Progressive efforts to win control of some of the nation’s most liberal cities stumbled on Tuesday as voters largely opted for more moderate candidates, a mixed record that was especially bleak in cities where liberal opponents backed budget cuts to the law enforcement agencies.
In the Seattle mayoral race, the results showed former City Council Speaker Bruce Harrell leading his successor, incumbent Speaker Lorena Gonzalez, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. In Buffalo, Mayor Byron Brown seemed on his way to a fifth term as a written candidate while leading the self-proclaimed Democratic socialist India Walton, who infuriated him earlier this year in the Democratic primary.
González led a majority of the Seattle council in a move to remove millions of dollars from the police department’s budget, a vote that prompted the city’s police chief to resign. In Buffalo, Brown criticized Walton’s support for a study that suggested the city’s police budget be cut between $ 7.5 million and $ 16 million.
Voters in Minneapolis, the site of the major criminal justice protests in the summer of 2020, are reelected mayor Jacob freyJacob FreyJacob Frey re-elected as mayor of Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd protests Twenty-five US cities on track to exceed Paris climate targets by 2025: report Minneapolis mayor says images of officials celebrating hitting protesters are ‘irritating’ MORE (D) over two more progressive challengers. At the same time, 56 percent of voters there objected to a ballot question that would have replaced the city police department with a public safety department.
And in New York, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former New York City Police Department officer, skidded to a mayoral election victory after dispatching more liberal contenders in the Democratic primaries. .
But in other cities, the more progressive candidates claimed victories: Boston voters chose City Councilwoman Michelle Wu, backed by the senator. Elizabeth warrenElizabeth Warren Michelle Wu, Elected Boston’s First Mayor Ocasio-Cortez, Defends Climate Provisions In Spending Bill: “ I Have To Live In This Future ” Financial Self-Control Is Rotting Our Government MORE (D-Mass.), As the new mayor of the city over a more moderate rival. And Cleveland voters chose Justin Bibb over City Council Speaker Kevin Kelley.
The two winners, some progressives said, stood out as a model for future contenders who could run in future elections. Both supported reforms to the police departments, but did not follow the calls to withdraw funds or drastically reduce police budgets.
“You cannot start with the negative message of taking funds from the police or cutting off the police. You have to start with the alternative of what do you want to see in the world? ”Said Sean McElwee, who leads the Data for Progress think tank. “The voters really want it to be seen that the people in the executive offices are solving very real problems in their daily lives.”
Chris Scott, political director for Democracy for America, which has backed progressive candidates across the country, said progressives are not “running away from defunding the police.”
“I see a lot of progressives hugging it,” he said.
But Scott added: “It’s still a phrase that puts a lot of people off in general, because they just don’t quite understand it and the first thing that comes to mind is, ‘Oh, you’re trying to get more cops off the streets.’ . “
Opponents of both Wu in Boston and Bibb in Cleveland ran ads accusing them of supporting the police underfunding movement. But Wu, 36, and Bibb, 34, stopped those attacks, McElwee said, by outlining a reform agenda that avoided cutting funding.
“The winning message is a positive vision. You have to tell people what you want to build, not just what you oppose. And you have to be able to show, with these executive offices, that you are someone who can bring different groups together, ”McElwee said. “The police cuts don’t really send the same message that we want accountability here.”
Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of Our Revolution, said both Wu and Bibb represented new faces representing a break with a serious political establishment.
“You are beginning to see a new generation of progressive CEOs emerge. I think it’s a sign of the maturing of the progressive movement, ”Geevarghese said. “They didn’t speak in abstract terms, they didn’t speak in slogans, they came up with concrete things that were going to make their cities work better.”
Calls to defund the police in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a Minneapolis black man killed by a white cop, have divided Democrats in recent years, even away from the cities where those proposals have advanced the most.
Democratic members of Congress complained after the 2020 election that Republicans had used police underfunding as an effective club in those races.
Corey Day, former executive director of the Minnesota Democratic-Peasant-Labor Party, said the election results in Minneapolis would help Democrats overcome what has become a thorny divide between progressives and mainstream Democrats.
“This will take some of the wind off the Republicans who hit public safety [and] defunding the police in the 2020 elections, “he said. “Republicans across the country would have used it to take advantage of voters’ fears about the safety of their families.”
Battles between progressives and more moderate Democrats, unfolding in congressional negotiations on the budget reconciliation package, are likely to continue in next year’s primary elections. Progressives have been more successful in elections for legislative office than for executive office.
“It continues to be a very encouraging year for progressive candidates. I think it’s a lot to build, ”Scott said. “You have to be encouraged by the pipeline that exists in the progressive movement.”