Incumbents lead pack as mayoral races begin first lap

Despite increasing problems in making fiscal ends meet, big-city mayors appear to be losing none of their enthusiasm for their jobs. With few exceptions, notably Atlanta's Maynard Jackson, who is ineligible to succeed himself, municipal chief executives from Miami to Seattle are reelection bent.

Although some political upsets may be in the works, there is little to suggest that many mayors are in trouble with voters.

Among dozens of mayoral seats at stake in this fall's local elections across the United States are those in one-fourth of the nation's 44 largest cities, including three of the most populous six -- New York, Detroit, and Houston.

Unlike some past municipal election years, 1981 presents no predominant coast-to-coast campaign issue. Incumbent mayors are running largely on their records with few, if any, pledging major new programs.

And besides decrying the quality of such municipal services as police protection and street maintenance, and criticizing overall mayoral stewardship, most challengers are not making it all that clear how they would turn things around.

In most cities, campaigns currently are focusing not so much on the Nov. 3 election itself as on the earlier primaries that pare down the field of contenders. In at least one instance, the contenders number two dozen.

Within the next few weeks, voters in eight cities with populations ranging from 331,767 (Albuquerque, N.M.) to 7,071,030 (New York City) will go to the polls in primaries.

Two of the more closely watched campaigns, however, are taking shape in cities without primaries. In these two cities, Atlanta and Houston, runoff elections between the two front-runners will be necessary only if no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast in the general election.

In Atlanta, eight candidates will vie Oct. 6 for the seat held by Mayor Jackson, the city's first black chief executive, who will retire after eight years in office.

Recent polls indicate state Rep. Sidney Marcus and former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young are running neck-and-neck. But neither appears close to the 50 percent support level needed for election. A third prime contender, Reginald Eaves, is a one-time Boston civil rights activist, later an aide to Mayor Jackson, and now a Fulton County commissioner.

Mr. Young, who resigned his congressional seat to take the UN post under Jimmy Carter, has the former President's endorsement.

Messrs. Eaves and Young, like the retiring mayor, are black. Mr. Marcus is white.

Equally uncertain is the outcome of the Nov. 3 Houston mayoral tussle. Incumbent James McConn is facing stiff competition in his bid for a third two-year term at the helm of the nation's fifth-largest city.

His three most formidable opponents appear to be city comptroller Kathryn Whitmire, Harris County Sheriff Jack Heard, and former city councilor, Louis Macey.

Unlike many other large cities, Houston is not beset by unemployment and economic stagnation. Instead, crime, traffic problems, housing, and future development are the key campaign topics. If a runoff election is needed, it will be held within a month of the Nov. 3 balloting.

That possibility exists in Miami, too. The Nov. 3 mayoral election there will have at least six candidates, including Maurice Ferre, who has occupied the mayor's chair for the past eight years. Among his challengers are a former Dade County commissioner, a veterinarian, a former city commissioner, and a former city worker.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, already has narrowed its field of candidates. Incumbent Richard Caliguiri, seeking a second four-year term, and Republican challenger Fred Goehring won their ballot positions in an April primary. The GOP contender is an investment specialist perhaps best known to voters as a regular panelist on a local radio public affairs program.

he accuses the Caliguiri administration of overspending and proposes substantial budget tightening, including the layoff of some city workers.

For his part, Mayor Caliguiri emphasizes the second phase of major downtown development begun during his term in office.

Key upcoming mayoral primaries include those in Buffalo and New York City, Sept. 10; Detroit, Minneapolis, and Seattle, Sept. 15; Cleveland, Sept. 29; and Albuquerque, Oct. 6.

In Albuquerque, Mayor David Rusk, son of former US Secretary of State Dean Rusk, is seeking a second four-year term. His small army of ballot foes include Marion Cottrell, the city council president; Harry Kinney, a former mayor; and Gordon Sanders, a local TV and radio news commentator.

In New York, Mayor Edward I. Koch is hoping for not only the Democratic, but the Republican nomination as well. If he's successful on both ballots, winning reelection in November should be a political breeze.

His Democratic ballot foes are State Assemblyman Frank Barbaro of Brooklyn; Jim Smith, a printer and political newcomer; and Melvin Klenetsky, who ran for governor of Illinois as a US Labor Party candidate three years ago.

Republican State Assemblyman John A. Esposito of Queens is the sole Koch challenger for the GOP nomination.

The city's greatly improved financial picture, including the first treasury surplus in more than a decade at the end of the last fiscal year, has given Mr. Koch's reelection prospects a major boost.

Cleveland's George Voinovich has been similarly aided by the much-improved condition of his financially troubled city since he took over in January 1980.

If his reelection bid is successful, the former Ohio lieutenant governor would become Cleveland's first chief executive elected to a four-year term. The most formidable Voinovich challenger is state Rep. Patrick Sweeney. The once-anticipated rematch between the incumbent and former mayor Dennis Kucinich failed to materialize after the latter unsuccessfully opposed a Voinovich-supported increase in the city income tax on a special referendum last winter.

In Detroit, Coleman Young, that city's first black mayor, is considered a near shooin for a third four-year term as chief executive of the nation's sixth-largest city.

His reelection stock also has been greatly boosted by improved municipal financial conditions in recent months. Voters approved an increase in the municipal payroll tax at a special referendum in June, which substantially helped the city's economic climate.

Minneapolis Mayor Donald Fraser, a former Democratic congressman who won the executive chair two years ago, is seeking to extend his stay for another four year.

Buffalo's Democratic mayor James D. Griffin, who won his city's executive chair four years ago as the Conservative Party nominee, is now all but assured of making it onto the Nov. 3 ballot. And he could have a free ride if he succeeds in gaining Republican primaru backing. His GOP foe is Charles Battista.

A major source of opposition to Mayor Griffin could come from the black community, where his stand opposing court-ordered school busing has been unpopular. In 1979 he lost the Democratic primary to Arthur Eve, a black, whom he went on to beat in the general election.

Mayor Charles Royer, a former local television news commentator turned municipal official, has eight challengers in his bid for a second four-year term in Seattle.

His stiffest challenger appears to be Sam Smith, a former city council president. Others in the running include a piano player, a professional clown, a Vietnam War veteran who is a major litigant in the Agent Orange suit against the federal government, an airplane mechanic, a retired city engineer, and a retired fisherman.

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