In the Democratic primary for Philadelphia mayor, Cherelle Parker has decisively defeated her opponents. Among them was the progressive Helen Gym, who had endorsed by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The win for Parker, a moderate, raises the usual question of whether and why today’s voters are more centrist or progressive; politicalfor example, called the primary nothing less than the “next battle for the soul of the Democratic Party”, serving as “a test of the strength of the national progressive movement”.
It’s easy to portray Parker’s victory as a message sent by voters in favor of “tough on crime” policies. During his campaign, Parker had promised to put more police on the streets and condemned the “disorder” of the city. The black working-class neighborhoods that have been the most affected by armed violence he tended to support Parker.
But city politics are always complicated and we have to be careful with stories that emphasize only one theme.
In fact, Parker isn’t exactly the equivalent of a “tough on crime” Republican, and while she has controversially defended stop-and-frisk practices, she’s also spoke of the need for “restorative justice” and backed up Reformist District Attorney Larry Krasner when he first ran for office in 2017. Tellingly, both the local Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of Black Police endorsed one of Parker’s opponents.
Parker is also a very experienced politician with the backing of major local players. He received important endorsements from local unions. If progressives seek a clear conclusion to this race, “progressive candidates can’t win if major local unions don’t support the progressive candidate” is as important as anything about crime and surveillance politics. After all, Chicago’s Brandon Johnson recently won the city’s mayoral election while openly rejecting the “tough on crime” policy in a city plagued by gun violence. But Johnson was a union organizer for the powerful Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). In cities where organized labor is still strong, the key lesson here may be that a progressive candidate who wants to win cannot afford to have the major unions back his opponent.
There are still some important takeaways on crime and surveillance. First, clearly at least some voters who are alarmed by the ongoing violence in the city found reassurance in Parker’s promises to keep people safe. Parker offered a clear and detailed public safety plan. Those progressives who don’t believe “more police” is the answer to gun violence (and I count me among them) pro-police candidates cannot be allowed to be the only ones with clear policies. The slogan “Defund the Police” was ill-conceived, not because reallocating police funds is a bad idea, but because it emphasized what the progressive movement was against (tough policing) instead of emphasizing what it was for (good schools, good jobs). , good housing, healthy communities).
Progressives who want to win in areas experiencing widespread violence need a strong pro-security message, emphasizing that more incarceration and more security are not synonymous.
When I I talk to Robert Peters, the Chicago Socialist Democrat who holds Barack Obama’s former state Senate seat in Illinois, told me that while he was a strong supporter of eliminating cash bail, he also had a message to let voters who cared about protecting them from violence. “I am not going to give ground from my office or when I organize when it comes to public safety,” Peters said.
Still, no one in Philadelphia won a majority of the vote, and we must be careful not to jump to general conclusions about national trends from a mayoral race in a city where the winner got 33 percent and participation was low.
Surely, we must avoid concluding that Philadelphia voters have sent some kind of decisive rejection of progressive approaches to public safety. After all, in the same cityLarry Krasner himself was re-elected by a landslide in 2021, with strong results in the same crime-ridden neighborhoods that opted for Parker.
The elections of Karen Bass in Los Angeles and Johnson in Chicago show that unapologetic liberalism is still viable in cities. But without a compelling vision on how to stop the violence or strong support from local unions, it will be very difficult for those on the left to defeat establishment candidates.
Nathan J. Robinson is editor-in-chief of Current Affairs magazine and author of Responding to the Right: Brief Replies to 25 Conservative Arguments.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.