St. Louis holds municipal general election

The nonpartisan general election for St. Louis, Mo., was on April 6. The primary was held on March 2, and the filing deadline to run passed on Jan. 4.

Candidates competed for mayor, board of aldermen, and city comptroller. In the mayoral election, Tishaura Jones defeated Cara Spencer, earning 52% of the vote to Spencer’s 48%. Jones is the first Black woman to be elected mayor of St. Louis.

In the city comptroller election, incumbent Darlene Green won re-election without facing opposition.

In the board of aldermen elections, incumbents ran for 15 out of the 16 seats on the ballot and won re-election to 12 of those seats. The following races did not re-elect an incumbent:

• In Ward 5, challenger James Page defeated incumbent Tammika Hubbard by a margin of 53% to 47%.

• In Ward 12, challenger Bill Stephens defeated incumbent Vicky Grass by a margin of 52% to 48%.

• In Ward 13, challenger Anne Schweitzer defeated incumbent Beth Murphy by a margin of 63% to 37%.

• In Ward 17—the sole race without an incumbent running—the race remained too close to call as of April 7.

Saint Louis is the 57th largest city by population in the U.S. 

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Milwaukee voters elect four new members to the Board of School Directors

On April 6, Milwaukee voters elected four new members to serve on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors. The Board of School Directors oversees the Milwaukee Public Schools, Wisconsin’s largest school district. Four of the board’s nine seats were up for election.

Aisha Carr, Jilly Gokalgandhi, Marcela Garcia, and Henry Leonard will be sworn in on April 26, after winning their respective elections.

All four seats were open after three incumbents did not file for re-election and the fourth, Annie Woodward, did not submit the required number of signatures to appear on the ballot. Two of the four seats were uncontested: Garcia and Leonard ran unopposed in the races for Districts 6 and 7, respectively.

The elections in District 4 and 5 were both contested. In District 4, Carr, a former high school teacher in the district, defeated Dana Kelley, a community organizer and assistant pastor. In District 5, Gokalgandhi, an equity in education strategist, defeated Alex Brower, the former president of the district’s substitute teachers’ union.

Carr received endorsements from several local legislators including state Sen. Lena Taylor (D) and Rep. David Bowen (D). Gokalgandhi received endorsements from five incumbent school board members including Larry Miller, her district’s outgoing incumbent.

Both Kelley and Brower received endorsements from the local and national Democratic Socialists of America and Milwaukee County Supervisor, Ryan Clancy.

This election will change the number of school board members endorsed by the city’s largest teachers’ union, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA). Following the 2019 school board elections, all nine members had been endorsed by the MTEA for “the first time in memory” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Annysa Johnson.

The number of MTEA-endorsed school board members will decrease to six. Both Kelley and Brower had been endorsed by the union. The union endorsed Leonard in the uncontested District 7 race and did not issue an endorsement in the uncontested District 6 race.

Recall against San Francisco school board members approved to circulate petitions

The San Francisco Department of Elections approved petition circulation to begin this week in the effort to recall part of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education. Three members—Gabriela López, Alison Collins, and Faauuga Moliga—were named in the recall paperwork. Recall supporters have until September 7 to collect 51,325 signatures.

Recall supporters said they were frustrated that schools in the district remained closed for nearly a year in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also criticized the board for spending time voting to rename 44 district buildings. On February 21, López announced that the board was putting the building renaming on hold in order to focus on re-opening schools.

All three board members named in the recall petitions were first elected to the board on November 6, 2018. They received the most votes in the at-large election and defeated 16 other candidates. The other four members of the board were not eligible for recall at the same time as López, Collins, and Moliga since they had not served in their current terms for six months yet. They were either elected or re-elected to the board on November 3, 2020.

In 2020, Ballotpedia covered a total of 227 recall efforts against 276 elected officials. Of the 50 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 30 were recalled for a rate of 60%. That was higher than the 52% rate for 2019 recalls but lower than the 63% rate for 2018 recalls.

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Mayoral election in Anchorage, Alaska to be held April 6

The city of Anchorage, Alaska, is holding a nonpartisan general election for mayor on April 6. Fourteen candidates are running. Media attention has been focused on six candidates: David Bronson, Forrest Dunbar, Bill Evans, Bill Falsey, George Martinez, and Mike Robbins. These candidates also lead in endorsements and fundraising. Heather Herndon, Jacob Versteeg, Joe Westfall, Albert Swank, Reza Momin, Anna Anthony, Darin Colbry, and Jacob Seth Kern are also running.

