History in the Making and Hints About 2022: What to Watch for This Election Day

It's not a presidential campaign year or the midterms, but political history will still be made in parts of the country

Buffalo mayor candidate India Walton and Boston mayor candidate Michelle Wu
India Walton (left) and Michelle Wu. Photo: Joshua Bessex/AP/Shutterstock; Allison Dinner/Getty

It's Election Day once again.

Though the country will have to wait one more year to see if the Democrats can hold onto their slim majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate and three years for the results of the next presidential race, there are consequential decisions and history-making moments unfolding inside the nation's polling places on Tuesday.

The outcome in a handful of competitive races will also provide plenty of tea leaves to read for those seeking insight into the more sweeping elections in 2022 and 2024.

Here's what to watch on Election Day 2021.

Major Races

All eyes are on Virginia. Old Dominion's race to elect a new governor is getting the most buzz because of what it might foretell for next year's midterms as well as how voters' are grading President Joe Biden since his term started in January and their feelings about former President Donald Trump, who has strongly hinted at another run for the White House.

Plus, the race is surprisingly close in a state that has increasingly trended blue. (Biden won by 10 points only a year ago.) Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, is fighting hard to beat Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin, which has some Democrats worried and pulling out all the stops to try and make sure the state maintains its blue streak.

Trump has been repeatedly invoked in the state, in different ways: McAuliffe has sought to tie Youngkin to the divisive former president, who is unpopular in Virginia; though Youngkin has tried to chart a different kind of conservative campaign that might appeal to the independent voters and suburbanites key to Republicans' possible midterm success.

Virginia Gov. candidates Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (left) and Glenn Youngkin. Win McNamee/Getty; Anna Moneymaker/Getty

The highest office in New Jersey is also up for grabs. Gov. Phil Murphy hopes to become the first Democrat to be re-elected in 40 years in a state that tends to vote for whichever party doesn't currently occupy the White House in its off-year gubernatorial races. That should give Republican Jack Ciattarelli some hope, though polls have him trailing the incumbent.

New York City should, at last, officially know who its new mayor will be on Tuesday night, months after the Democratic primary produced the presumptive winner with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

The city has an enormous Democratic voting base and Adams holds a huge polling lead.

He hopes to beat Republican Curtis Sliwa, who founded the subway patrol group the Guardian Angels. It's a heated race, The New York Times reports, with some last-minute mud slung by both candidates who disagree on issues like police funding, adding or removing bike lanes in the city and vaccine mandates. Adams called the Republican a "Mini-Me of Donald Trump" while Silwa called the Democrat "Bill de Blasio 2.0," referring to the incumbent mayor.

NYC mayor candidates Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa
Eric Adams (left) and Curtis Sliwa. Noam Galai/Getty; Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty

Making History

In New York state's second-biggest city, Buffalo, India Walton could become its first woman and first Black woman mayor. A registered nurse and activist, Walton made huge waves this summer when she defeated the 16-year incumbent Mayor Byron Brown. Walton, who has never held office, identifies as a democratic socialist and would become the first socialist to lead a major American city in half a century.

Walton's name will be the only one on the ballot but she's still got competition from Mayor Brown, who is running a write-in campaign, encouraging voters to "write down Brown" while also reportedly distributing $100,000 worth of rubber stamps to voters to minimize mistakes adding his name to ballots.

Back in Virginia, history will be made Tuesday in the commonwealth's election of its first woman lieutenant governor. Democrat Hala Ayala would also be the first Afro-Latina to hold the office while Republican Winsome Sears would be the first Black woman to take on the second most powerful political position in Virginia.

In Boston, voters will also elect a woman of color to lead the city after 200 years of white men mayors. City Councilors Michelle Wu, whose parents are Taiwanese immigrants, and Annissa Essaibi George, a first generation Arab Polish-American, are both hoping to make history.

Notable Ballot Initiatives

George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis by police office Derek Chauvin in 2020 sparked anger and grief, nationwide protests and intense debate over racial injustice in the U.S. It also fueled calls to "defund" or substantially reform policing — proposals that then sparked numerous ongoing debates. into national conversation.

On Tuesday, Minneapolis voters will decide whether to replace its police department with a new Department of Public Safety to focus on mental health, civilian well-being and social services.

Flowers and signs outside the location of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis, Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021.
George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis. Tim Evans/Bloomberg via Getty

Detroit voters will also consider racial justice on Election Day with one of the first ballot initiatives to address reparations to compensate Black Americans for the country's history of systemic racism, from slavery to segregation to unfair housing policies. Proposal R would create a city reparations committee "tasked with making recommendations for housing and economic development programs for Black Detroit residents."

Voters in Colorado will decide whether to raise taxes on legal marijuana sales and how to spend the additional revenue, depending on the success of two measures on the ballot. If passed, ordinance 300 would direct money to pandemic preparedness while a statewide measure dubbed LEAP (Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress) would fund private tutoring, training and other out-of-school educational programs for eligible students.

More Races to Watch

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms surprisingly decided not to run for re-election but there are 14 candidates on the ballot to replace her, including a previous mayor, Kasim Reed.

If none of the candidates more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, the top two will compete in a runoff scheduled for Nov. 30.

vito perillo
Tinton Falls, New Jersey, Mayor Vito Perillo. Vito Perillo Family

Meanwhile the politician thought to be the oldest mayor in America is up for reelection. Vito Perillo, 97, won his first ever election four years ago in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, and hopes to serve a second term, which would end when he's 101 years old.

Three other candidates are challenging him in Tuesday's race.

Former Major League Baseball player and iconic manager Bobby Valentine is running for mayor as an unaffiliated candidate in Stamford, Connecticut, where he's a hometown legend and owner of Bobby V's Restaurant & Sports Bar. Democratic state Rep. Caroline Simmons is also on the ballot and has racked up endorsements, including from former President Barack Obama.

Valentine's MLB history includes his management of the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. During the 12th inning of a 1999 Mets game, Valentine was ejected by an umpire for mouthing off but returned to the dugout in disguise with sunglasses and a fake mustache of eye black.

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