When Liberals Run Cities

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By John Goodman,

from NCPA,

Have you ever noticed how often cities where there are very few Republicans elect Republican mayors anyway? Or if they don’t elect a Republican, they elect a Democrat who acts like a Republican.

New York City is known for being a bastion of liberalism. But the city hasn’t had a real liberal mayor for almost 40 years. When Jersey City, New Jersey, elected Republican Bret Schundler as mayor, there probably weren’t more than five Republicans living in the whole city. Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in Dallas County, where I live, for quite some time. Yet Dallas has never really had a liberal mayor.

What brings this to mind is the coming mayoral election in New York City. The Democratic nominee, Bill de Blasio, is unapologetically liberal/progressive.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Vincent Cannato reminds us all of what liberal governance looked like in years past:

– Under Mayor John Lindsay, who embodied the promise and then the tragedy of Great Society liberalism, the city suffered through a tumultuous 1960s and early ’70s. While Lindsay was in office (1966-73), crime continued its dramatic rise, public-sector labor unions turned New York into “Strike City,” welfare rolls increased even amid an economic boom, swaths of the city were hollowed out by arson and abandonment, the city’s infrastructure began to deteriorate, graffiti proliferated, and the middle class continued its flight to the suburbs…

– After years of chaos and tumult, New York no longer looked like a good investment. It nearly went bankrupt, and its finances were taken over by an Emergency Financial Control Board.

What happened in New York 40 years ago is not all that dissimilar to what has been happening in Detroit. As that city inched toward its own fiscal cliff, city services deteriorated, taxes rose and taxpayers fled. Now we learn that while all that was going on millions of dollars were being looted from city workers’ pension funds as reported in The New York Times.

Why do some cities fall into this trap while other cities avoid it? And what does any of this have to do with liberalism as a political philosophy?

What I mean by “liberalism” is the political philosophy that apologizes for and defends the Franklin Roosevelt approach to politics. That approach encourages people to organize around their economic interests and seek special favors from government at everyone else’s expense (see here.)

There is one thing that city workers can do as individuals to derail the demise I just described. Even though their union dues and their organized activities are supporting more of same, they can enter the voting booth and secretly vote for the opponent. When this happens, there is a major discontinuity in the normal political process.

The result is the election, for example, of Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York. And because he doesn’t get to be mayor through the normal processes, he arrives in office owing hardly anyone anything. Thus he can take on the teachers unions and reform the schools and institute other reforms, just like his Republican predecessor, Rudy Giuliani.

For this to happen, however, there must be enough voters who put the general interest above their own union’s special interest. New York had enough such people 40 years ago. In more recent times, Detroit did not.

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