Incumbent Ethan Berkowitz (D) resigned from office on Oct. 23, 2020, due to what he said was “unacceptable personal conduct that has compromised my ability to perform my duties with the focus and trust that is required.” The Anchorage Assembly selected Austin Quinn-Davidson to serve as acting mayor.

Economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is a central issue in the race. Dunbar and Falsey said they support maintaining safety measures enacted by the Anchorage Assembly, such as a mask mandate and business restrictions, while Bronson, Evans, and Robbins said that they support reconsidering or removing restrictions. Homelessness and crime is also a key topic, with candidates divided over shelter funding and locations and prevention methods.

To be elected mayor, a candidate needs to win at least 45% of the vote. If no candidate wins 45% of the vote on April 6, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in a runoff election held on May 11.

The city government of Anchorage combines a council-manager system with a strong mayor system. The city council serves as the city’s primary legislative body and the mayor serves as the chief executive of the city. The mayor is responsible for proposing a budget, signing legislation into law, appointing departmental directors, and overseeing the city’s day-to-day operations. The mayor also represents the city on the state, national and international levels.

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Kim Janey sworn in as acting mayor of Boston

Kim Janey was sworn in as the nonpartisan acting mayor of Boston on March 22. Janey became acting mayor after former Mayor Martin Walsh was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the secretary of labor in President Joe Biden’s (D) administration. Janey is the first Black person and the first woman to serve as Boston mayor.

Janey will serve as acting mayor through the next election on Nov. 2. Janey has not yet announced whether she will run for re-election.

Janey will remain a non-participating member of the Boston City Council, representing District 7. Janey was elected to the council in 2017. 

Boston is one of the 100 largest cities by population in the United States. Of the mayors of the country’s 100 largest cities, there are currently 64 Democrats, 25 Republicans, four independents, and seven nonpartisans.

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Austin voters will decide eight ballot measures on May 1, including ranked-choice voting and police oversight

On May 1, Austin, Texas voters will decide eight ballot measures. All but one, Proposition C, were put on the ballot through initiative signature petition drives.

Proposition A was sponsored by the Austin Firefighters Association, Local 975. The measure would amend the city’s charter to require the city and firefighters association to participate in binding arbitration when an agreement cannot be reached through collective bargaining regarding working conditions. The union is set to begin the negotiation process with the city for a new contract in the spring of 2022.

Proposition B was sponsored by Save Austin Now, a bi-partisan PAC founded by Cleo Petricek (D) and Matt Mackowiak, chairman of the Travis County GOP. The measure would make it a criminal offense for anyone to sit, lie down, or camp in public areas and prohibit the solicitation of money or other things of value at specific hours and locations. The measure is in response to a 2019 unanimous vote by the Austin City Council to repeal an ordinance that prohibited sitting, lying, or panhandling in the downtown area. The city council also voted 9-2 to prohibit camping in public areas under certain circumstances.

Save Austin Now campaign said on their website, “Incompetent policy has encouraged aggressive public camping and panhandling that creates unsafe living conditions on the streets and unsafe streets for everyone else.” The measure is opposed by Homes Not Handcuffs. The  Homes Not Handcuffs campaign said, “These laws also make the underlying problems that cause homelessness worse. People wrack up fines and fees that they cannot pay. They are saddled with criminal records, making it more difficult to get housing and employment.”

Proposition C was referred to the ballot in a 10-1 vote of the Austin City Council with Councilmember Mackenzie Kelly opposing the measure. Proposition C would amend the city’s charter to authorize the city council to determine how the director of the Office of Police Oversight is appointed or removed through a city ordinance. Currently, the director of the Office of Police Oversight is appointed by the city manager. Council Member Gregorio Casar, a sponsor of the amendment, said, “If we want police accountability, then we need our police oversight office to be as independent as possible. In other cities, the Office of Police Oversight is independently appointed or is overseen by a civilian board, but right now our options as a city are limited. By making this proposed charter change in May, the community and city council have the opportunity to create more transparency and accountability of our police department in the future.”

Austinites for Progressive Reform sponsored five initiatives related to elections and local governance: 

  • Proposition D would align mayoral elections with presidential election years instead of gubernatorial elections years beginning in 2024.
  • Proposition E would enact ranked-choice voting provided state law allows it.
  • Proposition F would change city governance from a council-manager system to a mayor-council system.
  • Proposition G would add an additional city council district, thereby increasing the total number of city council members from 10 to 11.
  • Proposition H would adopt a public campaign finance program that provides $25 vouchers to registered voters to contribute to campaigns of qualifying candidates.

