A Backlash Against Democratic Control of Cities?

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A Backlash Against Democratic Control of Cities?
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A Backlash Against Democratic Control of Cities?
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Amid the swirling sea of media coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests taking place all over the country, a few against-the-tide moments have garnered attention. These range from distraught African American women lamenting the looting of their neighborhood stores to young black activists dressing down white vandals dressed in the hooded garb of the antifa movement.

Some, more overtly partisan, commentary has taken direct aim at the prevailing wisdom that the modern Democratic Party is the only choice for minority voters. First, a video  rocketed around social media earlier this week showing an African American female street preacher in Seattle’s CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) explaining to a white woman (presumably a liberal Democrat) why she would never vote for Joe Biden.  

"You want to see a bunch of black people go to jail by the next four years? Put Joe Biden in there. Watch what happens. You want to see black men get killed substantially, like you’ve never seen before? Put Joe Biden in there. Watch what happens. These Democrats, and I’m sorry to say this and I’m not trying to be racist, but they hate black people. These are the same people who fought to keep slavery in. These are the same people who built the KKK. The Republican Party is the party of the blacks." 

Bishop Aubrey Shines made a similar argument earlier this week in an op-ed in the Washington Times: 

"The Democratic Party, true to form, never lets a crisis go to waste. It has seized on what should be a time of healing and instead made the conversation more divisive by lecturing us all about how systemic racism is supposedly rampant in the United States. The great irony here is that yes, there’s plenty of systemic racism in our country; it’s all wrapped up in the history of the Democratic Party." 

Shines, who is the founder of Glory to Glory Ministries, also chairs a newly formed group called “Conservative Clergy of Color,” whose mission is to spread the gospel that Democrats have been cynically taking advantage of black voters for years. It’s a minority position within the minority community, to be sure. Yet in the midst of the national upheaval over police brutality and claims of systemic racism, it also highlights the fact that Democrats have been in control of nearly every major urban center in America for decades.  It’s worth looking at a list: 

  • Atlanta has been controlled by Democrats for the past 140 years.
  • Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi’s father and eldest brother, have held the mayor’s office in Baltimore for all but eight of the last 89 years. 
  • In Chicago, Democrats have been in charge of the nation’s third-largest city exclusively since 1931. 
  •  Detroit has been run continuously by Democrats since 1962, including 39 years of stewardship by African-American mayors between 1974 and 2013.
  • In Los Angeles, 13 of the past 15 mayoral terms have been held by Democrats. Their control of the city began in 1961 and was interrupted by Republican Dick Riordan’s two terms from 1993-2001.  
  • Democrats have held control in Philadelphia since 1952. 
  • City Hall in Seattle was, by design, nonpartisan until 1990 when three-term incumbent Charles Royer left the mayor’s office. The year before, Seattle was named one of the “best managed cities in the nation.” Since then, Democrats have run the city exclusively, including through the recent turmoil and the uproar  resulting from the city’s first gay mayor, Ed Murray, resigning after multiple allegations of child sex abuse.  
  • Finally, there is New York, where Rudy Giuliani’s two terms as mayor from 1993-2001 followed by Michael Bloomberg’s 12-year tenure as a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent gives the city some claim to bipartisan management over the last three decades. Even so, Democrats have long had a lock on the City Council and the place was run exclusively by Democrats for the 25 years between 1969 and 1994. For the last six years it has been helmed by Bill de Blasio, one of the most outspoken progressive Democrats in America.   

Whatever problems exist today in America’s major cities, and in their respective police forces, they are not bipartisan in nature. Republicans have been shut out of the governing apparatus of these cities and excluded from any serious discussion of policy solutions for decades. Donald Trump spoke to this paradox during the 2016 campaign, asking black voters, “What the hell do you have to lose?”   

“All [Democrats have] done is take advantage of your vote,” he added. “If you keep voting for the same people, you will keep getting exactly the same result.”  

Trump’s pitch didn’t produce significant results: He won an estimated 8% of the African American vote, slightly more than Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008, but slightly less than George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. 

Will 2020 be any different? Trump’s primary pitch to black voters has been the undeniable upsurge in jobs and economic growth for African Americans. Those gains have essentially been wiped out by the coronavirus lockdown. But the Trump campaign is pointing to the president’s  criminal justice reforms and his increases in funding for historically black colleges and universities.  

Whether those appeals help Trump make inroads in minority communities or not, the message of the street preacher in Seattle and the Conservative Clergy of Color is that there is a disconnect between the Democratic Party’s rhetoric and how it governs “minority-majority” cities. This is a far bigger issue than one election and ultimately has little to do with Donald Trump. It’s about accountability -- about which of the two major political parties can build a better future for those living in America’s storied, but long-troubled, urban centers.  

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and president of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of "Election 2012: A Time for Choosing." Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP



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