Systematic versus Idiosyncratic Factors
in Local Elections
IF ANYONE THINKS local government is without drama, they should just talk to Richard Cohen, mayor of Agawam, Massachusetts. For years, he had served as mayor of this rural community of about 30,000 residents that is most famous for being the home of the Six Flags of New England amusement park. Given that he had been reelected three times by large margins, it would appear most of his constituents were happy with the job he had been doing. Then came the issue of the parking lot. For years, a number of businesses that were near the amusement park had offered parking spaces for visitors at rates far below the $30 that Six Flags charged its customers. Concerned with this lost revenue opportunity, Mark Shapiro, president and CEO of Six Flags, personally lobbied Cohen and the town council to change the town code so that it would be illegal for nearby businesses to charge for parking to Six Flags customers. Citing “safety concerns,” the mayor and town agreed, and soon the town began issuing fines to local businesses who opened their lots for Six Flags customers.
As one might expect, the new law generated a huge outcry among the local business owners who were affected by the ban. Not only did they argue that the parking revenue compensated for business that was lost during the summer months because of the congestion generated by Six Flags, they noted that in the twenty years they had been offering parking, not a single safety incident had occurred. Arguing that the law was simply an example of a large corporation trying to squeeze out local business, they made an effective case to the town council who reversed itself and lifted the local parking ban. This, however, was not enough to satisfy Michael Palazzi, an owner of a nearby storage facility who had