The Mayor Runs for Re-Election is the twenty-third episode of the third season.
Municipal elections are underway in the town of Shining Time where current mayor Osgood Bob Flopdinger is seeking another term. Inside the station, Kara and Becky watch as Midge Smoot leaves in a huff after unsuccessfully trying to persuade Stacy to vote for Flopdinger regardless of his election platform. Mr. Conductor appears as Becky asks Stacy if Midge is not longer welcome at the station because of their argument. Stacy maintains that they are still friends despite disagreeing about the mayor, with both agreeing that voting is important. Mr. Conductor wishes that he knew more about the mayor's mysterious opponent, with Stacy noting that she's seen his photo and that he seems very familiar. Becky feels that they should vote for the mayor because he's always been nice to them. Although agreeing with her, Stacy feels that he's making a big mistake by not talking about the town's issues or listening to people's complaints. Mr. Conductor adds that it's hard to admit making a mistake, which leads him to tell the story about what James the Red Engine learned from his experience with the coaches. Stacy wishes afterwards that the mayor had heard the story so that he'd learn from his mistakes the way James did, which would make her proud.
The sound of screeching car brakes announces Mayor Flopdinger's arrival. He enters the station followed by Indian Valley Gazette reporter Ted Typo. The mayor is about to make a speech but notices there aren't many citizens present, so he recruits Schemer and "future voters" Becky and Kara to be his audience. He's flabbergasted when he's told he's in last place.
As everyone leaves, Schemer approaches the mayor to bluntly tell him that he's a loser. The Mayor is upset at the suggestion and asks if that means he'll lose the election. Schemer informs him that he most definitely will lose. Schemer confides that people don't care for his hair, his clothes, or the way he walks and talks. Schemer convinces if he wants to win, he'll need a campaign manager to give him a new look and imagine using Schemer's System of Success. In exchange for his help, he asks the mayor to appoint him "Secretary of Money" if he wins the election. Because he is desperate to win, the mayor reluctantly agrees. Inside the jukebox, Didi voices her disbelief that Schemer can get the mayor re-elected, while Tito questions the mayor's competence if he chooses to hire Schemer.
Later, Schemer is in full campaign mode as he oversees Kara and Becky organizing campaign hats, buttons, stickers and posters for Mayor Flopdinger. The mayor arrives in a tattered suit complaining that the clothes Schemer had given him to wear are too small and is making him look ridiculous. Schemer boasts claiming people are guaranteed to give him their vote. Schemer then cons a nickel from the mayor to play their new campaign song on the jukebox. Inside the jukebox, Didi complains how she hates how Schemer rewrote the song, but Red and Tex insist that they must play it as "a job's a job" and "a song's a song," with Tito adding that "a nickel's a nickel." The band plays a version of "Hurray for the Railway" with a few modified verses about Mayor Flopdinger and Schemer inserted throughout.
Midge Smoot and Ted Typo arrive and they are amazed by, as Schemer puts it, the new and improved Mayor Flopdinger. Typo asks why the Mayor intends to do about the town's garbage problem. As the Mayor fumbles for an answer, Schemer removes the mayor's hat and points out his new curl as the look of today's politician, a symbol of trustworthiness and decisiveness that says "vote for me." Typo points out voters don't care what he looks like; they'll vote for what he stands for.
Just then, a man bearing a very striking resemblance to former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon enters the station with an entourage of curious townsfolk. He's carrying as a podium and flashes a familiar victory sign. After making an opening greeting to the small crowd that has gathered, he mentions that some of the enemies have asked why he's running for Mayor of Shining Time. Without elaborating, the man abruptly ends his speech by thanking everyone, and proclaims that he's off to city hall.
Schemer challenges the man, who's named Richhouse, to meet the real mayor of Shining Time, the honorable Osgood Bob Flopdinger, and the two men eye one another as they exchange a handshake. Schemer notices Typo making notes so he tries to bait Richhouse by calling him a newcomer who doesn't know anything about the town. Richhouse retorts that he knows more than Mayor Flopdinger and physically accosts Schemer when he begins arguing back. Typo interrupts the shouting match to suggest that this be settled through a live televised debate moderated by the kids under the title "Meet the Kids." Mayor Flopdinger thinks letting the kids ask the questions is a brilliant idea and whispers to Schemer that it will make the debate easier to win. Schemer agrees and taunts Richhouse by feigning a handshake, telling him that he'll see him at the debate, and Richhouse leaves scowling.
Later in the waiting area, Kara says that she wants to ask the mayor about the playground, while Becky would like to ask why the library isn't open later. Mr. Conductor appears with a Flopdinger campaign balloon. Kara asks Becky if she really thinks that the mayor will lose the election, and Becky confirms that she knows he will with Schemer helping him. Kara then asks Mr. Conductor for his opinion. He answers that it reminds him of a saying on the Island of Sodor, "Every engine has to pull its own freight train." When the kids ask about its meaning, Mr. Conductor tells them about how James learned the hard way by pulling a train of stubborn freight cars up and over Gordon's Hill. Afterwards, Becky says that she loved the story because James did not give up. Kara elaborates that the Mayor must learn how to run his own campaign without Schemer's help, with Becky sharing that the mayor needs to take more responsibility for himself, or else no one should vote for him.
