Civic pride prevents me from looking too often to New York for political guidance. Chicago’s and New York’s styles of politics are about as far apart as their preferences for pizza.
But political junkies everywhere can marvel at the Big Apple’s latest challenge to the conventional political wisdom: the nomination of Democrat Eric Adams, a tough-on-crime, retired Black police captain, to be the city’s next mayor.
In the largest American city to try cumulative voting, Brooklyn Borough President Adams was positioned as precariously as the centrist Joe Biden was at the start of his presidential bid before his endorsement in the South Carolina primaries by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, House majority whip, put him on the road to victory.
Black South Carolina voters in particular helped Biden overcome concerns raised by his opponents, including then-Sen. Kamala Harris, that he might be too conservative for their increasingly progressive party.
New York Democrats raised similar questions about Adams, a former Republican in a quintessentially liberal city where Democrats overwhelmingly outnumber the Grand Old Party.
Yet Adams beat his more progressive opponents with a double-edged message much like Biden’s as violent crime rates surged nationwide into a leading issue during the pandemic: Support the police but banish the brutality.
He could speak persuasively as a Black New Yorker and ex-cop. “I was arrested, I was assaulted by police officers,” he preached on the stump. “I didn’t say woe is me. I said, ‘Why not me?’ I became a police officer, I understand crime, and I also understand police abuse. And I know how we can turn around, not only New York, but America.”
The message: We Americans can be tough on crime while also holding police accountable. Support for Adams came not so much from the hipper progressive confines of Soho or the Upper West Side as much as the sort of outer-borough ethnic, working-class and swing-voter neighborhoods that many Chicagoans like to call “the bungalow belt.”
While Black Lives Matter and other loud factions might demand “defund the police,” very few voters wanted that to happen. Most folks of all colors still want to have cops around when we need them, as long as there is some accountability for their behavior.
Among Democrats who felt vindicated by that message was Black kingmaker Clyburn, who called Adams’ victory more proof that calls to “defund the police” are a “nonstarter, even with
Indeed, as popular progressive slogans go, “rethink the police” makes more sense. As Chicago police Superintendent David Brown, among other knowledgeable cops, has said, we too often ask the police to do too much. The domestic disturbances and mental health cases that sometimes have led to abuse could be better handled by specialists, while police go after serious criminals.
Unfortunately, sensible solutions have a tough time getting past the noise of today’s Twitter-fueled anger industry of politicians, activists and political commentators — sometimes, yes, including me when I can’t help myself.
With that in mind, I was encouraged by Biden’s White House meeting on Monday with Brown, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, among other officials including Adams, where they mainly discussed gun violence and what to do about it.
The closed-door discussion centered on Biden’s announcement of a new comprehensive strategy to push back against the gun violence that has surged more than other crimes during the pandemic.
In the past, liberals have tended to tackle root causes of crime through social services while the right has pushed for tougher police tactics like stop-and-frisk street searches. Biden’s strategy calls for some of both, but aimed more heavily at stopping the flow of firearms used to commit crimes.
Instead of defunding the police, it calls for offering more funds, mainly from the pandemic American Rescue Plan, to put more police on the beat, support community-based violence intervention programs, and improve “reentry” programs for ex-offenders and summer jobs programs to lure more young people off the streets.
The Justice Department also has announced five new “strike forces” to work with local law enforcement to disrupt gun trafficking to Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington.
There’s more, but you get the idea. These are the sort of ideas we’ve seen produce good results in the past, which polls show most people want.
Even so, as Biden was announcing his new efforts to put more police on the streets, the conservative media chorus — Need I name names? — continued to falsely claim that Biden wants to “defund the police,” as if that were part of his name. No surprise. By now, we have learned to expect a lot of name-calling in politics, especially from people who are running out of ideas of their own.