I. Two-party systems in other cities: ‘Being a Republican does matter…’

Local politics are a festering mass of antagonisms, a place where self-indulgent incumbents are challenges by reform candidates, who, in turn, become unpleasant enough to be reformed. Yet, redistricting and political maneuvering has allowed for town councils and city offices to seem almost oligarchic in much of the country, from school boards to U.S. Congress. For example, Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, has been in office since 1955 (Dingell). But change happens, exchanges of power are healthy. The largest cities in the country with our most diverse populations should be particularly adept at change, and, unlike Philadelphia, some cities have seen party turnover.

Since Jan. 7, 1952, when Joseph. Clark, Jr. entered the second floor mayor’s office in Philadelphia’s City Hall to begin a still uninterrupted run of Democrats as the city’s top executive, New York City has seen three Republicans win its mayoralty: John Lindsay in 1966, Rudy Giuliani in 1994 and Michael Bloomberg, who succeeded Giuliani in 2002 and still runs the city. Since the 1840s, when Philadelphia’s mayors were first popularly elected, the Quaker City has seen just five changes in party incumbency (Mayoral Election Totals). In the same time, New York City has seen 18 such changes.

Since the 1880s, Los Angeles has had more regular transitions of party power than perhaps any other city in the country. Most recently, Richard J. Riordan served as a Republican mayor from 1993 to 2001. Before him, C. Norris Poulson served as a Republican mayor from 1953 to 1961, just as Philadelphia was beginning its uninterrupted Democratic reign.

Cleveland has had a Republican mayor both in the 1980s – George V. Voinovich from 1980 to 1989 – and the 1970s – Ralph J. Perk, from 1972 to 1997. Since the 1950s, Baltimore has had just one Republican, Theodore R. McKeldin, who also served a term in the 1940s, but McKeldlin won a chance to lead the city’s development of its inner harbor at a time when its black population was burgeoning.

Between 1911 and 1963, only the GOP led San Francisco. Since then, a city considered to be the country’s most progressive-leaning has, unsurprisingly, gone Democratic, but San Francisco’s GOP has regular, public meetings, an active online presence and stumps for local and national Republican candidates (SFRP).
“Being a Republican,” wrote Chairman Howard Epstein on their Web site, “does matter in San Francisco” (SFRP).

Bret Schundler stunned some by leading from 1993 to 2001 Jersey City, where Democrats outnumbered Republicans 10 to one. Not long after his term ended and Schundler moved toward eventually failed gubernatorial aspirations, Campaign and Elections’ Politics Magazine reviewed the political stranglehold he took of a Democratic city (Jalonick 2002).

“The Republican Party is a patronage system,” Schundler said. “It is about jobs.”

If Philadelphia Republicans don’t have control over jobs anymore, other directives need to be used. Still, Schundler developed a political base along the old lines of patronage with a message of change and efficiency – though a killer media blitz didn’t hurt (Jalonick 2002).

II. The Democratic cities: ‘I’m declaring that God himself will help us.’

Philadelphia is not alone in a one-party quagmire. As previously noted, both Boston and Chicago have longer stays of Democratic control. Though New Orleans includes complications discussed later, that city’s last admitted Republican mayor – because elections there are now nonpartisan – was Benjamin Flanders, elected in 1870 (Mikell 2007).

Since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, just two Republicans have been mayor in Minneapolis, Minn. – after a 1957 victory and a single-day, interim reign in 1973. The party’s trouble in the city extends elsewhere.

Ordained minister Barb Davis White is running this November for U.S. Congress in Minnesota’s 5th district, which includes all of Minneapolis, a city of 370,000. More than 75 percent of Minneapolis voters are Democratic and the 5th district has been in Democratic hands since 1963.

“I’m calling out to the masses, black and white, Hispanic, African, Asian,” a local TV news station reported she said in announcing her endorsement in May. “I’m declaring that God himself will help us when we the people get up” (Croman 2008).

The racial implications of Davis Whte – a black woman – running as a Republican against Keith Ellison – a first-term, white liberal – will be discussed later. But it comes as no surprise that Davis White isn’t the favorite in the Democratic district. In fact, the election is seen more as a tactic to limit Democratic advances in other parts of the battleground state of Minnesota.

“It forces Ellison to raise money and spend money in his district,” David Schultz, a lecturer at the University of Minnesota School of Law, told the TV station. “As opposed to raising it and spending it elsewhere for others.”

