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The Blue Wall

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Throughout the contentious 2019 mayoral race between Democrat Steve Patterson and Independent, self-described socialist Damon Krane, Krane claimed that by running, he was bringing competition to a local political landscape stifled by uncompetitive elections. 

Democrats have dominated Athens’ city government over the past 20 years of city elections. The blue wall that kept out the numerous Independent challengers in 2019 shows this trend has no signs of abating anytime soon.

Only 10 Democratic primaries have been competitive in the past two decades: One for city law director, four for City Council ward seats and five for City Council at-large seats. Four of these primaries were held in 2007.

The last Republican to win an elected office in the city’s government was Republican Gary Hunter, who ran unopposed for city law director in 2003, though he lost that seat by a 30-point margin to a Democrat in 2007. 

Republicans have also not been elected to City Council since 2003. At-large Councilmember Edward Baum edged out Independent candidate Paul Wiehl by only 15 votes; Gary Van Meter won his Fourth Ward seat unopposed. Baum lost the reelection to his seat in 2005, and Van Meter chose not to run, cementing a Democratic stronghold on the council that would not be broken until 2015, when Independent Patrick McGee won an at-large seat. McGee lost his seat in 2019, heralding a return of the Democratic hegemony. 

Of the five mayoral elections held between 2000 and 2020, only three had challengers. One of those challengers — Republican Councilmember Baum, who also ran as an Independent in 2007 — came within 30 percentage points of the Democratic victor. 

In that race, then-president of the Ohio University College Democrats, Rob Dorans, challenged Baum’s registration as an Independent, insisting that he should have to run as a Republican because of his affiliation with the party as a councilmember. 

The City Council presidency has been the safest seat in Athens’ city government. When Democrat Bill Bias defeated Republican Ellsworth Holden by seven points in 2001, the seat appeared competitive. But since that election, not a single candidate has challenged the Democratic nominee in a general election. 

In total, only 21 general election races have been competitive since 2001, and of those, 14 were in or before 2007. Ten of those races were for at-large City Council seats, one was a City Council president race, two were for law director, three for mayor and the remaining six for City Council ward seats. In no election since 2003 has more than one ward seat been competitive in a general election cycle.

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