission, he served in the Kansas State Senate from 2013 to 2017 and on the Wichita City Council from 2011 to 2013.


Recall effort begins in one of two NC school districts that allow school board recalls

An effort to recall three of the seven members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education in North Carolina began on February 28. Board Chairwoman Margaret Samuels and members James Barrett and Pat Heinrich were targeted for recall after the board voted 4-3 to turn Glenwood Elementary School into a Mandarin dual-language magnet school. All three board members are also up for re-election in November 2019.
 
As of the 2018-2019 school year, the school has both a Mandarin dual-language track and a traditional track. The board’s vote set up the process for the school to only offer the dual-language track. The board first looked into the issue of changing the school’s tracks in response to concerns of overcrowding at the school.
 
Recall supporters said that Heinrich and Barrett violated the board’s policies when they spoke with parents who supported the school’s transition to a dual-language magnet school. They also claimed both members disclosed non-public information and that Samuels did not enforce the board’s policies.
 
Barrett claimed the recall supporters did not contact him about their concerns prior to the vote on Glenwood Elementary, and that he did not disclose non-public information. Samuels said the issues brought up by the recall supporters happened before she was elected board chair and that she did not have enforcement authority.
 
To put the recall on the ballot, recall supporters have 30 days to submit petitions containing signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in each member’s district as of the 2017 election. That amounts to over 7,000 signatures per board member, according to the Orange County Board of Elections. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school district is one of two school districts in the state that allows school board recalls.
 
Ballotpedia has tracked three school board recall efforts in 2019. They targeted eight board members. Two board members were removed from office in a recall election in February. The other recall efforts are still ongoing.


Chicago City Council election results update: The runoffs and the undecided

Last Tuesday, Chicagoans cast ballots for mayor, city treasurer, city clerk, and all 50 seats on the city council. Here’s where the council races stood as of 11 am CT on March 4:
 
There will be at least 13 council runoff elections on April 2, as no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in those wards. Nine of those races include incumbents heading to runoffs, and the other four are open races.
 
Runoffs will take place in:
  • Ward 5
  • Ward 16
  • Ward 20 (open)
  • Ward 21
  • Ward 25 (open)
  • Ward 30
  • Ward 31
  • Ward 33
  • Ward 39 (open)
  • Ward 40
  • Ward 43
  • Ward 46
  • Ward 47 (open)
Races in four of the above wards went to runoffs in both 2011 and 2015: the 16th, 20th, 43rd, and 46th.
 
There were 4 uncalled races in which incumbents were less than 1 percentage point above or below the threshold for avoiding a runoff. Whether incumbents win outright or head to runoffs will hinge on mail-in ballots. The Chicago elections board began the process of counting 13,843 additional ballots on Friday, The Daily Line reported. The board can continue counting mail-in ballots through March 12, so long as they were postmarked by election day (Feb. 26). Results will be certified March 13.
 
The uncalled races are:
  • Ward 6 (incumbent Roderick Sawyer)
  • Ward 12 (incumbent George Cardenas)
  • Ward 15 (incumbent Raymond Lopez)
  • Ward 26 (incumbent Roberto Maldonado)
 
On Tuesday, 3 incumbent aldermen lost their re-election bids:
  • 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno
  • 45th Ward Ald. John Arena
  • 49th Ward Ald. Joseph Moore
 
Chicago is the nation’s third-largest city by population. Each alderman represents one of the city’s 50 wards on the council. An average of 54,000 people live in each ward.


Houston school board election system would shift under new Texas Senate bill

The Houston Independent School District (ISD), the nation’s seventh-largest school district by student enrollment, may move to a different school board election system if a new bill introduced in the Texas State Senate is enacted into law.
 
The Houston ISD school board is currently composed of nine members who are all elected by separate geographic subdistricts. SB 1385, which was introduced by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R), would change four of the seats to at-large positions elected by the entirety of the school district’s voting population, which would leave the other five seats still elected by geographic subdistrict.
 
