Certain groups of people would rather not associate with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bodega owners who don’t want to hide their cigarettes from view; movie-theater proprietors who like to charge an arm and a leg for enormous sodas; and, apparently, all the mayors in Alaska, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
Since 2006, when Bloomberg birthed the idea for the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition out of New York's Gracie Mansion, the group has actively sought out new members to help fight gun violence. It made news this past week when it announced a $12 million ad campaign to push gun-control efforts and to target senators who are wavering on the issue. To date, nearly 1,000 mayors from across the country have signed the coalition's statement of principles, but those five states remain holdouts.
“There are a couple of factors,” Mark Glaze, the coalition’s director, said in an interview. “First, it’s [that] there are just more mayors in a couple states than others. But, of course, ideology plays a role. In Western states there is a higher percentage of gun ownership and lower percentage of gun crime, so it can be a tougher sell.”
But if the coalition is trying to get membership from all 50 states, there is still hope. Glaze notes that already about 100 Republican mayors have signed on, and that plenty of rural Republican states are represented. For states like Utah, Idaho, West Virginia, and North Dakota, one is better than none.
“I think there is a real fear of being associated with it, and that you might be thrown out of office if you sign up,” said Dana Williams, the only mayor in the entire state of Utah to join. “Even if it’s illegal weapons, it’s such a political hot potato, plenty of people would rather not participate in the discussion.”
Williams, a guitar-playing California transplant, is the mayor of Park City, known as the home of the Sundance Film Festival and the most liberal city in the state. It’s definitely an outlier. And while many of his constituents are on board, the life of an outlier mayor does not come without harassment. He sent National Journal a number of e-mails to prove this point. Here’s one:
The fact that YOU are the only Mayor in Utah on this anti-gun list makes me sick! Are you taking money from Bloomberg? Do your finances need to be investigated? Do the people in ParkCity know you support this DICTATOR? Get OFF his list and prove you are a Patriot for the Constitution!
For Mayor Nancy Chaney, the one mayor from Idaho on board, all the nasty e-mails in the world can’t make her regret signing up last winter. And yet, the decision to sign up was not an easy one for Chaney, whose town of Moscow is home to the University of Idaho.
Her city is one of the most liberal in the state, but it is still part of northern Idaho. For geographical context, her hometown is just two hours south of the proposed site of The Citadel, a planned community for survivalists with plans for its own automatic-gun factory.
In 2007, shortly after Chaney took office, the mayors coalition approached her about joining up. She declined, telling them she felt like a more credible mayor of a north Idaho community without adding her name to the list.
But during her tenure, Chaney has witnessed enough gun violence in her sleepy little town to change her mind. In 2007, a sniper killed three victims and himself, and in 2011 a university professor shot one of his grad students (who was also a former lover) 11 times.
“Those things shouldn’t happen in communities like this,” Chaney said. “I decided it was important to articulate my stance on this…. And a person who has access to lethal force ought not to win every argument.”