Politics sans perks: The America where no one wants to be mayor

A little politics lite this Tuesday morning in the wake of the news but still in advance of an announcement from state Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry that he’s dropping out of the governor’s race; a reminder as we speculate about how his supporters will make up with Scott McInnis and as we wonder whether Tom Tancredo will run in Penry’s place– that the election, of course, is still a year away.

It’s not like this everywhere.

Take Mayor Mike Cormack, of Massena, Iowa. Per last Tuesday’s election results, he will serve another term—despite his best efforts to the contrary:

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“I didn’t put my name on the ballot. I didn’t put a sign up; I didn’t ask anybody for their vote,” said Massena Mayor Mike Cormack with a laugh. “So be it.”

Cormack went to great lengths to let people know he didn’t have time to serve another term as mayor, even writing a letter to the local paper, giving citizens advance notice of his intentions to step down.

But, as the election grew near, people contacted him — worried about the prospect of not having a mayor. Cormack, elected two years ago when nobody ran for the office, told people to go ahead and write him in.

It’s a problem in rural areas across the country, wrote the L.A. Times just prior to last Tuesday’s election. Running a small town, apparently, isn’t what it used to be:

Experts say that running a small town has grown enormously more complex over the years, and that it is hard to find residents who are willing and able to make difficult choices, particularly during times of shrinking budgets.

And apparently, as Cormack is learning, it can be a hard job to give up:

It was November 1987 when the residents of McClelland, Iowa, (pop. 125) first decided to make Emmett Dofner their mayor by writing his name on the blank ballots.

Part amused and part confused, Dofner agreed to the job—which turned out to be far more than just showing up for meetings.

He helped mow the town park in the summer and cleared streets of snow in the winter. Then there were the continual phone calls and complaints about barking dogs, loud neighbors, burning leaves and overflowing garbage cans.

“They’d call and say, ‘So-and-so’s dog is in my yard.’ I’d tell them, ‘Well, shoot it.”

Twelve years later, the town keeps writing him in–and Dofner keeps accepting.

“I can’t say no. I can’t leave my community in a lurch,” Dofner said. “It’s just not right. A town needs a mayor.”

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Katie Redding

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