In a press release, Sen. Bettencourt stated, “Over the years, during testimony from HISD, I have heard that some trustees won’t help with schools on the ‘Improvements Required’ list that TEA maintains. Thus, allowing Kashmere High School to stay on the state closure list for nine years and counting! […] There has to be changes for the betterment of the students, parents, staff, and community. It’s not partisan. It’s not ideological. It’s not where you live, or what you look like, it’s about pure competence to lead the largest school district in the state.”
 
Bettencourt was first elected to the District 7 seat in the Texas State Senate in 2014, and he was re-elected in 2018 with 57.8 percent of the vote.
 
Houston ISD Board President Diana Dávila criticized SB 1385 in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. She said, “I’m bothered that he’s doing this, because he has not reached out to us to say, ‘What I can be doing legislatively to help the board?'”
 
Dávila, who was first elected to the District VIII seat on the school board in 2015, is up for re-election this year. Four seats are up for election in Houston ISD on November 5, 2019. These seats are in Districts II, III, IV, and VIII, and the filing deadline is August 19. The other five seats on the board are currently scheduled to be up for election next in 2021.
 
In 2019, Ballotpedia is covering school board elections in 179 of America’s school districts. There are 504 school board seats up for grabs across 23 states. Collectively, these districts served 5,764,930 students during the 2016-2017 school year—approximately 11.4 percent of all public school students in the U.S. Of those 179 districts, 64 are in Texas with 183 school board seats on the ballot this year. Those districts enrolled 2,387,738 students during the 2016-2017 school year; Houston ISD enrolled 216,106. Of the 64 Texas districts, 57 are holding their elections on May 4 and seven are holding their elections on November 5.


Eleven file to run for three Newark Board of Education seats

Eleven candidates filed paperwork to run in the April 16 general election for three of the nine at-large seats on the Newark Public Schools Board of Education in New Jersey. The filing deadline was February 25. The withdrawal deadline is March 4.
 
Two of the three incumbents whose seats are on the ballot—Leah Owens and Tave Padilla—are running for re-election. Incumbent Kim Gaddy did not file to run for another term on the board. All three incumbents were first elected to the board in 2016. They ran together as the Newark Unity slate and were endorsed by Mayor Ras J. Baraka. The eight consecutive elections prior to 2019 also saw members of slates endorsed by the mayor win election to the board.
 
Owens and Padilla face nine challengers: Shayvonne Anderson, Denise Cole, Denise Ann Crawford, Maggie Freeman, Priscilla Garces, Saafir Jenkins, Yolanda Johnson, A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, and Arlene Ramsey.
 
The 2019 election is the second since local control was returned to the district by the New Jersey State Board of Education on September 13, 2017. The state originally took over the district in 1995.
 
Newark Public Schools served 40,514 students during the 2016-2017 school year.


Candidate filing deadline coming soon in Riverside, California

The filing deadline for the Riverside City Council in California is March 8. The Ward 1, 3, 5, and 7 seats are on the ballot on June 4.
 
When city council elections were last held in 2017, the Ward 2, 4, and 6 seats were on the ballot. All three incumbents who held those seats ran for re-election, and two won new terms. In 2015, three of the four incumbents whose seats were on the ballot ran for re-election, and all three won new terms. Two of those incumbents were re-elected without facing opposition.
 
Riverside is the 12th-largest city in California and the 58th-largest city in the U.S. by population.


Both candidates in Chicago Ward 47 runoff completed special citizen-generated survey

Matt Martin and Michael Negron, both candidates that advanced to a runoff in Chicago’s Ward 47 alderman race, completed Ballotpedia’s special Chicago candidate survey, which was developed with input from more than 100 Chicagoans.
 
Martin and Negron will face one another in a runoff election to serve as Ward 47 alderman on April 2 since neither earned a majority in their race on Tuesday when Chicago held elections for mayor, city clerk, city treasurer, and all 50 alderman positions.
 
Ballotpedia’s special Chicago candidate survey was developed in partnership with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Interactivity Foundation, and City Bureau.
 
Read their responses to one of our questions below:
 
Do you believe that there is corruption in Chicago politics, such as pay-to-play practices when the city awards bids? If so, how would you address it?
 
