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Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 05:03 pm

Who wants to run for mayor?

Candidates start to line up. But why?

If nothing else, Mayor Mike Houston knows his history.

While most potential candidates for the mayor’s post, up for election in 2015, strike out when asked the name of the last Springfield mayor who won more than two consecutive terms, Houston answers instantly.

“Buddy Kapp,” hizzoner says. “His nickname was Buddy.”

Not only does Houston know that John W. Kapp, Jr. won four terms, serving from 1931 until 1947, the mayor also knows that Kapp ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state.

No Springfield mayor in memory has gone on to higher office, and that includes Houston, who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 1986, during his second term, then lost a bid for a third stint in the mayor’s office two years later.

So why would anyone want to be mayor, a job that, historically, is a political dead end and nigh impossible to keep for more than eight years?

“I like city government because you can make a difference in people’s lives,” explains city treasurer Jim Langfelder, who is barred by term limits from seeking a fourth term as treasurer and is now interested in running for mayor. “Everybody in the council chambers – everybody around that horseshoe – would like to visualize themselves in that seat.”

Five is the magic number in the 2015 mayoral race. If four candidates file, there will be no primary, just a four-way general election. If five or more candidates file, there will be a primary election to winnow the field to two.

“A field of four versus a field of five changes everything,” says Sangamon County clerk Joe Aiello, who doesn’t have a dog in the fight and is betting there will be at least five candidates in the primary.

A two-candidate general election could strengthen the power of parties that once had enough clout to decide which candidates would run. That power was in wane in 2011, when candidates distanced themselves from the Republican Party and there were four names on the general election ballot. As Aiello notes, no candidate wants to be one of three Republicans or three Democrats in a four-way race that could go to the politician who doesn’t have to split votes with members of his own party.

And so, perhaps not surprisingly, the early field in the contest for mayor is a crowded one, with at least four Republicans acknowledging interest. Langfelder and Sheila Stocks-Smith, who ran against Houston in 2011 and got 21 percent of the vote, are the only Democrats whose names have been floated.

Aiello, whose office runs elections, suspects more names will surface.

“There’s always that unknown candidate,” Aiello says. “Nobody knew that Tim Davlin was going to run for mayor until the last minute.”

At least one potential Republican candidate, Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards, says he’s out, at least for now. Edwards says that he needs to lose weight and pay attention to his health, which would be tough on the campaign trail. But he also acknowledges growing weary with city government and what he sees as an unwillingness by elected leaders to tackle tough issues that can’t be tackled by any one person.

“I never say never,” Edwards said. “You can’t get out there and do things by yourself. You’ve got to have support.”

Edwards says he believes that Houston is unelectable, and some insiders privately say the same thing owing to the way the mayor has handled, or mishandled, shredding of police internal affairs files. Footage of him slamming a door in the face of reporters who were trying to ask questions about the shredding may well make for a damning campaign ad.

But Sangamon County auditor Paul Palazzolo, who acknowledges an interest in the mayor’s race, defends Houston, drawing parallels between the incumbent and former Illinois Gov. Richard Ogilvie, who was voted out of office in 1972 after successfully pushing to institute a state income tax. Ogilvie is now considered one of the state’s more progressive governors.

“Much like Gov. Ogilvie, Mike Houston has made tough decisions fiscally that are necessary for the soundness of city government,” Palazzolo, a Republican, said.

Like other potential candidates, Palazzolo said that he has not made a final decision on whether to run. Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe, also a Republican, has taken the most concrete steps toward the mayoral ballot, forming an exploratory committee and raising money – a recent fundraiser reportedly pushed his campaign chest to six figures.

Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson who had expressed some interest, has indicated he’ll pass. He says the allure is great, even though it has proven a tough office to keep and the coda to political careers.

“I know there are people out there who would cut off their right arm to be mayor,” Williamson said. “I think it’s tradition. You’re the mayor of a capital city of a major state, the home of Abraham Lincoln. Just the thought of being hizzoner or her-honor is a big feather in the cap.”  

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.
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