Austinites for Progressive Reform said, “Our goal is to amend Austin’s city charter to enact proven campaign finance reforms, election reforms, and governance reforms. By doing so, we will increase political participation, increase voter turnout, and make sure our city works for everybody.” 

The last day to register to vote in the election is April 1. Early voting begins on April 19 and runs through April 27. On election day, the polls will be open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.

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Candidate field for Pittsburgh mayoral race takes shape

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto faces three challengers in the Democratic primary on May 18, 2021, according to the unofficial list published by Allegheny County on March 9. No Republican candidates were listed. Peduto’s challengers include current state Rep. Edward Gainey, Tony Moreno, and Michael Thompson. 

The winner of the Democratic primary will advance to the general election on Nov. 2. Independent candidates have until Aug. 2 to file for the seat. Unless an independent candidate files, the May 18 Democratic primary winner will be unopposed in the general election.

The city of Pittsburgh utilizes a strong mayor and city council system. In this form of municipal government, the city council serves as the city’s primary legislative body while the mayor serves as the city’s chief executive.

Ballotpedia is covering 43 mayoral elections in 2021. Between 2014 and 2020, 68.2% of incumbent mayors sought re-election; of these, 17.6% were defeated in their bids for re-election.

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All 5 Idaho school board members retain seats in March 9 recalls

Recall elections in three Idaho school districts—Pocatello-Chubbuck, Idaho Falls, and Nampa—were held on March 9, 2021. A majority of voters in all three school districts voted against the recalls, defeating the efforts and allowing the board members to retain their seats.

Three school board members—Zone 1 representative Jackie Cranor, Zone 2 representative Janie Gebhardt, and Zone 5 representative Dave Mattson—were on the ballot in Pocatello-Chubbuck School District No. 25. The recall effort began in September 2020 after the board unanimously voted to continue using a hybrid teaching model for middle school and high school students for the remainder of the first trimester of the 2020-2021 school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recall supporters said the board was not fully representing the electorate on the issue of hybrid learning and other issues. The school district released a statement saying that the board weighs a number of factors when making decisions and that majority opinion does not always rule.

In Idaho Falls School District 91, Zone 4 representative Elizabeth Cogliati was on the ballot. The recall effort began after the board of trustees voted 3-2 on September 30, 2020, to move high schools in the district from in-person instruction five days a week to a mix of in-person and online instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cogliati voted in favor of the change in instruction along with two other board members who were also targeted for recall. The other recall efforts did not make the March 9 ballot. Superintendent George Boland said the goal for the change in instruction was to reduce the number of coronavirus cases and related quarantines and absences at the high schools. Recall supporters said the district’s online classes were low quality and putting students at a disadvantage.

In the Nampa School District, Zone 2 representative Mike Kipp was on the ballot. The recall effort started after Kipp cast the sole dissenting vote against allowing sports to resume during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recall supporters said that they were not being represented on the board and that their voices had not been heard at board meetings on multiple occasions. In response to the recall effort, Kipp said, “I have done my best to listen well to all input from teachers, students, patrons, our superintendent, other district leaders and all relevant experts. I then seek to utilize that information in determining my vote.”

In order for the recall elections to be successful, two things would have had to happen: 1) a majority of voters would have had to vote in favor of the recall; and 2) the total number of votes cast in favor of recall would have had to be equal or greater than the number of votes that first put the board member in office.

In 2020, Ballotpedia covered a total of 224 recall efforts against 269 elected officials. Of the 49 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 29 were recalled for a rate of 59%. That was higher than the 52% rate for 2019 recalls but lower than the 63% rate for 2018 recalls.

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12 candidates file for three city council seats in Lincoln, Nebraska

The filing deadline for candidates interested in running for three at-large seats on the city council in Lincoln, Nebraska, was March 5, 2021. The nonpartisan primary election will be held on April 6, and the general election will be held on May 4. All three seats are for four-year terms.

Twelve candidates—incumbent Roy Christensen, incumbent Sändra Washington, incumbent Bennie Shobe, Mary Hilton, Aurang Zeb, Elina Newman, Joseph Swanson, Maggie Mae Squires, Tom Beckius, Eric Burling, Trevor Reilly, and Peter Kolozsy—will face off in the primary. The top six vote-getters will advance to the general election.

