Mayors, Govs Top Election Calendar

Philadelphia Mayor John Street leaves a polling booth after casting his ballot in the city's mayoral elections, Nov. 4, 2003. Voters in Philadelphia were deciding whether to re-elect the 60-year-old Democrat, who has ridden a wave of public skepticism about a federal public corruption probe, or to replace him with Sam Katz, a Republican businessman he narrowly beat four years ago.
In one of dozens of mayoral races around the country Tuesday, voters in Philadelphia are deciding whether to re-elect Democratic Mayor John Street or install the businessman he narrowly beat four years ago.

Street's re-election campaign seemed lackluster until it was discovered a few weeks ago that his office had been bugged by the FBI. Then he opened up a lead over Republican Sam Katz, riding a wave of public skepticism about the federal corruption probe.

One voter, Catherine Burton, 70, said Tuesday morning that she voted for Street and approved of his record.

"He's helped the neighborhoods," she said. "He's building homes for people who never had them, for the young people who never had homes of their own. That means something, that means everything."

The off-year elections also featured gubernatorial contests in Kentucky and Mississippi, legislative races in three states, and a host of ballot items ranging from gambling issues to mass transit.

In Mississippi, President Bush stumped during the weekend for former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour, who was trying to unseat Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

Mr. Bush also campaigned in Kentucky for U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher, who was fighting with Democratic Attorney General Ben Chandler to become the successor to Gov. Paul Patton, a Democrat whose final term was roiled by an infidelity scandal.

Both races were being closely watched for signals that Mr. Bush will be either vulnerable or tough to beat in 2004. In Louisiana, voters go to the polls to select a new governor on Nov. 15 because GOP Gov. Mike Foster is term-limited.

Fletcher enjoyed an apparent lead in recent polls, while the Mississippi race was neck and neck. Dual victories by Republicans may tell of further erosion of Democratic power in the once "solid South."

Mississippi has not elected a Republican governor since 1991, but Musgrove downplayed party affiliation. Instead, he has called himself independent and conservative and criticized Barbour, an influential GOP lobbyist, for being too cozy with Washington special interest groups.

Voter turnout appeared to be heavy around Mississippi with lines reported after the polls opened.

"In our county it seems like it's wonderful, lines everywhere," said Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn. "I hope beyond all hope that when the day ends, we will have had a turnout like we haven't had in years."

Federal authorities in Philadelphia have refused to say what the probe in that city is about, but for a month voters have read about agents seizing files related to city contracts, raids on the offices of two Street supporters and the seizure of three handheld computers the mayor uses for e-mail.

Rather than doom Street's campaign, the news seemed to give it new life. He has climbed steadily in the polls since Oct. 7, when police discovered the listening devices during a routine security sweep at City Hall.

In a city where Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans, Street made anti-Bush rhetoric a staple of both his campaign and his public defense against the FBI.

Democrats rallied around him, claiming the investigation was an attempt by the Bush administration to disrupt the election. Black leaders also claimed that the FBI unfairly targeted Street because of his race; he is Philadelphia's second black mayor.

Meanwhile, his opponent, Katz, has had to deal with harassment by union activists, an incident in which a person tossed what appeared to be an unlit firebomb into a campaign office, and a former employee's claim that the candidate embezzled money from a private business venture.

Katz campaigned on promises to cut city taxes and end cronyism at City Hall.

He waited in line for about a half-hour to cast his ballot, and said running for mayor had fulfilled a lifelong dream. "You find out about your character. You find out about your ability to think," Katz told KYW-AM.

The race is a rematch of 1999, when Street beat Katz by fewer than 10,000 votes out of more than 430,000 cast. That fight was resolved on racial lines, when all but a few of the city's black neighborhoods voted for Street, while nearly all its white neighborhoods voted for Katz.

In other campaigns around the country, two millionaire Democrats were the leading candidates to replace mayors retiring because of term-limits in Houston and San Francisco.

Bill White, a former Clinton administration deputy energy secretary who spent $2.2 million of his own money on his campaign, was leading a field of nine to replace Houston Mayor Lee Brown.

Gavin Newsom, whose proposals to cut cash subsidies to the homeless and get panhandlers off the streets were surprise hits in famously liberal San Francisco, was the favorite to replace Mayor Willie Brown. He would face a runoff election if he were unable to win a majority of the votes in a crowded field.

San Francisco voters also must decide whether the city becomes only the third in the nation to set its own minimum wage. The proposition would impose an $8.50-per-hour minimum wage on all employers.

In New Jersey, legislative elections were determining whether either of the two major parties can gain the upper hand in an evenly split state Senate.

Voters in Maine, Indiana and Colorado tackled referendums on gambling, while the cities of Houston, Tucson, Ariz., and Kansas City, Mo., voted on proposals to expand mass transit.

Two cities considered changes in the way they pick their mayors.

In Richmond, Va., former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder backed a referendum that would have the mayor elected, rather than appointed by the city council. New York voters considered a proposal, backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to make mayoral elections nonpartisan.