OMENA — Omena’s mayoral race this month named a new top dog — er, cat.
Sweet Tart McKee, a 9-year-old long-haired feline and former Omena city councillor, clawed her way to victory against a wide candidate pool of 13 dogs, another cat, one chicken, one goat and a peacock.
Her three-year mayoral term began July 21.
“She’s very suited for office,” said owner Kanda McKee. “She surveys her surroundings and thinks carefully before making a decision. Though sometimes, she might go off and take a nap instead.”
Sweet Tart’s duties include attending local events and presiding over city council meetings, said Omena Historical Society President Keith Disselkoen. The council consists of the race’s runners up, including vice mayors — and dogs — Diablo Shapiro and Punkin Anderson-Harden.
Fluffy, turquoise-eyed Sweet Tart’s victory was a close one. Her inauguration makes her Omena’s fourth mayor and the first feline to win the race.
“We’re expecting some new dynamics with a cat at the helm,” Disselkoen said. “But she’s been on the city council for two or three terms, so that helps in creating a stable base of support and expectations of competence.”
Sweet Tart, named for local cherry varieties, also served as vice mayor of Omena from 2015 to 2018.
The cat trended near the top throughout a nine-day voting period, which opened online ballots to animal-lovers across the world. Sweet Tart only hit first place on the final day of voting, narrowly defeating now-first vice mayor Diablo.
Each $1 vote went to the Omena Historical Society’s endowment fund, and people were encouraged to vote early and often. The society announces the election winner at the end of a festive grand parade through town after voting wraps.
Voter turnout broke records this year, Disselkoen said — the 7,002 ballots entered more than doubled 2015 numbers.
“The society has really benefited from the exposure — there’s a lot of enthusiasm for our programming,” he said.
“Having it online made things easy,” added Sally Shapiro, historical society board member and Diablo’s owner. “People were telling friends, family to vote.”
Along with running a museum at the center of town, the historical society hosts an annual lecture series and publishes “Timelines,” a history magazine. Several Omena structures grace the National Register of Historic Places.
The mayoral election runs every three years and is a major fundraiser for the organization.
“It started as just a fun, unique way to raise money,” Shapiro said. “It was something different.”
The races caught on.
“People really look forward to them,” Disselkoen said. “(The mayor) is a community leader and mascot.”
Candidates must be at least part-time Omena residents to qualify for the ballot. Joining Sweet Tart, Diablo and Punkin are new press secretary and goat Harley Jones, and chicken Penny Labriola, special assistant for fowl issues.
Disselkoen said the most votes came from Leelanau County residents.
“It’s very much a local affair,” he said. “The community really comes out.”
That’s thanks to heavy campaigning. The election ramps up about a year out, and hopeful dogs, cats and goats canvass through door-to-door visits and craft political advertisements to draw support. A board in downtown Omena publishes each day’s leaderboard during voting.
Since the vote, Sweet Tart’s victory went viral, and Disselkoen and McKee are overjoyed to see dozens of publications profiling the new mayor. They hope it means even more support for the 2021 election.
Sweet Tart makes her next public appearance at the Aug. 12 meeting of the Omena Historical Society. Vice mayors Diablo and Punkin will also attend.
Shapiro says the meetings will stay professional, despite the occasional cat-and-dog infighting.
“Diablo’s not a predator of elected officials,” she said. “Or cats.”
Sweet Tart is taking well to her new responsibilities, and McKee says the cat has embraced her leadership role, proudly sporting a tiara around the house.
“We think she knows — she’s been demanding more brushings,” McKee said. “It’s like she thinks she deserves it.”