by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Joel Kotkin argues in a column for Real Clear Politics that local governments in many of America’s largest cities could lead to bad news for the Democratic Party.
Twenty years ago, America’s cities were making their initial move to regain some of their luster. This was largely due to the work of mayors who were middle-of-the-road pragmatists. Their ranks included Rudy Giuliani in New York, Richard Riordan in Los Angeles, and, perhaps the best of the bunch, Houston’s Bob Lanier. Even liberal San Franciscans elected Frank Jordan, a moderate former police chief who was succeeded by the decidedly pragmatic Willie Brown.
In contrast, a cadre of modern mayors is minting a host of ideologically new urban politics that put cities at odds with millions of traditional urban Democrats. This trend is strongest on the coasts, but is also taking place in many heartland cities. Bill de Blasio is currently its most prominent practitioner, but left-wing pundit Harold Meyerson says approvingly that many cities are busily mapping “the future of liberalism” with such policies as the $15-an-hour minimum wage, stricter EPA greenhouse gas regulations, and housing policies intended to force people out of lower density suburbs and into cities.
For the Democrats, this urban ascendency holds some dangers. Despite all the constant claims of a massive “return to the city,” urban populations are growing no faster than those in suburbs, and, in the past few years, far slower than those of the hated exurbs. This means we won’t see much change in the foreseeable future in the current 70 to 80 percent of people in metropolitan America who live in suburbs and beyond. University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill notes that the vast majority of residents of regions over 500,000—roughly 153 million people—live in the lower-density suburban places, while only 60 million live in core cities.
This leftward shift is marked, but it’s not indicative of any tide of public enthusiasm. One-party rule, as one might expect, does not galvanize voters. The turnout in recent city elections has plummeted across the country, with turnouts 25 percent or even lower. In Los Angeles, the 2013 turnout that elected progressive Eric Garcetti was roughly one-third that in the city’s 1970 mayoral election.