Election Insanity?

Not all election insanity or power-grabs are national. Last Tuesday, Cedar City held an election for its mayor and for two city council seats. The city’s population is roughly 36,000, and the city’s annual expenditures are [if I’ve added all the scattered budgets correctly] are around $42 million, which, besides normal government functions [administration, water, trash, sewage, parks, police, and fire] also include operating a modest airport, a municipal theatre, and a golf course.

Councilors serve four years and are paid slightly more than $13,000 annually. The mayor has a four year term and an annual salary slightly above $20,000. The City Council is the body that decides policy, and the mayor has no voting power.

On the surface, the council seat elections were unremarkable, in that the four candidates [all male – after all, this is Utah] all promised that they would be the best in guiding the city forward. The four candidates spent from $5,000 to $15,000 each on their campaigns, for a total of roughly $40,000.

The mayor’s race was another story. The two-term incumbent is a corporate attorney in her very early thirties, married to a doctor, with deep family roots in the area. She was the youngest mayor in city history and the only woman ever elected mayor. She raised over $106,000 from a variety of business and corporate sources, as well as from personal sources, but the majority of contributions came from the business and corporate sources.

Her challenger was a local businessman who had founded and expanded an extremely successful plumbing supply business for over 30 years, who put $130,000 of his own money into his campaign, and who also donated $11,000 each to the two council candidates that he favored, effectively allowing them to significantly outspend their opponents.

In the end, money won. The challenger came up a winner by a little over a hundred votes out of a little more than 7,500 cast… but only one of the two council candidates he backed happened to win.

I still have a hard time understanding why the race for a mayor’s position that pays only $20,000 a year and has no voting power ended up costing close to a quarter of a million dollars, except that the mayoral challenger clearly wanted the position.

4 thoughts on “Election Insanity?”

  1. Postagoras says:

    Ego can certainly be the culprit. Most politicians have a large ego. For some, it’s yuuuge.
    I’m reminded of an article about the pickup basketball games in the House of Representatives gym. The article noted, “There’s not a lot of passing in these games.”

    1. Tom says:

      I guess politicians would be good at playing ice hockey.

  2. Grey says:

    The job likely pays so little to ensure that only those wealthy enough that it doesn’t matter seek the job.

  3. Hanneke says:

    A mayor without voting power in council is not necessarily powerless.
    It depends on the local rules and guidelines, but often the mayor is responsible for safety – he sets the policy for the police or sheriff’s department, he is the one who signs off on people being involuntarily committed to an asylum or evicted from their homes.
    He is often the head of the council, responsible for setting the agenda and leading the meetings, which gives him a lot of influence on which items get discussed and how they are discussed, who gets how much speaking time before the vote is called.
    He can also have a lot of behind the scenes influence on the organisation, the civil servants responsible for writing the proposals the council gets to vote on.
    Depending on the local culture and guidelines, a mayor can be a mostly ceremonial status job, visiting the 100 year olds’ birthdays and the 60 year marriage anniversaries and cutting ribbons on new projects; but it can also be a position of considerable power (openly or behind the scenes).

    Organising things so only people with a lot of money can get those functions may make them less vulnerable to bribes, but it also really limits the participation of less-wealthy people in making the rules for all of us, leading to rule-making by the rich for the rich.

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