UPDATED: 8:54 a.m. ET, April 7, 2021
There is an often-quoted saying, “All politics is local.” But despite having a direct impact on some of the most important decisions in people’s daily lives, local elections tend to have a lower turnout than presidential and midterm elections.
Voters in several states—including Mississippi, Missouri, and Wisconsin decided on new leaders, local initiatives, and taxes during elections which took place on Tuesday, April 6.
Local elections occur every year in various jurisdictions across the country. Still, they are often relegated to second-tier status among elections with a lot of money, time, and attention focusing on national races.
Odd election years are generally referenced as an “off-cycle,” suggesting a break from political activity, which could not be further from the truth.
Those positioning the 2020 election to save democracy need to keep that same energy for local elections. Congress is important, but state and local officials have the ability to decide on matters directly impacting individual health, safety, and personal well-being. The local government levels are in many ways building blocks of democracy, and people’s ability to enjoy a basic quality of life and personal enjoyment often starts there.
With the 2021 municipal cycle underway, there are some opportunities for historic candidates to break barriers and shift leadership into the 21st century. Community-led news organizations like North Omaha Information Support Everyone (NOISE) in Omaha, NE help lead candidate forums for potential voters to learn more about the process.
Creating entry points to increased participation in local elections is a process that starts with stakeholders recognizing the importance and value of acting locally. Black voters and their interests are on the ballot across the country. Here are some of the races and key wins from Tuesday’s race:
St. Louis, MO
On Tuesday City Treasurer Tishaura Jones made history when she was elected as the city’s next mayor, making her the first Black woman to win the seat. In November, former Mayor Lyda Krewson announced she would not seek a second term.
Jones faced off with 20th ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer, both representing a shift in representation and politics. Jones gained national attention after she narrowly lost the mayoral race in 2017. Since that time she continued toto develop a national network of support in addition to her St. Louis Coalition.
Unofficial results concludes that Jones secured about 52 percent of the vote, while Spencer captured about 48 percent.
“It’s time for St. Louis to thrive,” Jones told a cheering crowd of supporters Tuesday night at the Omega Center in north St. Louis. “It’s time to bring a breath of fresh air to our neighborhoods.”
St. Louis voters also elected five new members to the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday. Four challengers won over incumbents, while the remaining 11 representatives were reelected.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba won Tuesday’s Democratic primary and will now move on to face Republican Jason Wells and three Independent challengers in the June 8 primary. City council races were also on the ballot, with contested races in six out of seven wards.
A progressive favorite, Lumumba, spoke recently with Politico about the challenges of bringing his vision of equity to life.
Several other municipal races are taking place in Mississippi, including in Vicksburg, where Warren County Supervisor for District 3 Shawn Jackson ran against Troy Kimble for Vicksburg Mayor. The two Democrats will face each other again in a runoff on April 27.
The winner of the primary will go on to the general election in June to face off against two independent candidates, including the current mayor, George Flaggs Jr. Flaggs was first elected in 2013.
Also, in Moss Point, Mississippi, State Rep. Jeramey Anderson and Billy Knight, two Democrats, will head to a runoff on April 27. The winner of that race will go on to face Independent Howard Bailey and Republican Richard McBride on June 8th.
Jasmine Harris and Kimara Snipes are two Black women among the five candidates on the ballot for mayor who faced off against Mayor Jean Stothert, a Republican. Results are still being tallied with Democrat candidates Harris and Snipes lagging behind with 11 and 8 percent of the vote, respectively. The general election is slated for May 11.
Harris and Snipes called for leadership reflective of the community and in tune with the changing needs of a 21st century Omaha. Snipes is a current member of the Omaha Public School Board and the only challenger with elected experiences. Harris has a deep history in community activism, public health, and criminal justice. Both women are committed to a holistic approach to public safety, recognizing the value of an equitable investment in affordable housing and transportation.
Omaha has gained particular interest as one of the few major cities with a Republican mayor. And in the 2020 election, the district containing Omaha went for Biden over Trump, leading some hopefuls to wonder if the city can indeed flip.
Madison & Milwaukee, WI
Several seats were up for consideration in Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Madison voters selected members for the common council and answered four referendum questions about the size of the common council, amount of compensation, length of terms, and term limits. Several Black candidates were up for consideration in the Madison Common Council election.
Milwaukee County voters will have the opportunity also selected a new county circuit court judge with the election of Katie Kegel. Endorsed by Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC), Kegel is viewed as a progressive voice on criminal justice issues. BLOC is a civic engagement organization rooted in the community in Milwaukee, taking on everything from pandemic mutual aid to voter engagement. Kegel, 35, beat out challenger Susan Roth for the open seat, earning about 60 percent of the vote.
BLOC also endorsed Jilly Gokalgandh, who won the Milwaukee School District election for District 5. Two Black women, Aisha Carr and Dana Kelley, ran against each other in a competitive race for the District 4 seat. Carr secured the seat during Tuesday’s election.
Voters statewide also selected a new superintendent for public instruction.