Three major U.S. cities with multi-term mayors will choose new leaders today, as will more than 300 municipalities. Voters at the state and local level will also be faced with tough ballot measures, ranging from legalizing marijuana to overhauling public pensions to etching minimum wage increases in stone. Which 2013 races matter to you? Consult The Atlantic Cities guide to some of the country's most interesting mayoral campaigns and ballot initiatives.
Miami Beach: While the mayoral race in Miami is about as uncompetitive as they come, Miami Beach is another story entirely. The four candidates running for out-going Mayor Matti Bower's job are, in the words of the Miami New Times, "a drunk-driving party boy, a power-hungry millionaire, a tennis pro turned comedian, and a man who truly believes he's in telepathic communication with JFK." While the alternative weekly stops short of endorsing any of the four candidates, it calls comedian Steve Berke the most serious candidate in the race. Berke, 32, is an advocate for marijuana decriminalization and more police accountability, and has far-fetched plans for a "SkyLink Urban Gondola." Millionaire Philip Levine, meanwhile, is the only candidate to have received the nod from Bill Clinton. Does that beat Berke's Macklemore parody below? Only tomorrow's election can tell us.
Steve Berke, Youtube sensation and potential mayor?
Minneapolis: Thirty-five people are running to replace three-term Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. If you think that's confusing, consider that of that 35, there are eight (eight!) "leading candidates," one of whom released a campaign ad in which she is wearing nothing but Saran Wrap (for transparency). To make matters more confusing, six of the candidates belong to the same party (the Minnesota-specific Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party), while the other two are independents. But the headache doesn't end there! For the first time, Minneapolis will be using a method called ranked-choice voting, which requires voters to choose three candidates in order of preference, and then...well, we got lost after that point. Here's a guide.
New York: With Democrat Bill de Blasio polling at 65 percent and Republican Joe Lhota at only 24 percent, the only remaining question is whether de Blasio actually knows how to be the kind of mayor he says he'll be.
Seattle: Elected in 2009, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is a big believer in mass transit, sustainable housing design, healthy eating, universal pre-K, divesting from fossil fuels, and other standard issue progressive fare. (Some) of his second term goals: bring light rail to Seattle and develop a "downtown cycle track network." He's already increased infrastructure spending and "tripled the number of pothole crews from 3 to 9," according to his website. And yet, Stranger-endorsed McGinn is fighting for re-election tooth and nail against Ed Murray, a Washington state senator who's also liberal on most issues. The differences between the two are murky (which is the word most commonly used by fans of McGinn to describe Murray's agenda). He is allegedly not as pro-bike as McGinn (but then again, he might be) and has received campaign contributions from Comcast. It's probably fair to say that Seattle residents will have a progressive, pro-transportation mayor no matter who wins today.
Boston: Thomas Menino has been mayor of Boston since before today's college sophomores were born. During his five terms he brought the DNC to Boston, tried to keep Chic-fil-A out, and helped New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launch Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The candidates trying to fill his shoes don't have feet nearly so large, or distinct. Harvard grad and Boston City Councilor John Connolly is a is a Michelle Rhee-style education reformer. State Rep. Marty Walsh, a lifelong union guy, is more sympathetic to teachers unions while still backing charter schools. As WBUR reports, the differences between the two candidates are more about their backgrounds than their policy ideas.
Charlotte: Former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, who left that job in April to replace Ray LaHood as U.S. Transportation Secretary, had some pretty big transportation ideas for the North Carolina city; light rail, Interstate widening, and electric vehicle charging stations among them. The men running to replace him—Democrat Patrick Cannon and Republican Edwin Peacock—see high unemployment as more pressing. The two are running a race so cordial and issue-focused that, according to the AP, neither has released attack ads.
Detroit: Until Detroit's emergency manager leaves town, it's an open question whether it even matters who's mayor. Nevertheless, there's a competitive race between Wayne County Sheriff Benny N. Napoleon and "turnaround specialist" Mike Duggan. Both men have a plan to fix Detroit, neither has the power to implement it. Read our story on the race here.
Marijuana: Question 1 in Portland, Maine, would remove all legal penalties for possession of marijuana so long as the possessor is over 21 and has less than 2.5 ounces of pot. Even if Question 1 passes, Portland law enforcement can still arrest people under state law if they so choose. Proposition AA in Colorado asks voters to approve the official tax rates and regulatory schemes for the state's recreational marijuana industry.
Development: Propositions B and C in San Francisco will determine whether developers can build luxury condos along the water at 8 Washington Street. Proponents say developers will pay into San Francisco's affordable housing fund and develop open space; opponents say the development will be worse than the Embarcadero Freeway.
GMO Labeling: Initiative 522 in Washington state would require companies that use genetically modified organisms in their products to say that on their labels. Most of Washington's newspapers oppose the measure, as do corporations like Kraft and Monsanto. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization, and the European Union all agree that GMOs are safe. The response of I-522 proponents boils down to: What's the harm in a label? (Right: The Central Co-op in Seattle, and many other stores like it, support I-522. REUTERS/Jason Redmond )
Minimum Wage: A question on today's ballot would allow New Jersey residents to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour, and enshrine annual cost of living increases in the state constitution. While business owners have said the measure's passage might force them to lay people off, the measure had quite a bit of support earlier this year.
Pensions: The passage of issue 4 would result in a massive overhaul for Cincinnati's public pensions. According to Governing magazine, Issue 4 "would affect about 7,500 workers, retirees and their beneficiaries and would close off the city’s defined benefits plan to new hires and enroll them in a 401(k) style plan."
The Astrodome: Years after it was abandoned by the Astros, today Houstonians will decide what to do with Astrodome. The ballot measure would raise property taxes by a half-cent per $100 of home value; that money would then be used to turn the Astrodome into a convention center. (Right: the Astrodome retrofitted for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. REUTERS/Tim Johnson)
Top image: One of these dudes is going to run New York (most likely the one on the right). (REUTERS/Peter Foley/Pool)