The televised "Meet the Kids" debate begins with a studio audience and Ted Typo's introduction. Kara directs the opening question to Mr. Richhouse, asking how he intends to fix the playground in the park. Richhouse gives a vague answer by saying that he'll do so by making the hard choices and tough decisions. The question is then directed to Mayor Flopdinger who at first fumbles, then reads from a cue card that Schemer is holding. The mayor tries to regain his composure by revealing that it was Schemer tell him what to answer. Schemer hastily writes something down and flashes the cue card to the mayor who mistakenly reads it as "I Quiet," which Schemer corrects that it reads "I Quit." The mayor bellows out to Schemer that he can't quit because he's fired. The audience voices their approval, prompting Schemer to hastily leave the station sulking.
The mayor's confidence is restored as he apologizes and promises to buy new equipment for the playground. He continues by admitting that he was slow to act on the issue of recycling, but vows to get right on it if re-elected, and confesses that his biggest mistake was hiring Schemer. Mr. Conductor is seen listening to the speech from behind one of Schemer's campaign posters just as the mayor quotes his saying that every engine has to pull its own freight cars. He ends the speech by saying that although he may sometimes seem distracted, he thanks and respects every one of them. The audience responds by giving Mayor Flopdinger and standing ovation.
Election Day comes and everyone, even Mr. Conductor, is casting their vote in the ballot box. The girls arrive at the station and Kara asks Ted Typo who he voted for. Becky reminds her friend that voting is a private affair. Ted doesn't mind telling them that he did not bother to vote as he feels that it would not make a difference. Becky informs him that whoever wins will be the his mayor whether he voted or not. Becky's point convinces Ted to cast his vote anyway, but maintains that it won't make a difference as he inserts his ballot into the box.
The election results are in by 7 p.m. with Midge excitedly tells Stacy that Mayor Flopdinger won by one vote and feels that her ballot made the difference. Schemer tries to take credit for the mayor's win but relents his boasting as Midge and Stacy state at him incredulously. Mayor-elect Flopdinger rushes into the station in a celebratory mood congratulating himself for winning on his own and thanking everyone has except Schemer for their support, and adding that he intends to honor his campaign promises. Ted Typo also feels good for participating and tells the kids that his vote mattered just like the everyone else's.
Richhouse later enters the station carrying his suitcase and Stacy congratulates him for making a good campaign effort and asks if he's going on a vacation. He informs them that he's moving on and stands on his podium to announce that he's moving on to a new town and a new election. Becky asks why he'd want to enter election having just lost this one. Richhouse admits to making mistakes in the past, but if he wins another election he promises to help all of the people. He explains that any elected politician who doesn't try to help all of the people does not deserve to win, and asks the kids to remember that when they're old enough to vote. A locomotive whistle announces his train's arrival and Richhouse tells them not to worry; one day when they all think he's gone forever, he'll be back. He flashes a victory sign as Stacy and the kids say goodbye and wish him luck as he leaves.
Mr. Conductor appears on the information desk and Stacy happily informs him that everybody voted this time. Mr. Conductor found the campaign exciting and may run for mayor next time. Becky thinks that it would be great for him to give speeches to large crowds and Kara says that he'll be able to have a debate on TV. Becky adds that if he wins, he'll have a big office and that people will be visiting him every day and that he'll never be left alone, which gives Becky the ambition to run for office herself someday. The episode ends after Mr. Conductor confessing that after giving the notion a second thought, he'd rather go fishing.
- Mr. Conductor
- Stacy Jones
- Kara Cupper
- Mayor Flopdinger
- Midge Smoot
- Mr. Typo
- Richard Richhouse
- Thomas (mentioned)
- Edward (mentioned)
- James (mentioned)
Jukebox Band Segment Song
- Hurray For The Railway
- Billy Twofeathers and Dan Jones do not appear in this episode.
- Richard Richhouse resembles the 37th president of the United States Richard Nixon.
- "Meet the Kids" may be a play on the NBC political commentary/interview program "Meet the Press"
- Richhouse was played by actor Richard Dixon (James Laroe), a Nixon look-alike. The episode originally aired without incident in January 1993 with at least two additional repeats afterwards that did not draw undue attention. By unfortunate coincidence, the episode was rebroadcasted on April 27, 1994, the day of former President Nixon's funeral. According to a Washington Post article filed the following day, an apology was given by PBS after receiving a number of phoned-in complaints.
- In the same April 28, 1994 Washington Post article, Co-Creator and Co-Producer Rick Siggelkow provided some additional insight and clarification about the episode. "The intent was not to make fun of him [Mr. Nixon] on the show" and at the episode's conclusion "Richhouse gives us a very strong, positive speech about why it's important to be in public life, to vote and to vote for someone who cares about people. There was no political reason for choosing Nixon. We considered [former New York mayor] Ed Koch because he was tenacious. I saw Nixon as almost a folklore figure - there was something that just made him seem like the logical one to be in the episode. He's not the villain of the peace by any means."
- When Mr. Conductor is introducing James Learns a Lesson, he states that James was going too fast with the freight cars, but James was pulling a passenger train, not a freight train.
- Midge Smoot (after Richhouse's speech): Well, he must know what he's talking about, I don't understand a word he's saying!
- Mr. Conductor (struggling with the balloon): This is what you get when you lose control of your own hot air, you get all puffed up just like some of those politicians around here!