December 14, 2023 - 1:05pm

Is sanity finally returning to America’s blue cities? The places that incubated inept policies such as “defund the police” and “sanctuary cities”, but welcomed open-air drug use, are beginning to have second thoughts. In Seattle, Portland and San Francisco (which featured in a recent UnHerd special), lawmakers are looking at ways to curb public drug use — a move that has been symptomatic of a wider pushback against progressive policies.

Take Houston as a different example. This week, progressives lost two-to-one in the mayor’s race, electing a moderate Democrat, John Whitmire, and rejecting Sheila Jackson Lee, one of the reliably far-Left Democrats in Congress. In addition, the city elected more conservatives and moderates to the city council.

In Houston, as elsewhere, crime was cited as by far the city’s biggest issue. It was also behind the defeat last month of a Soros-backed prosecutor candidate in Pittsburgh’s district attorney race and in Seattle’s contest for city attorney, which a Republican won. Meanwhile in Dallas, another city with a serious crime problem, Mayor Eric Johnson, an African American, felt compelled to change parties, becoming the second major city (after Miami) to go to what many urbanistas call “the dark side”. 

None of this suggests that Republicans will inherit the cities. The demographic shifts in recent years have eroded the party’s potential base of middle- and working-class white ethnic groups, who are being replaced by both minorities and millennials, both of whom vote heavily Democratic. 

The key here is a potential coalition of moderate Democrats with conservatives and family-oriented multi-racial groups. This is the formula that two decades ago helped elect reformist mayors from both parties across the country, ranging from Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in New York, to Richard Riordan in Los Angeles, to Ed Rendell in Philadelphia. Their elections played a critical role in the reduction of crime and economic resurgence in all these cities.

Like now, progressive politics, lax law enforcement and stupefying regulations brought these cities close to bankruptcy and decay. But today, the problem is arguably worse: an influx of undocumented immigrants and soaring real estate prices have made the situation near untenable for Democratic leaders. 

The real struggle, however, will take place largely within the Democratic Party. This conflict has been intensified by shocks from the Israel-Palestine conflict, with cities tending to have both large Jewish and Muslim populations. Disruptions and violence have become commonplace in metropolises like New York, the world’s second-largest Jewish city after Tel Aviv, and Los Angeles, the fifth-largest.

Traditionally, Jewish voters, and donors, have tended to back Democrats. Yet there are signs that this may be changing. Almost all the cities that have backed anti-Israel resolutions, such as Oakland, tend to be controlled by progressive Democrats. The far-Left’s anti-Israel stance, combined with its disdain for law enforcement, decent education and private enterprise, are pushing many traditional Democrats to seek ways to challenge Left-wing groups, such as Democratic Socialists of America, in local elections. 

Will these efforts succeed? Urban demographics make it tough and the poor state of almost all city schools make it nearly impossible for all but the most affluent families to choose to stay in town. To create a saner urban future, city residents will have to keep voting out progressive politicians until they start abandoning their various hare-brained schemes. Until this is achieved, the state of America’s cities will continue to deteriorate.

Joel Kotkin is the Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Encounter)