Blogger Candidate Forum is escaping the early fall heatwave in an air conditioned undisclosed location. Someone want to tell summer that it is time to leave the hemisphere? That said, today we turn our attention to big city politics.
Did you ever notice that a lot of big city mayors are Democrats? Think about it for a minute. Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago, Bill de Blasio of New York City, Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles are all Democrats. This is a problem, according to Bruce Katz of the Brooking Institute (brookings.edu; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017). Former Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams declares in his CityLab article "Stop One-party Rule in Big Cities," "One-party rule is hurting America's big cities. Mr. Katz takes it a step further; calling for a Metropolitan Party (citylab.com; April 14, 2017; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017) that represents urban interests. Actually, a Metropolitan Party already exists, it is the Democratic Party. So does that mean the Republican Party is the Suburban and Rural Party. Enquiring bloggers want to know. If we study the 2016 election results, we find that cities overhelming cast their ballots in favor of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As we lurch toward the congressional elections next year (remember to register to vote) and the presidential elections in 2020, national politics is shifting more toward a "big-city alignment against the policies of President Donald Trump on such issues as climate change or sanctuary cities for immigrants."
One-party urban rule does hold benefits in the national context, "giving Democrats a competitive showing in a near parity Congress." The drawbacks of one-party urban rule is that it is not ideal for representing competing interests in city politics. Mr. Williams suggests, "What cities need is not one party, but many-offering more distinct, organized options for citizens at the local ballot box that reflect the diversity of city life." Blogger likes to think of this as a kind of a parliamentary system of municipal government.
If you look at a congressional or presidential election map, what you find are deep blue and red regions and you would think that cities neatly fall in line with their state. Local representatives, including those elected in non-partisan contests (e.g. Mayoral races) are bluer than blue, and have been for quite some time (digitalcommons.law.yale.edu; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017). Mr. Williams observes, "Indeed, most big cities hav had Democratic mayors and councils for over 50 years." Typically, municipal election results mirror nation party affinities. When a Republicans win municipal elections (i.e. New YorK City), it is usually for mayor, where larger-than-life personalities and media attention bypass party identity. Think former New York City Mayors Rudy Guiliani and Michael Bloomberg.
This is all part of the geographic distribution of Americans based on ideology. Liberals tend to like walkable urban lifestyles (npr.org; Oct. 5, 2017; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017) and gravitate toward cities and like minded communities. Their local elected officials offer a range of standard liberal policies. "Cities do generally have more government spending, more public debt and more redistributive policies [cwarshaw.scripts.mit.edu; August 2014; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017]."
In essence, Republicans by-and-large have thrown in the towel on cities, which is a shame because a lot of big-city ailments could use "a dose of Republican-inspired solutions (city-journal.org; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017). Mr. Bloomberg and Steve Goldsmith of Indianapolis brought good business management to municipal government. Mr. Williams outlines a few voter priorities: "Working mothers may want more public school options for their children. Investors want to see progress in community investment projects in their lifetime. Taxpayers ask that their cities stop writing checks that can't be cashed." Therefore, in absence of any real competition at the polls, officials may not push as hard to remedy urban problems.
In the interim, another indicator of city democratic well-being is falling-election participation. Turnout in municipal elections is dismally low (citylab.com; Nov. 1, 2014; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017), "at about 25 percent and has been trending down for decades [governining.com; Oct. 2014; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017]." For the record, last year Mayor Eric Garcetti won a second term with 81 percent of the vote-only 11 percent of registered Angelenos went to the polls. The numbers are even more abysmal in Dallas and Las Vegas where "turnout is below 10 percent." This is how incumbents keep winning and representation remains even more one-sided in cities than elsewhere "because cities have sharper inequality and greater diversity."
Part of the problem is timing. Los Angeles held its most recent mayoral election not long after the 2016 presidential elections. However, this issue has been resolved to some extent: A ballot proposition, reset the municipal elections to coincide with state elections. Thus, Mayor Garcetti will have another added to his second term.
One-party is definitely a contributor to the problems. Anthony Williams writes, "Municipal voting is worse in cities [thehill.com; Dec. 7, 2016; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017] than in the more politically competitive suburbs." The urban electorate-faced with seemingly more of the same or vague options at the ballot box-is basically checking out.
Without any real choices, "the lively jumble of diverse, competitions interests that constitute a big city is embalmed in one-tone pen-party rule." Beneath the blue veneer, cities should be teeming with political diversity: "public unions, historic preservationists, pro-growth developers, new landed gentry,immigrant newcomers, and long-term residents." This is in addition to the chorus surrounding the income gap that is worse in the cities than in the suburbs and rural areas. Basically, "A healthy democracy would give form and clarity to these points of view-that's what political parties are built to do."
When you have an electoral slate of variations on Democrats, what kind of message does the voter get about how each candidate differed on policy questions? The majority of young urban Millennials gentrifying communities are part of the same national parties as the working class Latino or African American voters they are displacing, even though at the local level their interests do not square with each other. Regardless, the frequently vote along similar national and local party lines, if for no reason other than lack of choice.
By any measure of a healthy democracy-candidate competition, public turnout, and relevant platforms-big city political machines are breaking down. There is little in the way of inter-party competition on local issues, and the voters are clues about what local policies they are voting on or what is at stake on top of wanting to hold someone accountable. "Pity that local government touches everyday lives far more than national government."
Municiopal voter really do deserve better and that translate into giving them real choices at the ballot box and making it easier to participate. One solution is to move municipal election cycles so that they coincide with state or national elections. California has already done this. The immediate result is "twice as many people would vote, with young and low-income voters gaining the most. Another quick, easy fix involves giving more relevant information to voters: Get rid of nonpartisan elections, and put as much information on the ballot as possible [papers.ssrm.com; Feb. 2, 2012; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017], giving more information than a simple D [Democrat] after the candidate's name."
Long-term: there should be more than just the Democratic Party; said parities could function separately from the national entity. For example, "In Canada, there are a handful of local parties that are distinct from national parties." Anthony Williams games suggests that the big-city Republicans could rebrand themselves as the Bloomberg Party (prawfsblawg.blog.com; May 7, 2012; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017), which would have instant recognition and a cogent urban policy agenda.
Another suggestion would be to change city election regimes to accommodate multiple parties. "States could change laws [papers.ssrm.com; Feb. 2, 2012] so that someone could be registered in a local party distinct from the national party." Municipal third parties have reared their head in American history, in Cincinnati or New York City (blogs.lse.ac.uk; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017), "there was proportional voting: 20 percent of the vote got you 20 percent of the representation."
The current winner-take-all system does not work well with third parties simple because people do not want to waste their vote. Ranked-choice voting (RCV) (fairvote.org; date accessed Oct. 25, 2017) is another option. This method allow voters to rank the candidates and may be the most viable option: "Several cities have already adopted RCV sinc 2000 (Ibid), including Minneapolis and Portland, Maine." The RCV method forces candidates to work harder to appeal to various groups of voters.
If democracy is to be restored to health, our federal systems must have competing voice at all levels of government. Elections have consequences and every elections demands vigorous elections with crystal clear choices. If urban politics want to makes its voice heard at the national level, it must be organized. At the municipal lever, the solution may not be Bruce Katz's hypothetical Metropolitan Party, rather several parties competing for your vote.