LITTLE MOUNTAIN, S.C. -- Wanted: a mayor for this tiny South Carolina town.
Like many rural communities across the country, Little Mountain has seen its population drop over the decades. Businesses closed on Main Street. Residents moved to nearby Columbia, seeking jobs and a faster pace.
Now the one-stoplight town, population 292, faces a more existential threat to its future: Nobody wants to be the mayor. No candidates ran in an election to replace the retiring mayor in November and, more unusual, the top two write-in recipients declined the job.
"We have not found anyone for the job yet," said Melvin Bowers, a town councilman.
It is not unheard-of for offices to go unfilled in small electorates. In Mount Sterling, Iowa, after none of the 44 residents ran for City Council or mayor last year, the 105-year-old city disbanded. In Lynchburg, S.C., in 2010, a write-in candidate for mayor was reluctantly sworn in.
But leaders of the Municipal Association of South Carolina could not recall when even write-in candidates had turned down the job. "It's the first time we've ever seen this," said Reba Campbell, the association's deputy executive director. "A generation of politicians is retiring in many of these small towns. Young people are going off to college and not coming back to take their place."
Little Mountain was founded around a railroad station in 1890. Most people here used to be farmers of corn, cotton and grain. But it is now a bedroom suburb for Columbia, the state capital 30 miles to the southeast. Along Main Street, many stores have closed, leaving behind a gas station, an antiques store and a Masonic lodge.
But the mayor has real responsibility. The town has received large state and county grants to build a center for the elderly, refurbish the elementary school and create a park to attract residents and businesses. The mayor manages a roughly $90,000 budget and helps organize the Little Mountain Reunion, an annual folk festival that draws 10,000 people. All for a monthly salary of $100.
The current mayor, Buddy Johnson, is retiring after 16 years to spend time with his children and grandchildren. Marty Frick, a maintenance supervisor, won the election with 67 write-in votes, but he said he needed to care for his wife, who is ailing. Mr. Johnson finished second, with 20 votes. Several votes went to Mickey Mouse and Snoop Dogg.
By default, the next mayor appears to be Mr. Bowers, the ranking member of the town council. But his wife too has health problems and he has declined. The town is planning a special election in March and hoping someone will run.
Residents have lobbied Mr. Frick, a former council member, who was flattered to win a race he did not enter but said he had done his service already.
The reason that nobody wants the job, he said, is that politics has lost its luster, even in small communities. The biggest dispute in Little Mountain lately has been over whether to serve alcohol at the annual Little Mountain Reunion. The issue became so contentious that for the first time in years, the event was canceled last summer.
But Mr. Bowers said the bigger challenge is finding someone to commit the time in a small, and aging, community. "Nobody wants to give up the freedom to do what they want to do, when they want to do it," he said. "Being the mayor isn't easy."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.