Yet, amid a nationwide crime spike and voter concerns about defunding the police, a majority of progressive candidates and ballot measures fizzled. In races like those in Buffalo and Minneapolis, moderate candidates emerged victorious, bolstered by name recognition and comparatively larger fundraising war chests from the Democratic establishment. And left-leaning candidates calling for sweeping policing reforms distanced themselves from — and were, in some cases, still tactically tied to by their opponents — calls to defund.
“One of the realities is, even when there’s a big groundswell of people that are calling for accountability, the police, their unions, their concerns have done a really good job of capturing the political clout, especially on the local level,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, who said his organization had hoped to “create a similar tension and a similar choice for elected officials on the ground.”
There were a handful of bright spots for progressives, however: One of the measures reforming city law enforcement ultimately passed, in Cleveland’s Issue 24, which establishes a civilian review panel for the city’s police department. Both Boston and Cleveland elected progressive mayors in Michelle Wu and Justin Bibb. And while Minneapolis will keep its police department as is, voters supported a charter amendment to authorize rent control in the city.
Here’s a look at Tuesday’s biggest urban elections — and the issues that drove them.
Atlanta gets tough on crime
The race to lead Georgia’s capital city will head to a runoff between City Council President Felicia Moore and Council member Andre Dickens. Each of them prioritized crime and public safety in their campaign messages, citing a nearly 60 percent spike in homicides in Atlanta.
Dickens’ victory presented a major upset to former Mayor Kasim Reed, whose high name recognition, fundraising prowess and I-alone-can-fix-it message on crime gave him a narrow lead in a majority of preelection polls. Dickens cited the large number of undecided voters in the election as a driving force behind his success.
“People got to know me and they stopped being undecided and a lot of them came my way,” he told Atlanta’s 11Alive shortly before the final vote tally.
Dickens bested Reed by fewer than 700 votes. He also had the support of city heavyweights like former Mayor Shirley Franklin. Moore, for her part, boasted high name ID as a longtime City Council member and outgoing City Council president. She also gained support from national groups such as EMILY’s List. Dickens and Moore will face off again on Nov. 30.
‘Defund the police’ fails in Minneapolis
The city that sat at the epicenter of a summer of protests against police violence and systemic racism voted down a ballot amendment that would overhaul its police department. The ballot amendment, also known as Yes 4 Minneapolis, would have replaced the police department with a department of public safety. It failed by 12 percentage points on Tuesday, marking a win for the pro-police wing of the Democratic Party in the majority-progressive city.
Incumbent Mayor Jacob Frey had opposed the measure. Frey garnered more than 40 percent of the vote, followed by community organizer Sheila Nezhad and former state Rep. Kate Knuth, to secure another term. The mayor faced more than a dozen other challengers in the race after activists harshly criticized his handling of last summer’s protests in the city and his refusal to support the ballot measure on policing.