Though Philadelphia isn’t alone, its Republicans are among the country’s largest, most struggling. That alone makes our exploration of why other cities have some Republican power fair.

III. Group conflict and mayoral voting: ‘Voting behavior will likely revert to… normal…’

Karen M. Kaufmann, an associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, thought it an interesting enough concept to dedicate a 2004 book to the subject, entitled The Urban Voter.

How could presumably liberal cities with large minority populations elect Republican mayors? Why did large numbers of white Democrats abandon their long-standing party identifications in support of these Republican candidates? What did these victories mean for the future of city politics and the minority empowerment that had come to characterize many urban regimes Kaufmann 2004, 5)?

Her primary argument is that contemporary local elections are the beneficiaries of particularly loyal partisan voters, unless prolonged conflict encourages voters to find another identification, most notably race. That is, municipal elections are followed even less closely by Americans than national and state elections, so voters seek shortcuts. Democrats will be more likely to vote Democrat in a local election than a national election, unless a campaign deviates from an issues-oriented focus.

Rudolph Giuliani in New York City and Richard Riordan in Los Angeles took office with economic and racial strife plaguing their cities, cities with rampant crime and double-digit unemployment rates (Kaufmann 2004, 151). While issues were there, most notably in Riordan’s victory after the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police, both men benefited from white Democrats who were more likely to be wary of black candidates.

“When elections take place in a conflictual environment, voting behavior will likely reflect the temporal salience of these interests,” wrote Kaufmann. “However, when racial conflict recedes, voting behavior will likely revert to more normal political considerations such as party identification or political ideology” (Kaufmann 2004, 5).

Integral to her point is that after a fairly successful term by Riordan, Los Angeles government returned to Democratic control in 2001 and has remained so since.

Interestingly, two of the three last close mayoral elections in Philadelphia involve black Democrats and white Republicans, which created racial tensions. By Kaufmann’s model and as discussed earlier, Rizzo should have benefited from running against a black candidate two years removed from presiding over a city government that had killed 11 residents and destroyed 60 homes. Goode was the city’s first black mayor and had been in power on perhaps Philadelphia’s darkest day.

Like Rizzo and Goode in 1987, the second recent mayoral election that saw an increase in racial tensions when a black Democrat and a white Republican came in 1999. Sam Katz, too, took white Democrats from Street, but Katz failed to make serious inroads among black voters – more to follow.

“Sam Katz,” said Miller, the St. Joseph’s professor. “He was doing more than just paying lip service to black voters.”

IV. Non-white voting in Philly: ‘A huge portion of this puzzle is the rise of black political power.’

Black political power first became a serious development in Philadelphia during the 1970s. In 1971, as previously noted, state Sen. Hardy Williams ran for the Democratic mayoral nomination in 1971 – without the party’s blessing and as the first black to do so. He failed, but a movement began.

The Rev. William H. Gray III won the second U.S. Congressional district in 1978 and became a driving force, establishing his now famed Northwest Alliance. The North Philadelphia reverend was known to raise funds nationally and distribute them locally with the expressed intent of breaking apart established white Democratic elite circles, that include politicians like former state Sen. Buddy Cianfrani and former City Councilman Jimmy Tayoun, who, as Philadelphia magazine put it in 2007, “sat in a smoky room and picked which hacks would represent black wards” (Fagone 2007).

“We said, ‘Hey, political office is not a reward for party loyalty.” Gray told the magazine. “You got to be talented.”

Philadelphia’s pool of talented black leaders today are largely of Gray’s Northwest Alliance, like Gray congressional replacement Chakah Fattah, powerful chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee Dwight Evans, Councilwoman and Majority Leader Marian Tasco, and even the younger, now Mayor Michael Nutter. The city’s black power share has grown large enough that it too has fractured, most clearly seen in a growing West Philadelphia camp led by Fattah, as evidenced in a March 2006 cover story by Philadelphia Weekly. Still, it is that coalition that created black power in Philadelphia, made it Democrat and has kept it Democrat (Gregory 2006).

“There were older black Republicans in the 1970s, remnants of when Democrats were synonymous with the one-party South,” said Ferrick, the Inquirer columnist. “A huge portion of this puzzle is the rise of black political power, particularly in Philadelphia.”

Black leaders gained power and black voters gained a voice within the city’s Democratic Party, leaving the Republican Party not an option to many blacks. Looking at the most competitive elections the city has had, the most common stumbling block for Republicans has been a black voting bloc that is extremely unfriendly to the GOP.

