After a year of unpopular lock-downs, incumbents may be facing serious blowback at the ballot box.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, once and future darling of the Democratic Party, announced in May that she will not be seeking reelection in the fall. Though she failed to specify exactly why, she did make it a point to mention her decision was not based on fear of losing or lack of financial support for her candidacy.
“Can she fundraise? YES,” Bottoms wrote of herself in a public letter explaining her decision to the city of Atlanta. “With the support of President Biden, I had the most successful single fundraiser of any Mayor in the history of Atlanta.”
“Can she win again? ABSOLUTELY,” Mayor Bottoms continued. “Multiple credible polls have shown that if the race for Mayor were held today, I would be re-elected.”
“Is she afraid of the competition? NEVER,” Bottoms wrote. “I have engaged in several elections, facing multiple candidates, and never once have I cowarded from the competition.”
From shortlisted candidate for Biden Admin VP, to potential Biden cabinet member, to one-term Mayor of Atlanta?
“How did Bottoms go from turning down a Cabinet post to turning down a chance at a second term?” the Atlanta-Journal Constitution mused after Bottoms made the surprise announcement at a press conference.
In spite of the seemingly heartfelt letter, and the many reasons Bottoms named as not playing a role in her decision, she markedly withheld the reasons for the unusual choice to give up her office without a fight.
“Is she running for another office?” the Mayor asked in her “Dear Atlanta,” letter, cagily answering: “While I am not yet certain of what the future holds, I trust that my next season will continue to be one full of passion and purpose, guided by the belief that within each of us is the power and responsibility to make a positive difference in the lives of others.”
The question remains: If Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms could win reelection, why wouldn’t she try?
Polls, as we have reason to note, aren’t worth the paper they aren’t printed on these days. Was Bottoms, and her team, seeing other polling numbers they didn’t like and therefore didn’t share with the public?
In New York City, progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio, due to term limits, will also not be seeking reelection. Would he win if he did?
Rolling Stone, hardly a right-wing outfit, categorized Mayor De Blasio’s performance thusly:
“How did a mayor who promised to usher in a new era of progressivism in New York fail his city in such spectacular fashion when it mattered most, and do so through naked betrayals of the principles around which he built his political persona?
New Yorkers have been puzzling over the answer since the pandemic hit, but with de Blasio leaving office in a matter of months, they may be better served asking themselves how they were duped, and what can be gleaned from the past year of empty rhetoric and half-measure solutions that can help them avoid making the same mistake as they elect his successor.” — “Bill de Blasio Burned Out When New York Needed Him Most” by Ryan Bort for Rolling Stone
Oregon’s Democratic Governor Kate Brown, who famously came under fire for failing to contain 100 days of rioting in Portland, will also be spared an undoubtably brutal reelection bid by term limits.
In Maryland, the odd Republican Governor Larry Hogan, deeply criticized for his COVID-19 response among other failings, is also bound from seeking another term by term limits.
Chicago’s embattled Mayor Lori Lightfoot has not confirmed yet whether she will be seeking reelection. For Lightfoot the problem has been less about unpopular COVID-19 restrictions and more about the sky-rocketing rates of violence and property crime spiking in and around Chicago.
Even formerly safe neighborhoods have been plagued by a Summer of gun violence and organized theft unlike anything the city has seen in since crime last peaked in the 1990s. Violence in Chicago has gotten so bad that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is finally taking federal action.
Astute observers of the news might notice this is the very federal strategy to which Democratic Governors and Mayors objected so strenuously whenever it was proposed by the Trump Administration. It isn’t so much that the heavy-handed federal law enforcement methods will have changed, simply that a changing of the guard has, somehow, made these measures more politically acceptable.
Other major metropolitan areas are experiencing the same crime crisis to varying degrees. In Portland, homicide is up 500%-800%. In New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore and elsewhere it is up from 40%-60%.
