While Kezer was able to accomplish many things as mayor, he was never able to shake the perception that he was too loose with the city’s purse strings, a perception that was consistently reinforced by the city’s stubbornly high tax rate.
Over time, the tax rate became Kezer’s bugaboo, and his unwillingness to acknowledge the public’s dissatisfaction with it ultimately proved to be his downfall.
Last year, when the city’s tax rate jumped by $1.11 to top the $20 threshold for the first time in decades, public frustration reached a boiling point. Many demanded that the city’s free cash — or leftover tax money from the previous year — be used to drive down the tax rate and reduce the burden on taxpayers.
Kezer refused, declaring that “tax rates don’t matter, tax bills do.” His outright dismissal of the public’s frustration infuriated many, and ultimately prompted Gray and his supporters to step forward and challenge him in the election.
For his part, Kezer knew the stance would probably cost him politically, but he defended his decision to stand firm by emphasizing that by maintaining strong reserves, the city would be better off financially in the long run. He highlighted the city’s recent two-step bond rating increase — and the resulting long-term savings on borrowing — as a validation of that decision.
“I knew it at the time, that this was going to hurt,” Kezer said. “It hurt me politically, but I was willing to make that choice because it’s more about the long-term fundamental structure working well than the short-term popularity. I have no regrets standing my ground on that and paying the price.”
Kezer remains similarly confident in the rest of the decisions he made over the past eight years as well. When asked if there were any things he wished could have gone differently during his time in office, he struggled to come up with any specific examples.