In a few hours, sometime after 7 p.m. tonight, April 7, we’ll know the 2015 city election outcomes – but there’s still time to speculate about the results. In the spirit of forecasting the Academy Awards, here are a few questions that only the voters can answer.
Will there be a mayoral runoff election?
Yes. Although turnout, as measured by percentage of ballots returned, is far lower than it was in 2011, the figures are deceptive. Four years ago, 59,193 ballots had been scanned as of the Saturday preceding the election, compared with 55,625 this last Saturday. That’s about 8 percent less than in 2011, yet turnout in 2015 was pegged at 24.71 percent (after Monday, that number was up to 28 percent) compared to 40.41 percent four years earlier.
That’s because the number of active registered voters has increased from 151,203 in 2011 to 227,240 in 2015. That may be due to strong voter registration efforts in 2012 and 2014 targeting national and statewide races, but it may not have significant spillover to the April city elections.
It’s reasonable to assume that voting in city elections is an acquired taste. Do it once, and you’ll keep at it. If this election is anything like 2011, there will be a big surge in ballots received today. We probably won’t make it to the 2011 total of 90,558 total, though – I expect that we’ll be in the 75,000 range.
With three conservatives and one moderate in the race, we may see a 2011 replay. If Mary Lou Makepeace can hold the Richard Skorman 2011 coalition together, she’ll get 35 to 40 percent of the vote. If John Suthers can keep Amy Lathen and Joel Miller to a combined total of less than 25 percent, he’ll face Makepeace in a runoff.
But there are some caveats. If total voter turnout is 70,000 or below, Makepeace could get more than 50 percent because of the strength of her undivided base. Conversely, if Lathen and Miller combine for less than 15 percent and Makepeace’s base doesn’t turn out, Suthers could win without a runoff.
Is there a path to victory for Miller or Lathen? Sure, if they both do better than expected and Suthers somehow falters. In that case, one of them might face Makepeace in a runoff by garnering 25 percent of the total vote.
Who will win? And who should win?
Campaign finance numbers suggest that Merv Bennett, Jariah Walker and Tom Strand will lead the ballot – but maybe not.
Take Merv. He’s the quintessential nice guy, an amiable compromiser who tried his best to make a dysfunctional City Council perform between 2011 and 2013. He should win easily, but the voters have not been kind to incumbents during the past two election cycles. (Remember Tim Leigh, Angela Dougan, Bernie Herpin, Brandy Williams and Sean Paige.)
Tom Strand has a solid base of support from his years on the D-11 school board, so he’ll get a lot of votes. Jariah Walker has raised his public profile in the last year or so, since running for the Board of County Commissioners, and will benefit from the undivided support of the business community.
Of the 10 candidates who haven’t raised much money, it seems to me that Glenn Carlson, Bill Murray and Nick Lee have the best chance of breaking through. Carlson could be this election’s Val Snider – a smart, somewhat liberal guy who could get a lot of votes from Makepeace supporters.
Retired military officer and interim Councilor Larry Bagley has gotten all the endorsements and most of the money in the District 2 race. Appointed to the Council seat after Joel Miller resigned last November to run for mayor, Bagley also has the advantage of incumbency … but watch out!
His opponent, Kanda Calef, fits the model of smart, headstrong and tireless young women who have won local elections in years past. Think Jill Gaebler, Brandy Williams, Cheryl Gillaspie, Sallie Clark, Margaret Radford, Peggy Littleton and Amy Lathen – they all blindsided opponents who made the mistake of, as George W would say, of misunderestimating them. We’ll see…
District 4 recall
The recall campaign has been relatively quiet, but Helen Collins has given her opponents a lot of ammunition. The strange real estate transaction with Douglas Bruce seems to have had no purpose other than that of enabling the Dougster to dodge a lien that the city was about to file. It’s a district with historically low turnout, which was holding true in the recent daily turnout reports, but if opponents managed to put together a well-managed GOTV effort, Collins will join ex-state Sen. John Morse in the Recall Hall of Shame.
Who will be the next Council president? And who will become Utilities Board chair? The fix is in, according to the usual unreliable sources. If re-elected, Merv Bennett will succeed Keith King as Council’s presiding officer, while Andy Pico will take over Bennett’s post on the CSU board. And what about Keith King?
That’s an interesting question. King clearly enjoyed the power and influence that came from being both Council president and the swing vote on many contentious issues.
Will he be content to be a back-bencher, especially if he’s no longer a relevant player? That’s like asking whether Bill Clinton would be happy to take a seat in the House of Representatives.
In a Bennett-led Council with a strong moderate consensus, King might prefer to quit and devote his time to his notably successful endeavors in education.
Conclusion: We could conceivably see not only a new mayor, but six new council members. That might or might not be good for the city, but it would certainly be good for journalists.