In 1999, one prescient Republican was that in a decade during which New York City and Los Angeles elected Republican mayors – Guiliani and Riordan – blacks, who were a much larger percent of the vote in Philadelphia, would frustrate GOP efforts in Philadelphia (Infield 1998). Less than 30 percent of New York City’s population in 1990 was black, and Los Angeles’s black population has hovered around 10 percent since then.

A city like Chicago – with an even longer Democratic mayoral hegemony than Philadelphia – has, like Philadelphia, long had a large black population. Better than a third of its 2.7 million residents today are black. More than 40 percent of Philadelphia’s 1.5 million are black.

Jersey City had a sizable black population in 1993 when Schundler became its first Republican mayor in 75 years. Though it was still less than a third – similar to New York City’s sum – Schundler was further aided by a splintering of the black vote between two black opponents (New York Times 1992).

Although Katz stole white Democrats from Street, more than 90 percent of black voters in the city supported John Street rather than Katz (Clines 1999). For further analysis, take the 21st ward, in the city’s lower northwest region. The 21st is majority Democrat and majority white. In 1999, more than 80 percent of voters supported Katz. In each North Philadelphia ward – 11, 13, 14, 16, 20, 28, 29, 32 and 37 – Street garnered better than 92 percent of the vote from those overwhelmingly black neighborhoods (Committee of Seventy).

V. Local Lessons on race for National Parties: ‘You ain’t much, but you all we got’

It is generally accepted that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s promise of a New Deal for struggling Americans first brought blacks into the Democratic fold, abandoning the party of Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation. FDR’s move was bolstered by the Kennedy’s and Lyndon Baines Johnson’s support for civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

In the next 40 years, Republican candidates have seen declining portions of the black vote, reaching the lowest point yet in 2000 when George W. Bush garnered just 8 percent. Perhaps noting the social conservatism and religiousness of many blacks, Republicans have taken a new interest in reaching out, a move often credited to the national GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman, who, in 2005, apologized for Nixon-era’s “Southern strategy” of attracting white voters through racial polarization surrounding integration (Balz 2006).

Republicans have added Latino voters since the 1990s as that population has grown. However, civil rights legislation led to the majority of black voters identifying with the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party alone. Hispanics haven’t found reason to develop such loyalty to either major party, and the immigration reform debate seems unlikely to reach necessary levels of dynamism that appears to court a voting bloc indefinitely (Balz 2006).

To understand the racial divide of party loyalty between blacks and Hispanics, for example, we can look at the in the 7th councilmanic district in Philadelphia, currently represented by Maria D. Quinones-Sanchez. The Democrat is the only Hispanic on Philadelphia’s City Council. Her district includes the 7th ward, which includes the city’s 5th Street corridor, the center of a rich Puerto Rican community and other Hispanic contingents near neighborhoods to the east with other Central American peoples. As recently as the April 22 presidential primary in Pennsylvania, nearly one-third of voters in the largely Hispanic 7th ward were Republican. Some 4,000 were Democrats (Committee of Seventy).

Blacks in Philadelphia and elsewhere have proven more loyal to Democrats. Yet limiting their choice to the Democratic primary likely makes their cause less salient. If blacks will only vote for Democrats, there is no motivation for a candidate from either major party to court black voters. So far, black Republican candidates, a distinction that grew in popularity in the 2006 election cycle, have proven largely incapable of swaying black voters, a dangerous trend for black voters, as John McWhorter, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, suggested in an Op-Ed written for the New York Sun (McWhorter 2006).

So when Lynn Swann ran against incumbent Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who was largely popular in the state’s southeast corner, which includes his Philadelphia home and a preponderance of black voters, it was duly noted that Swann tanked, in losing by more than 20 points. Polls showed black voters pulling for Rendell more than six to one over Swann (Quinnipiac 2006).

Swann was supposed to be part of a new crop of black Republicans who could sway black voters to the Republican fold (Dao 2005). In 2006, Swann was joined by Michael Steele, who lost a race for the U.S. Senate, and Kenneth Blackwell, who lost a bid for Ohio Governor. In September 2007, four Republican presidential candidates skipped out on a forum on black issues (Kranish 2007).

