Alanna Tuller | Archive Addict
Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012 08:10
While watching the most recent Presidential debate in an auditorium full of my fellow Jumbos, it warmed my heart to see others so engaged in the election. I began to wonder, though, if the typical Tufts student has always taken such an interest in politics. In my weekly raid of the Archives I uncovered the Tufts Mayoralty Campaigns, certainly one of the more unique forms of political expression in Tufts’ past.
It all began with a 1937 letter to the editor of the Tufts Weekly, in which a student opined, “there is one thing sadly lacking in our college campus life. Ladies and gentlemen, I suggest to you the idea of a college mayoralty campaign.” The hope was that a Tufts Mayor — and an especially wacky campaign process — would inspire greater school spirit in the years following the Great Depression.
However, these campaigns were not without some of the problems we see in politics today. In a rather sarcastic description of his expectations for the campaign, the letter writer predicted that “We [will] listen to candidates making speeches full of outlandish promises” and speculated that “the candidate with the loudest voice will win,” bringing to mind images of Romney and Obama positively steamrolling poor Jim Lehrer.
And, just like today, voter turnout was an issue as well. One Tufts Mayoralty Campaign worker threatened, “We’re going to get a 100% vote in this election if I have to carry a ballot box around with me.” The similarities stop here, though, because the campaigns also had their unusual aspects.
Rather than the attack ads, emails and convention speeches that comprise a modern campaign, Tufts mayoral candidates were expected to engage in quasi-guerilla stumping. As the Weekly dramatically described, it was the norm for would-be mayors to make “impromptu speeches” which took place at an undisclosed location “as soon as the cover of darkness descends.” Zany costumes and performances were also encouraged and one journalist reported that to say the campaigns “are a howl is stating it mildly.”
Candidates’ platforms tended to be a bit odd as well. Donald Simmons, the first Tufts mayor, ran on a platform whose sole concern was establishing “a regime of Jazznocracy.” The record also tells us that during his campaign he replaced speechmaking with a swing band which played the day’s greatest hits for his voters.
In spite of the general absurdity of a music-based platform, true social progress was accomplished by the Mayoralty Campaigns — well, almost. I was thrilled to read about the first female candidate for mayor, one Pat Deeley, who ran for office in 1946. I was less thrilled however, by her campaign slogan, “[T]he way to a man’s vote is through his stomach — and his heart” and by her promise “to feed her Tufts supporters and to reward each vote with a date.” Suffice it to say Deeley’s campaign wasn’t shy about exploiting gender stereotypes for a couple of votes.
Yet just two short decades after its initial inception the mayor of Tufts had become nothing more than a figurehead. I suppose it was only a matter of time, though, because at their core Mayoralty Campaigns were nothing more than a popularity contest. By 1959, the tradition was officially defunct and, despite a brief revival for the 1966-67 school year, Tufts has been mayor-less ever since.
Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly looking forward to the rest of election season and I plan to watch Obama and Romney duke it out for the prize of presidency over the next few weeks. But just for a break from the monotony of the election I think we would all benefit if a zany Mayoralty Campaign were to rise from the ashes of forgotten campus politics.
Alanna Tuller is a senior majoring in English. She can be reached at Alanna.Tuller@tufts.edu.