City voters speak, and they want competence

In mayoral races, ability to get the job done trumps party politics - except in St. Paul.

Competence trumped partisanship in most mayoral elections this week. Voters showed what they really want is the garbage picked up on time, potholes filled, and the city budget balanced, proving once again Tip O'Neill's old adage that all politics is local.

In Democratic New York, voters overwhelmingly reelected Republican Michael Bloomberg, giving a vote of confidence to his managerial skills while ignoring his ties to President Bush and the GOP.

"Party label doesn't matter nearly as much anymore at the mayoral level," says Andrew White, director of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. "The real long-term trend everywhere is moving away form the party operations that rooted urban politics in patronage, but that's not to say there isn't still a strong liberal social leaning in many cities."

The exception to O'Neill's adage is St. Paul, Minn. A city as partisan "blue" as New York, voters there ousted Democratic Mayor Randy Kelly, but not because of his governing skills. Rather, they were punishing him for endorsing Mr. Bush over Democratic presidential rival John Kerry in 2004, polls showed. They elected Chris Coleman instead, also a Democrat.

In Detroit, voters were more tolerant of mayoral missteps. Kwame Kilpatrick, the so-called hip-hop mayor, was accused of misusing city funds for personal gain even as the city budget racked up deficits. After he apologized and pledged to do better in the future, 53 percent of voters decided to give him another chance. But even as they were at the polls, the FBI said it was investigating absentee ballots to see if some had been cast in the names of deceased voters and if others had been improperly handled by city officials.

San Diego, a long-time GOP stronghold even though it now has more registered Democrats, gave the nod to former police chief Jerry Sanders, a Republican. He ran against maverick Democratic city councilor and surf shop owner Donna Frye. She was among the first to question San Diego's previous Republican administration, which as a result of a fraud scandal left the city with an almost $1.5 billion pension deficit that could lead the city to bankruptcy.

"It does follow a pattern. Voters want good government, but they also want it within their ideological framework," says political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia.

Though New York's Mayor Bloomberg is a Republican in a Democratic town, that ideological pattern held true here as well.

"In New York it's really silly [to talk party labels], because Bloomberg is basically a liberal Democrat and always has been a liberal Democrat," says Professor White. "If he were a more partisan Republican, he'd be having a much harder time."

In other cities:

ATLANTA: Its first female mayor, Shirley Franklin, wins a second term.

BOSTON: Thomas Menino wins a fourth term. He'd be the longest-serving mayor in city history at term's end.

CINCINNATI: State Rep. Mark Mallory, a member of a prominent black political family, wins over a white opponent four years after race riots tore apart the city.

CLEVELAND: City Council President Frank Jackson, whose hard-life childhood endeared him to voters, edges out incumbent Jane Campbell.

HOUSTON: Bill White is reelected with 91 percent of the vote. His star rose after the city absorbed Katrina evacuees and acted to protect people from hurricane Rita.

PITTSBURGH: Former city councilor Bob O'Connor (D) wins a contest in which the incumbent decided not to run.

SEATTLE: Greg Nickels cruises to a second term.

- Associated Press material was used in this report

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