Although city council elections in Lincoln are officially nonpartisan, candidates can file with a party affiliation. Incumbent Christensen has served on the city council since 2013 and identifies with the Republican Party. Incumbent Shobe was elected in 2017 and identifies as a member of the Democratic Party. Incumbent Washington was appointed to the council in 2019 and identifies with the Democratic Party.

In addition to Shobe and Washington, Beckius and Zeb identified with the Democratic Party. In addition to Christensen, Burling and Hilton identified with the Republican Party. Reilly identified as a Libertarian, and Kolozsy, Newman, Squires, and Swanson identified as nonpartisan.

Lincoln is the 71st largest city by population in the United States. Ballotpedia will also be covering the two Lincoln Airport Authority board of directors seats on the ballot in 2021. Incumbents Bob Selig and John Hoppe Jr. did not file for re-election.

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San Antonio voters to decide whether to repeal collective bargaining for the police union in May

On May 1, San Antonio voters will decide whether to repeal local authority for collective bargaining with the San Antonio Police Officers Association. Currently, under Chapter 174 of state law, cities are allowed to negotiate with police and firefighter unions through collective bargaining to determine compensation, hours, and other conditions of employment. Chapter 174 also contains a provision that prohibits strikes and lockouts and authorizes penalties for such activity. Proposition B would repeal city law adopting those provisions as well.

The measure was placed on the ballot through an initiative sponsored by Fix SAPD. In San Antonio, citizens can place a ballot measure on the ballot through an indirect initiative petition signed by at least 10% of the city’s qualified voters as of the last regular election. If enough signatures are submitted, the initiative is then voted on by the city council. The city council can enact the measure or put it on the ballot. The required number of signatures for 2021 was 20,282.

On January 8, supporters submitted over 28,000 signatures to the city clerk. On February 4, City Clerk Tina Flores announced that the campaign had submitted over 20,282 valid signatures and that the measure had qualified for the May ballot. On February 11, the San Antonio City Council voted to certify the initiative for the ballot.

James Dykman, a board member of Fix SAPD, said, “This is the first step to stronger police accountability in our community. The police association has had too much leverage in negotiations with the city for too long. Under a new system of Meet and Confer, police oversight could sit outside the purview of contract negotiations between the City and the local police association. We could have strong pay and benefits for officers, while protecting citizens and holding bad officers accountable.”

Concerning the certification of the measure for the ballot, the San Antonio Police Officers Association said in a press release, “[San Antonio Police Officers Association] plans on working hard between now and election day to inform voters about how important collective bargaining (Chapter 174) is to recruiting top-notch police officers who will keep our neighborhoods safe and to ensuring the Police Chief and the City continue to have flexibility in hiring, promotions, discipline, and boosting diversity within the Department.”

The last contract between the San Antonio City Council and the San Antonio Police Officers Association was agreed to on September 1, 2016. The council voted 9-2. Contract negotiations to replace the 2016 contract were set to begin on February 12, 2021. If the union and the city reach an agreement before the election, the repeal of Chapter 174 would take effect after the new contract expires.

An alternative to collective bargaining is meet and confer, where there is no requirement that a city and police union reach an agreement regarding wages, benefits, and other working conditions. San Antonio currently has a meet and confer agreement with the San Antonio Park Police Officers Association.

There are 13 top 100 cities by population in Texas. Of those 13 cities, four (Corpus Christi, El Paso, Laredo, and San Antonio) use collective bargaining in police negotiations, four (Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston) use meet and confer, and five (Lubbock, Garland, Arlington, Irving, and Plano) do not have contracts with police unions.

In 2020, Ballotpedia identified 20 police-related measures in 10 cities and four counties within seven states that appeared on local ballots. All 20 were approved. The measures concerned police oversight; the powers and structure of oversight commissions; police practices; law enforcement department structure and administration; reductions in or restrictions on law enforcement budgets; law enforcement training requirements; and body and dashboard camera footage.

On May 1, voters in Austin will also decide a measure, Proposition C, that would establish the position of the Director of Police Oversight in the city charter with the “responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability as it relates to policing.” Details about the selection of the director and staff would be determined by the city council if the measure is approved.

On May 1, San Antonio voters will also decide Proposition A, a charter amendment to permit the city to issue bonds for public improvements, including housing programs for households with incomes below a certain threshold.

The last day to register to vote in the election is April 1. Early in-person voting will begin on April 19 and run through April 27. On election day, the polls will be open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.

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