The trend is growing by the day with no signs of slowing. Progressive prosecutors in places like New York City and San Francisco have neutralized whatever badly depleted law enforcement agencies that remain. State and local efforts to defund police, coupled with low morale and a rash of retirements and resignations, has left many neighborhoods underserved and unprotected.
San Francisco is experiencing a rash of shoplifting on the heels of a measure that decriminalized any property theft less than $950. In response, Target is closing stores at 6 pm and Walgreen’s is shuttering branches in blighted areas.
A recent chamber of commerce poll showed a whopping 40% of San Franciscans plan to move. The reason they give: Crime.
That state and local leaders have had a rough time of it over the past year is no secret. A major pandemic, the attendant shut-downs and corresponding unemployment. The death of George Floyd last May and the months of protests which followed, some of them resulting in the most expensive rioting in history, further tested struggling state and local governments.
Under the cover of the massive protests, a criminal element has unleashed a wave of opportunistic crime on a nation already weakened by a stalling economy. There is a marked lack of trust in law enforcement and other government agencies, which is undermining faith in other public institutions, including those ostensibly dedicated to public health.
Trust in the media has reached an all-time low. Even once universally-respected cultural leaders in sports and entertainment have become polarizing figures pumping their opinions into gradually-emptying echo chambers.
From within this environment, it is hard to tell what’s really going on outside of the ever-dueling narratives of the right and left. We have to read between the lines as often as communists in Cold War Russia.
Just how likely are embattled Governors and Mayors to retain their offices after the next election cycle- really?
And if they are concerned about meeting defeat at the ballot box- or worse, defeat at the hands of a primary challenger- what is making them the most nervous?
Is it COVID-19 responsiveness, and the unpopularity of the more draconian lock-downs? Is it rising crime? Or is it something else?
One embattled Democratic state and local leader stands out: California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Unlike his incumbent peers across the nation, Newsom is facing a serious recall effort and is currently fighting for his political life- right now, not in some future election cycle. Reading between the lines, it is worth paying attention to what Newsom doesn’t do as much as what he does.
What he is doing is making ever more, and ever more lavish, promises to deal effectively with California’s exploding homelessness epidemic, crime and drug abuse crisis. What he isn’t doing is shutting down California.
“Southern California would be back in purple, red tiers if old color-coded system still existed,” wondered the Orange County Register; “Still, there’s probably no going back. ‘How are you going to get counties to go back to tiers once they’ve seen their amusement parks open?’”
“Politically, while there’s a recall on the horizon, there’s not going to be the same sentiment for statewide action,” the OCR quoted Marcia Godwin, professor of public administration at the University of La Verne, as saying. “Really, now it’s about nudging, encouraging, begging people to get vaccinated as an alternative to additional mandates.”
While the mainstream media beats the fear drums on the Delta variant- for our safety and the greater good rather than to shore up sagging ratings, of course- Newsom is one Democratic governor showing no signs of giving in to calls to reinstitute state-wide mask mandates and closures.
That doing so during the last month of Summer would be deeply unpopular goes without saying. That doing so in time for teacher’s unions to keep in-person school closed this fall might push California voters over the edge.
Over that edge, eagerly waiting to catch them, is popular Republican juggernaut and media personality Larry Elder. Elder’s campaign to challenge Newsom is gaining steam in wake of a major legal victory. An attempt to keep Elder off the ballot in California using un inapplicable law passed in 2018 to keep Donald Trump off the ballot in California failed.
With Elder, a self-described Black conservative from South Central LA, on the ballot, the stakes are even higher for Newsom, who might have already blown it.
Unlike Elder, Newsom’s legal challenge was recently denied by a judge. Governor Gavin Newsom, due to an error when filing his paperwork, did not include his party affiliation “Democrat”. A judge has ruled that Newsom will not be listed as a Democrat on the ballot.
Gavin Newsom’s recall race will be be a bellwether for what other embattled incumbents are likely to face at the state and local level. If conservative personality Larry Elder manages to wrest California from Newsom’s hands, the implications are going to be enormous.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)