1. Sarah Palin first ran for mayor in 1996 as a 32-year-old. Though town council races are officially non-partisan, Palin brought Republican wedge politics to the race, particularly anti-abortion flyers and claims about her own (superior) Christianity against an incumbent mayor who had been raised a Lutheran but who was also not "a church-going guy." The local Republican Party ran ads for Palin, and she won.
2. She was very pro-development as mayor, bringing in big box stores, a $15 million sports complex (paid for with taxpayer money), and the small town of 5,000 grew rapidly.
3. Her first months in office as mayor were "so jarring — and so alienating — that an effort was made to force a recall." About 100 people attended a meeting to discuss organizing a recall vote, but the idea was later dropped.
4. At first she was hot to censor and even ban some books from the city library. She approached the librarian. The librarian resisted. Mayor Palin backed off the censorship idea but fired the librarian. An uproar over the firing caused Palin to reinstate the librarian (who soon left the area).
5. Palin forced the resignations of town employees who had publicly backed the former mayor -- "something virtually unheard of in Wasilla in past elections. The public works director, city planner, museum director and others were forced out. The police chief, Irl Stambaugh, was later fired outright."
6. Palin issued "a surprise edict: No employee was to talk to the news media without her permission."
7. In her second term as mayor, she pushed through a half-cent raise in the local sales tax to pay for the $15 million sports complex.
8. Palin had campaigned promising to cut her own full-time salary. She did reduce it from about $68,000 to about $64,000, but she also hired a city administrator, adding his salary to the payroll. Result: a net increase in city salaries.
9. When Palin completed her second and final term in 2002, her stepmother-in-law, Faye Palin, ran to succeed her. Faye Palin supported abortion rights and was registered as unaffiliated, not Republican. So Palin threw her weight behind another woman in the race, a religious conservative, who won.
A Wasilla resident who has known Palin since 1992 has written up her assessment of the mayor (full, long text here). A brief excerpt:
During her mayoral administration most of the actual work of running this small city was turned over to an administrator. She had been pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had given rise to a recall campaign.
Sarah campaigned in Wasilla as a "fiscal conservative." During her 6 years as Mayor, she increased general government expenditures by over 33%. During those same 6 years the amount of taxes collected by the City increased by 38%. This was during a period of low inflation (1996-2002). She reduced progressive property taxes and increased a regressive sales tax which taxed even food. The tax cuts that she promoted benefited large corporate property owners way more than they benefited residents.
The huge increases in tax revenues during her mayoral administration weren't enough to fund everything on her wish list though. Borrowed money was needed, too. She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it with indebtedness of over $22 million....
Earlier this year in her capacity as governor of Alaska, Palin used her line-item veto to slash funding for a state program benefiting teen mothers in need of a place to live.