Connecting state and local government leaders
A new map shows the most Wikapedia’d person from different cities and towns across the country.
Local and state elected officials don’t seem to be very well represented in Wikipedia searches. This finding is laid out visually on the People Map, a newly released project that shows the most Wikipedia’d person connected to the 10,000 cities and towns across the country.
The map’s co-creator, Russell Goldenberg, explained that the connections people have to these places vary—some were born there, some built their careers there or, in rarer cases, they lived there once they were out of the public spotlight. “A lot of the smaller cities and towns will show you famous people who were born there, but in bigger cities, you see more transient folks, maybe people who went to school in that area,” he said.
Using Wikipedia data from the past three years, the map gives larger names to people who have the most median page views per day. Some of the biggest names are politicians, such as Barack Obama, over both Honolulu and Chicago, Senator Susan Collins, over Caribou, Maine, where she was born, and Dick Cheney, over Casper, Wyoming, where he grew up.
But how did state and local politicians fair?
Tragically, they were not as popular. Combing through the source data revealed only 206 governors or lieutenant governors (some of whom were also later presidents), 66 state representatives, 39 state senators, 40 mayors, and 3 city councilors.
Goldenberg said he isn’t surprised. “If you think about the news cycle, and what would be driving people to Wikipedia, it makes sense that a lot of the map would be pop culture figures instead of politicians,” he said. But that isn’t the case on the UK version of the map, where he said there is a much more even spread of celebrities, notable science figures, and politicians.
“I would guess that since the UK has been around a lot longer, they have some historical figures who are more cemented in their culture. You see a lot of barons on the map over there,” Goldenberg said.
Some local leaders appear on the U.S. map likely because they were historical firsts. Lee P. Brown is the most searched person from Wewoka, a small town in Oklahoma, because he was the first African American mayor of Houston. Verda Welcome, the first African American woman elected to a state senate, now has a dot sitting over Lake Lure, North Carolina, and Dale McCormick, the first openly gay member of the Maine Legislature, has her name over Sigourney, Iowa, where she went to high school.
Others are historical lasts, such as Nedom L. Angier over his hometown of Acworth, New Hampshire, who still stands as the last Republican mayor of Atlanta since his term ended in 1879.
Some local leaders may be on the map because of scandals that keep their names in the news. John W. Stephens, from Wentworth, North Carolina, was a state senator in the late 1870s who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan because of his involvement with the Freedman’s Bureau and his work politically organizing the black population of his community. R. Budd Dwyer, over Meadville, Pennsylvania, was a state senator and later the state treasurer who was convicted on bribery charges and committed suicide in 1987 during a news conference. More recently, Wes Goodman, of Cardington, Ohio, was a state representative who resigned his seat in 2017 over revelations of his extramarital affairs.
Some of the most popular local leaders on the map had other careers before or after their time in politics, including Henry Jarvis, who was a New York state representative and the founder of the New York Times. Two former pro-wrestlers also made the map: Glenn Jacobs, the mayor of Knox County, Tennessee, and Jesse Ventura, the former Minnesota governor who also served as mayor of Brooklyn Park in the state.
The local politician with the most Wikipedia views who had a purely political career is Marion Barry, who notoriously served a drug sentence in federal prison between his second and third terms as mayor of Washington, D.C.
The most well-represented group on the map was the Wisconsin State Assembly, with 38 current and former members. Why Wisconsin state leaders are popular on Wikipedia is not entirely clear, but it could be because the legislative body has been in the news frequently in the past few years because of protests at the state house over measures that limited the power of the governor, made it harder for unions to organize, and cut public education funding.
Goldenberg explained that the map is slightly biased towards recent news, and pointed to Elizabeth Warren’s name over Cambridge, Massachusetts as an example. “There are a lot of famous people from Cambridge, but she’s at the top now likely because of her 2020 campaign,” he said.
In the end, Goldenberg said, the map isn’t the best measure of localized popularity, but rather shows popularity across all Wikipedia users. “It’s a good vehicle for looking at spatial information in a geographic context,” he said. “Maybe there aren’t a lot of local leaders on the map, even though they may be popular in their area, because people don’t need to look them up online. A lot of people are using Wikipedia to look up facts about random celebrities. People are hopefully more familiar with their mayor, so they don’t need to do that.”
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.