As readers know, I have been writing a great deal recently
about international and national politics. I think it’s time to
discuss what’s going on in local politics at the city and
2017 is not a year for national or most statewide political
contests. There are two gubernatorial races and scattered
special congressional elections, but by far the political action
is in mayoral and city council races.
Forty-five years ago, I got into journalism by editing and
publishing two community newspapers, one of them in an
inner city for about 14 years. Although I now write almost
exclusively about national and global politics, I cut my
journalistic teeth on the rough-and-tumble politics in the
city of Minneapolis .
Actually by comparison, “rough-and-tumble” is a gross
overstatement of local political activity in the 1970s and
1980s when compared to what goes on in the nightmarish
urban political arenas in 2017.
When I first arrived in Minneapolis from the East Coast, 12
of the 13 city council members (then called aldermen) were
Republicans. It has been decades now since a member of that
party has been elected in the city. Democrats (here called the
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party or DFL) and Green Party
members make up the entire city council, and of course, the
mayor is a DFLer. The twin cities of Minneapolis and St.
Paul and their metropolitan areas make up about half the
state’s population and voters, and usually supply the DFL
with considerable net margins on election day. In 2016,
however, Donald Trump almost upset Hillary Clinton statewide,
and Minnesota is now a ”purple” state.
For an independent centrist, as I am, there is not much choice
these days in city elections. For more conservative voters and
Republicans there is even less choice since virtually all
candidates for city offices espouse far left and “politically
correct” views they do not share.
But I try to vote in every election, local state and national; and
this year --- with Republicans at the national and most state
levels the majority party --- I am taking a special interest in the
city elections of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
There are about six major candidates for mayor of Minneapolis,
the state’s largest city, although my guess is that only four of them
have a real chance to win. Complicating any assessment of all the
races in the two cities is the controversial electoral innovation of
“ranked-choice voting” (RCV), This process replaces the party
primary, Everyone who qualifies is on the November ballot, and the
voter can specify their first, second and third choices for each office.
If a candidate receives 50% plus one votes, RCV does not come into
play, but if the top candidate only receives a plurality, the system is
activated, and a formula for calculating the 2nd and 3rd choices is
applied until one candidate receives more than 50%. Although this
system has previously been in effect in the Twin Cities, so far the
highest vote-getter has won.
This year, however, RCV may alter some outcomes in Minneapolis
and St. Paul.
I have attended mayoral forums, meet-and greets, and campaign
events in Minneapolis. Realizing that all the candidates would be
DFLers or Green Party, liberal-to-far-left, I was curious to see if
any of the candidates had the imagination to try to appeal to more
moderate or conservative voters (who make up about 25-30% of the
total city-wide). Initial forays were disappointing, but at a recent
event for one major mayoral candidate, Tom Hoch, I was surprised
and impressed when he opened his remarks with the statement,
“ ‘Resistance’ is not a strategy for progress.” Mr. Hoch has not ever
won elected office before, but he has decades of work in a variety of
civic organizations and programs, and is perhaps the best qualified
candidate, based on experience, to be mayor of Minneapolis. He
also has impeccable liberal credentials. It was refreshing to hear
someone not pander to minimum wage and other ‘entitlement”
proposals, and to suggest that urban leadership is a complex matter
that isn’t merely about rhetoric and slogans. Two of the other
candidates have given hints of this --- perhaps Mr, Hoch’s boldness
will enable them now to follow suit. The fourth candidate, by the way,
is the incumbent mayor (who a national publication recently rated as
one of “America’s worst mayors”). Still in her first term, the fact that
several major candidates in her own party are challenging her would
seem to reinforce that claim. In any event, with six candidates dividing
the DFL vote, it might not be a bad strategy for at least one of them to
make some appeal to a bloc of 25-30% non-DFL voters (and to the
much-ignored urban small businessperson).
Mr. Hoch’s statement goes beyond just strategy, I think. It represents
something more than the hysterical response to the election of Donald
Trump by those who did not vote for him last November. The so-called
“Resistance” movement has perhaps been more counter-productive
than some Democrats thought it would be, It has no doubt rallied some
on the left, but more critically, it has likely gained little support from
centrist and independent voters, many of whom did not vote for Mr.
Trump. It certainly has not chipped away Mr. Trump’s base --- which
recent polls show remain staunchly loyal to him. Mr. Hoch’s statement
further reveals what many years of civic experience has taught him ---
that mere melodramatic protest is not a real plan for accomplishing the
progressive goals that most city dwellers share.
I have not yet decided who I will vote for this year, but I am watching
the races more closely than usual. I am looking for signs that a
effective Democratic and liberal opposition is emerging from their
trauma of last November, and that workable and thoughtful solutions
for the nation’s cities (where most of the opposition voters live) can be
proposed, discussed, and implemented.
Unlike previous Republican presidential candidates, Mr. Trump
actually went into the inner cities, and among minority voters, during
the campaign --- and asked those voters if years of Democratic Party
political control and programs had actually made their lives better.
He didn’t get a lot of urban votes in 2016, but if Democrats can do no
better than mere “resistance” and more failing programs, they might
not like the response of urban voters in campaigns ahead.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.