Local Elections and the Politics of Small-Scale Democracy

By J. Eric Oliver; Shang E. Ha et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Who Runs for Local Office?

As A STUDY IN CONTRASTS, it would be hard to find two politicians more dissimilar in personal and political style than Zenovia Evans and Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner. Evans is an African American woman and the former mayor of Riverdale, Illinois, a workingclass suburb on Chicago’s south side. In public, she carries herself with a serious demeanor, talking in a straightforward manner with little sarcasm or humor. She is fervently pro-growth and spent much of her political career trying to lure investment and development into her economically struggling community. Wagner, by contrast, is the epitome of southern California mellow. An irreverent and jocular city council member in affluent Malibu, California, Wagner was best known among locals as the owner of a popular surf shop and for being an explosives expert in Hollywood. His central interest in local politics was to limit growth and development in Malibu, particularly in regard to commercial real estate and new housing.

Given these differences, one might expect both Evans and Wagner to have radically different ideas about politics and governing. Yet, politically speaking, they are cut from the same cloth. They are both long-term residents of their communities who were engaged in various civic projects before running for public office. They are property holders who are deeply attached to the towns in which they live. And, most importantly, both share a strong sense of civic obligation to do something to improve the quality of their communities.

The examples of Evans and Wagner highlight a puzzle when it comes to explaining local elections: can we understand what drives vote choice based on the types of candidates who are running?

-87-

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