OAKLAND, CALIF. — There will be no nonpartisan elections in New York City. No megacasino along Maine's coast. No new rules to govern the physical stress of mouse-clicking in Washington State, no mass meditations for harried Denverites. In an overlooked election, most Americans opted for caution or the status quo - with one big asterisk.
Election Day decisions here in the Bay Area ranged from the profound to the bizarre, as San Francisco passed all of its ballot initiatives, including a bold plan to pay every worker in the city at least $8.50 an hour - $3.35 more than the federal minimum wage. Moreover, Tuesday's results gave a Green Party candidate a chance to become the first Green mayor of a major city, while voters in nearby Marin County passed an initiative penned by a woman known for tree-bark hats, declaring Bolinas a "nature-loving town."
In truth, this off-year election provided few compelling mayoral contests or ballot initiatives beyond bonds and school boards.
One exception was in Philadelphia, where Mayor John Street easily overcame a racially charged campaign to win a second term. In Houston, Bill White continued the trend of successful, self-financed politicians by dumping $2 million into his campaign, then winning the vote - though he faces a December runoff.
Among Tuesday's nationally watched ballot initiatives, only Cleveland Heights, Ohio, made a major shift. It joined a growing list of localities that officially recognize domestic partners - gay and straight - and give partners some of the benefits and rights of spouses. But the way Cleveland Heights did it is unique.
"It is the first pro-gay measure ever adopted through a ballot initiative," says Kristina Wilfore, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.
Otherwise, voters trod lightly. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had sought to allow voters not registered in either party to vote in primaries. Voters said no. A Maine group wanted to build a lavish casino, and Colorado horse and greyhound racetracks wanted to expand gambling facilities. Voters said no.
In the Bay Area, where voters said yes, approved initiatives ranged from police reform to stricter laws on panhandling. Yet none was more significant than the $8.50 minimum wage.
On one hand, San Francisco's astronomical cost of living seems to demand it. Yet the law is unusual in its scope. It follows Washington and Santa Fe, N.M., as the only US cities to raise the minimum wage for all workers. But it will require all businesses to meet the new wage in three years or less. To critics, it's a terrible business brew in bad economic times. "There is not a cushion to absorb a minimum-wage increase," says Patricia Breslin, president of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.
Washington State voters bought that argument, prohibiting the state from imposing stricter ergonomic rules in the workplace, concerned that regulations would hurt struggling businesses.
Then again, the Bay Area is nothing if not iconoclastic. The Green Party's Matt Gonzalez - sponsor of the minimum-wage initiative - took second place, winning the chance to topple Gavin Newsom. And while Denver shunned a "peace initiative" that would have played soothing music in public buildings, the tiny Marin County town of Bolinas agreed that it does love nature.
Put on the ballot by a woman nicknamed "Dakar," who smears chocolate on her face and wears burlap clothing, the initiative makes no mandates. But now, in the sometimes nonsensical language of the initiative, Bolinas is "a nature-loving town because to like to drink the water out of the lakes to like to eat the blueberries to like the bears is not hatred to hotels and motor boats."
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Kentucky: US Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) defeated Attorney General Ben Chandler (D). He'll be the state's first Republican governor in 32 years.
Mississippi: Haley Barbour (R) unseated Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D). He'll be the state's second Republican governor since the Civil War.
San Francisco passed an initiative for an $8.50 minimum hourly wage, becoming the third US city to raise the minimum wage for all workers.
Denver turned down a 'peace initiative' that would have required the city council to reduce Denverites' stress.
Maine defeated, by a 2-to-1 margin, a plan to build the state's first casino.
Philadelphia: Incumbent John Street (D) (far r.) defeated businessman Sam Katz (R).
Houston: Former city councilman Orlando Sanchez (R), will face businessman Bill White (D) in a December runoff.
San Francisco: Gavin Newsom (D) (above l.) will face Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez in a December runoff.