Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Columns

Reiniers: Are the under-educated rethinking old-style political bosses?


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San Diego just had a mayoral election - nothing unusual about that. But it became America's largest city with a Republican mayor. (Ranked 8th in population - sandwiched in between San Antonio and Dallas). Most Americans assume all large cities are run by the Democratic Party. Correct. Only nine out of the top 60 cities have Republican mayors. None of these nine except San Diego have marquee names.

The San Diego election was somewhat of a fluke in a city that borders on Mexico, and in a state in which Hispanics have become the largest ethnic group.

Kevin Faulconer, the Republican, beat a Hispanic city councilman of a democratically controlled council with a progressive agenda. Wow! In California all statewide offices are held by Democrats. Municipal governments are no different.

This was a special mayoral election to fill the shoes of a Democrat who resigned amid a barrage of sexual misconduct allegations. Feminists considered him as embarrassment. (Really? And Bill Clinton?)

Experts believe a Republican won only because of poor turnout. Hispanic voters in South San Diego - which is only 12 percent white - didn't show up. Perhaps they simply couldn't get enthused about their own party and sensed a need for change.

This is exactly what concerns Democrats about the 2014 congressional election. Before this election word leaked out that the Democratic National Committee's strategy for the midterm elections will be to focus on turnout of their poor, undereducated voter base. It makes sense. For the more knowledgeable Democrat, the Obama brand has lost its luster. Dems can't run any more on the uplifting message of hope and change. (They fear that will be the Republican message.)

Undereducated, no knowledge voters are the most loyal Democrats once they get into the voting booth because they believe they'll always get "theirs" from a Democratic administration. Yet traditionally they are the hardest to get to the polls. Go figure. That was probably what happened in San Diego. The Hispanics didn't show up in the numbers predicted.

Coincidentally, on the same day the San Diego election made the news, former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was found guilty in federal court for taking bribes from contractors for city contracts - including Hurricane Katrina work - and for filing false tax returns, conspiracy and money laundering.

Nagin was succeeded by Mitch Landrieu in 2010 and was the first white mayor in majority-black New Orleans since 1978 when his father "Moon" Landrieu (who had the respect of black voters) was mayor. The Katrina rebuilding issue and the future of New Orleans was utmost on the minds of voters, and as one black Landrieu supporter said, he didn't think the white leadership in Washington or Baton Rouge would "trust the black with the money." (Bush had signed a $4.5 billion relief package within four days after Katrina hit.)

Nagin appeared on the NBC's Today show a few years back promoting his book (Katrina's Secrets), and said he wasn't "saying that President Bush was a racist," but that "race.played in just about every aspect of this disaster." Host Matt Lauer applauded Nagin for being "very honest and open" in his book, as you would expect from the mainstream media. Needless to say, at that time the former mayor was busy stuffing bribes into his pockets while excoriating George Bush.

Bankrupt Detroit is an interesting case study of a virtual union stronghold in a Democratic institution. All mayors have been Democrats since 1962.

Municipal financing experts have noted the parallel between Detroit and the 1975 financial collapse of New York City which was decades in the making as the power of public unions mushroomed, welfare rolls kept growing and business and white flight took hold. NYC has a long history of fiscal crisis - so now they do the unthinkable and elect a virtual socialist as mayor in a city long thought to be ungovernable by Democrats.

Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who had been a rising star in the Democratic Party and a former Michigan Democratic state representative, was sentenced to 28 years in prison for racketeering, conspiracy, bribery, extortion and tax evasion. (A similar pattern to Mayor Ray Nagin.)

And in keeping with the similarity between the two corrupt mayors, Detroit too elected their first white mayor in 40 years in a city that is 83 percent black.

Mike Dugan had been a county prosecutor, but his most recent stint was as chief executive of the for-profit Detroit Medical Center. His father is a U.S. District judge (not the federal judge who sentenced Kilpatrick).

The Detroit Free Press noted there was a sense of desperation among black voters - "a sense for change in a broken city." Perhaps this was an underlying factor in San Diego and New Orleans too.

After the election in Detroit one city councilman said, "For most folks race is not an issue." You can look at this two ways. The positive way is that voters rejected race as a litmus test for judging a candidate. That said, race was nevertheless an issue. Voters had to make a value judgment about abandoning racism - a decades-old tradition. They did.

So in three cities minority voters rejected identity politics - at least at the municipal level - and in two of them voted for two pragmatic Democrats who are anything but progressive liberals.

Robert Green Ingersoll, Civil War veteran and politician observed that "It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education, than to have education without common sense." So will Democratic strategists be proven wrong in the 2014 elections? It could be that just enough undereducated Democrats will exercise the same common sense they did in these municipal elections, and will not be excited enough to turn out in big numbers for the party that has failed them and their children for generations.

John Reiniers is a retired attorney and a regular columnist who lives in Spring Hill. Email him at jbreiniers@yahoo.com.

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