What happened to bring Maplewood to where it is today? Did the people speak, and are the new council members simply executing (or incarnating
) the popular will?
The night that Fursman was fired, I remember one woman rising to speak, to remind the council how very few people actually put them in power. The reality is that local elections are decided by small numbers of people who are motivated, either by personal interest or a sense of civic duty, to go out and vote. A lot of people (me included, most of my life) would often skip local elections, if there's no national “headliner” (like a congressional seat or statewide race) driving interest. Since Maplewood's elections are in off years, turnout tends to be even lower than the already low baseline of American electoral apathy. And one council member, Rebecca Cave (Cunnien)
, was selected in a special election, with even lower turnout still.
On the other hand, the small turnout means that we can read a lot in the voting data. While some dutiful voters would show up at the polls no matter what, the people who got out to vote in a special election earlier this year were more likely driven by personal interest in a candidate or cause. The special election had fewer than half as many voters as the general election in the fall of 2005 (2,666 versus 5,457, according to Ramsey County), so it was really decided by those who felt a strong reason to show up.
If you visit the Ramsey County website, you can find the precinct-by-precinct data
(PDF, 156k) from Cave's special election earlier this year. I hope to do some more detailed study of it later, but one precinct really stands out at first glance.
- City-wide turnout was 11.9% of registered voters. In Precinct 4, a much larger 19.5% of registered voters cast ballots.
- In P-4, 3.05% of voters registered at the polls on election day. That may seem like a small number, but it's almost twice the city-wide aaverage of 1.57%. In fact, almost a quarter of the newly registered voters in the entire city were in this precinct.
- City-wide, Cave received 63.4% of the total ballots cast. In Precinct 4, she received 73.8%.
- To put it another way, P-4 has 7.5% of the registered voters in Maplewood, but it gave Cave 14.3% of her total votes.
What is it about Precinct 4 that brought out the Cunnienistas for the special election? (She lives in a different precinct, if that was your first guess.) Well, here's one clue...
Precinct 4 (map from the MN Secretary of State website
, a 1 MB PDF), boundaries outlined in green:
The Gladstone development area (from Maplewood's website
), with its boundaries marked by a dotted line:
As you may recall, the triumvirate of Cave, Longrie and Hjelle campaigned hard on opposing development plans for Gladstone, and did their best to paint their opponents as wanting to destroy the savannah in Gladstone, sell off open space to developers, etc. -- charges their opponents strenuously denied (search for the campaign complaints against Hjelle
, for more background).
Sometimes it's hard to figure out what supporters
see in Longrie/Cave/Hjelle, in the face of all the facts. For some of them, the answer is Gladstone, and a fear of city hall bringing unwanted changes to their neighborhood. (In a Gladstone meeting
earlier this year, one Gladstone resident voiced her concern to make sure a development "attract the 'right type' of people" by being expensive enough, "so that all of us who are living here want to stay here.") As a wedge for low-turnout, non-partisan municipal elections, paired with a willingness to play fast and loose with facts about opponents, Gladstone has been a powerful and effective tool.
But if you ever feel like your
part of the city is being neglected while the council obssesses with getting yet more input from Gladstone residents and spending yet more of all our tax dollars on studies and plans (while delaying any actual implementation), you can now understand why. They're just dancin' with the one what brung 'em. The one thing that may sour their date is whenever they commit to a final plan of action. That risks alienating some of their base, who have been led along with vague promises of respecting their wishes all the way through the night. As long as the promises were vague, everyone could believe they would get what they want in the end; when you make real decisions and take action (you know, governing
as opposed to commenting from a cable access show), some people will get what they wanted and others won't.