Matt Martin: “Recent news has confirmed that there is corruption in Chicago politics. Our city government badly needs reform. We must ban secondary employment to eliminate conflicts of interest that mired Alderman Ed Burke’s property tax firm. The City Council should not be immune to inspection, opening itself to audits and investigations by the Inspector General. There should also be term limits for Committee Chairs to ensure no one alderman is too powerful, such as the Finance and Zoning Committees that Aldermen Burke and Solis, respectively, oversaw. I also support reforming aldermanic prerogative so that individual aldermen do not have an inordinate amount of power over the developments that affect their constituents.”
 
Michael Negron: “The recent Alderman Ed Burke scandal epitomizes everything that people hate about Chicago government. If Ald. Ed Burke and Ald. Willie Cochran are convicted, then we will have seen 35 aldermen convicted of corruption-related crimes committed while on their official duties since 1972. That’s a conviction every 14 months!
 
We need to view this as an opportunity to make big reforms. We can’t simply rely on electing new people and hope for the best. We need to change the rules.
 
That’s why I support prohibiting aldermen from having side jobs so they focus on their jobs full time. We need to limit aldermanic privilege when it comes to zoning and permits to remove the temptation to shake people down. I support expanding the authority of the inspector general over the City Council, and establishing the public financing of elections. We should also strengthen independent budget office, and take a real look at term limits.”
 
Two candidates in the Ward 47 race who did not advance to the runoff election, Jeff Jenkins and Angie Maloney, also completed the survey. Five other candidates who did not complete the survey also ran unsuccessfully in the race.
 
The Ward 47 race is one of five Chicago alderman elections in 2019 without an incumbent competing, making it an open-seat contest. Of the other four open-seat alderman races, only the Ward 22 race was decided outright in the general election. Nicole Johnson in Ward 20 and Byron Sigcho-Lopez in Ward 25, who are both candidates in open-seat races, each completed the survey and advanced to the runoff election. Their opponents, Jeanette Taylor in Ward 20 and Alex Acevedo in Ward 25, have not yet completed the survey.
 
Ballotpedia is contacting all Chicago candidates competing in the April 2 runoff to encourage them to fill out the survey in order to share their views with voters.


Jumaane Williams wins New York City public advocate election

Jumaane Williams, a New York City councilman representing parts of Brooklyn, won the New York City public advocate special election on February 26. He defeated 16 other candidates in the nonpartisan election, receiving about 33 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns.
 
He will be the city’s fifth elected public advocate. The previous public advocate, Letitia James, was elected attorney general of New York in November 2018. Corey Johnson, who did not run in yesterday’s special election, has served as the acting public advocate since January 1, 2019.
 
The public advocate is first in the mayoral line of succession and acts as a watchdog and ombudsman for the public. He or she may sit in on meetings of the City Council and introduce legislation but may not vote on any measures. Although the position has little direct power, it is seen as a launching pad for higher office.
 
Of the four previously elected public advocates, two have advanced to higher office following their tenure: James and Bill de Blasio, who became mayor of New York City in 2014.
 
Yesterday’s election means that Williams will serve in the office until December 31, 2019. A second election will be held later this year for the remainder of James’ four-year term which ends in 2021.


Trial begins for a Sedgwick County commissioner

The fraud trial for Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell (R) began on Monday in a federal court in Wichita, Kansas. The trial is expected to last five days.
 
O’Donnell is accused of taking $10,500 from campaign funds for his personal use. In May 2018, O’Donnell was indicted by a federal grand jury on 23 counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering. The indictment alleges that in 2015 and 2016, O’Donnell wrote checks from his campaign account to three of his friends who cashed the checks. Prosecutors allege that O’Donnell’s friends did little or no work on his campaign and that some of the money from the cashed checks went into O’Donnell’s personal checking account.
 
O’Donnell has served on the Sedgwick County Commission since 2017. His term expires in 2020. Prior to his election to the county commission, he served in the Kansas State Senate from 2013 to 2017 and on the Wichita City Council from 2011 to 2013.


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