Three-time Republican mayoral candidate Thatcher Longstreth carried 85 percent of the black vote in 1971, though, Longstreth himself admitted, it had more to do with his opponent – Frank Rizzo, the law-and-order candidate with a political strategy of motivating whites by alienating blacks. In his autobiography, Longstreth wrote of his campaigning on what is now Cecil B. Moore Avenue in central North Philadelphia. “You ain’t much,” said a black woman who recognized him. “But you all we got” (Longstreth 1990, 253).

Longstreth lost to the favored Rizzo by less than 50,000 votes, surely aided by inroads among blacks (Mayoral Election Totals). Republicans can win blacks in Philadelphia, particularly if the circumstances – like a Democrat who takes the bloc for granted or is as distasteful as Rizzo – help. Longstreth, a native of liberal Chestnut Hill, scooped Republican voters, a portion of the reform-minded and, as suggested, blacks, to use again our four voting blocs. Considering Rizzo had already developed a cult following among the city’s white ethnics and benefited some from registered Democrats, Longstreth was forced to build coalitions elsewhere. His Democratic crossover, aside from blacks, wasn’t enough.

VI. What competition means: ‘It is not necessary to assume cities should have two-party systems.’

“We’re urban Republicans,” said Michael Meehan, the city’s Republican committee general counsel. “We offer a different point of view. Republicans in Iowa and Nebraska are not exposed to what goes on here.”

It is a theme long held in Philadelphia’s losing Republican Party.

“You might say to the Democrats in a suburban county, ‘Why do you exist?” Meehan said. “We don’t limit ourselves by looking at just regular Republicans.”

Indeed, they don’t. Sam Katz was a Democrat turned Republican, largely thought to be a way to avoid the tougher Democratic primary. As mentioned earlier, Arlen Specter became a Republican simply for the chance to run for district attorney in 1965. He won, but remained a registered Democrat even after he won (Huber 2006). It was Specter who hired Ed Rendell and Lynn Abraham in the city’s district attorney’s office. Rendell took over for Specter and is now Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor and Abraham is the city’s Democratic district attorney today. Frank Rizzo was a Republican, then a Democrat, and then a Republican again. If we return to our four voting blocs, in a city in which a small portion of registered Republicans, this switchover isn’t just inevitable, it is necessary.

It happens elsewhere. New York City’s John Lindsay didn’t win the Republican Party’s nomination during his reelection campaign, so he switched to a liberal outgrowth of the Democratic Party for his second term. Bloomberg, a lifelong registered Democrat, successfully avoided his city’s contentious Democratic primary by switching to the Republican Party. He received endorsements from prominent New York City Democrats, including former city mayor and TV judge Ed Koch, former New York Gov. Hugh Carey and several councilmen and congressional representatives.

“In many respects Sam Katz was more liberal than I am,” said Street, Kat’s Democratic rival. “It was my sense that most local Republicans didn’t care for Sam Katz.”

“John Street would have been a Republican if he thought he could get elected as one,” Meehan, the Republican general counsel, observed. Urban Democrats seem to be a party of victory, not of any ideological unity. Kaufmann, the author of The Urban Voter, said that has developed in every major city, including New Orleans, where its black mayor – like Street – may have characteristics more fitting a Republican title.

“Ray Nagin played on white indifference for political gain,” she said. “But his original backers were wealthy businessmen… He’s a Democrat in name only.”

“The Republican Party works with the Democratic Party more than anyone else in the city,” said Dilworth, the Drexel professor. “It is not necessary to assume cities should have two-party systems.”

If the party affiliation of a local candidate doesn’t necessarily reflect his ideology, the debate is muddled and the message of a local party may likely be more important.

VII. Why a Republican Party exists: ‘They make city politics more competitive.’

“What’s the alternative?” said Kelly, the Philadelphia Republican reformer. “There needs to be some check.”

Republican Fiorello LaGuardia served three mayoral terms in New York City from 1934 to 1945. He was a supporter of Democrat President Roosevelt’s New Deal and developed his base around the city’s white, liberal reform voters, a middle-class typically reserved – particularly in cities – for Democrats. Those motivations and his devotion to social and urban development all seem to suggest a Democrat, but he was anti-corruption candidate and became a Republican because of a commitment to defeating the city’s Tammany Hall Democratic machine. His Republican status was a check on otherwise unchecked Democratic rule.

“Republicans always have the argument that they make city politics more competitive,” said Davies, the political writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. “I don’t think the Republican Party has been an abject failure. You have to put their successes in the context of big city American politics.”