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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A big night for reformers

Posted By on Tue, May 19, 2009 at 10:13 PM

My early takeaway from tonight's election: a big night for reformers, and a huge setback for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Yeah, he beat Dowd -- handily. But this comes as no surprise, and in any case, the mayor will be looking at a much different council a year from now. Which is about all one could have hoped for. 

In the biggest surprise (to me) of the night, Ravenstahl has lost one of his most reliable votes on council: Tonya Payne in District 6. Don't be surprised if she's seen knitting a scarf with Sala Udin's face on it in the months ahead. Meanwhile, in District 4, Ravenstahl lost a chance to replace another reliable vote, departing councilor Jim Motznik, with ally Anthony Coghill.

The winner in that race was Natalia Rudiak, who ran a hell of a smart race -- and whose rivals ran incredibly dumb ones. This was the race I was most interested in, in part because from the outset, it seemed possible that Rudiak would benefit from Coghill and Patrick Reilly splitting the old-guard vote between them. What no one could have anticipated, though, was that the two Dems would end up bickering over the Democratic Party endorsement -- a fiasco that couldn't have gone any better for Rudiak if she'd scripted it. What she did script was a smart ground game and a great message. The best-run campaign of 2009, in my book.

Of coure, it wasn't all good news. For some bloggers, the big disappointment will be that Theresa Smith absolutely trounced Georgia Blotzer in District 2. This outcome is hardly surprising, but honestly, some of the attacks on Smith have struck me as kinda desperate and over the top, especially given Smith's short stint on council. I'm not sure she's the automaton that some have made her out to be. Maybe I'll be proven wrong, of course -- won't be the first time. But in any case, tonight's results suggest that Ravenstahl's coattails aren't as long as the mayor might have hoped. I'm sure Smith will be thinking about that in the days ahead. 

What are the lessons here? I think they're pretty simple, honestly. One doesn't need to buy into any sweeping theory of millenial change, necessarily. Candidates who are out of touch with their districts (Payne) lose. The power of the "Democratic machine" has proven to be overstated (again). So, to a lesser extent, has the power of the blogosphere ... though probably its time is coming.

Another bonus win is Sharene Shealey in school board district 1. This is the one campaign I most wish I'd spent more time following. Shealey's personal story is compelling, she's smart and knowledgeable ... and more than anyone else in this whole contest, she re-created that Obama coalition of black voters and progressive Democrats (I know lots of folks in the 14th Ward loved her). In this race, and a couple of others, tonight's results promise to be something progressives can build on.

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