After winning last Tuesday's election, incumbent mayor George Heartwell (a.k.a. Big Sister) declared that the voters of Grand Rapids have given him a "mandate" to serve for another four years. A mandate? Hmm. As I understand the word, a mandate is not merely a victory but an overwhelming vote of confidence that demonstrates public unity behind the victor's agenda. Good examples are LBJ's rout of Goldwater in '64 and Reagan mopping the floor with Mondale in '84. Even then, even with taking 60% of the vote from broad segments of society, a mandate can be fleeting. Think Nixon, who departed office in disgrace less than two years after trouncing McGovern in '72.
So what is the historically extraordinary basis for Heartwell claiming a mandate? Well, by a slim 149-vote margin he squeaked out a majority to win the mayor's office. That's 12,167 votes out of total of 24,036 cast in the mayoral race -- or 50.6%. Hardly a crushing victory. In fact, Heartwell didn't even win a majority among all of the Grand Rapids voters who went to the polls last Tuesday. He got 49.9% of that number. (A few hundred G.R. voters didn't select a candidate in the mayoral race, so by state law they are not included the vote total the city clerk uses to determine what constitutes a majority in the election.) Probably the statistic that makes Heartwell's claim of a mandate most dubious is that of the approximately 135,500 registered voters in the City of Grand Rapids, NINETY PERCENT did not vote for Hizzoner.
Getting only twelve thousand out of 135,500 possible votes does not strike me as a mandate. But, hey, do we really need to be such sticklers about the meaning of the words that George Heartwell uses? We've learned from him that "sacrifice", as in "I will sacrifice my office if I must to defend the principles I hold most dear", actually means quietly abandoning those principles if that's what it takes to cling to office. We've also learned that "accountability to the public" means accountability to Peter Secchia and the other bigshots in town while keeping everyone else in the dark, a la the Mystery Development fiasco. Then we learned that a "prohibition", as in a city-wide cigarette smoking ban Heartwell imposed upon local businesses, means a voluntary commitment to self-enforce his public health agenda.
So, you see, "mandate" is just a doubleplusgoodthink way for Big Sister to say, "I may have won by the skin of my teeth, but why should that stop me from ignoring the ninety percent of the voters who didn't support me?" Of course, we just might say his "mandate" is a fine example of Orwellian doublethink.