A Socialist Comes to Power Elsewhere in New York

India Walton poses as she campaigns to replace four-term Mayor Byron Brown in Buffalo, N.Y., December 15, 2020. (Lindsay DeDario/Reuters)

On the menu today: The city of Buffalo, N.Y., is set to elect a socialist mayor, a development that is being overhyped by America’s socialists and over-denounced by those who hate socialism; Senate Republicans may be giving away the store; the 2022 midterm-election-issue environment is starting to take shape; and an utterly mind-boggling decision by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

A Socialist Wins the Race to Become Mayor of Buffalo. Good Luck, Bills Fans

Yesterday, Matt Yglesias observed; “Not as covered as the NYC race, but socialists scored a big win in a Buffalo election where only 20,000 people voted. It cuts against their official narrative, but the Left’s true strength is low-turnout, low-salience races.”

Great news, socialists. You’ve got big advantages when no one is paying attention.

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There’s a good chance you rarely think about the city of Buffalo, N.Y., unless you’re eating chicken wings, watching coverage of a blizzard, or watching the NFL playoffs (and even that wouldn’t have been true until recently).

The city has 250,000 people living within the city limits; the city’s metropolitan area ranks 50th in population with 1.1 million — second-to-last among cities with an NFL team, above Green Bay, Wis. The metropolitan area’s poverty rate is the highest in the state, and the city ranks second-worst in the nation in child poverty. Every now and then, you’ll see national coverage contending that Buffalo is enjoying a renaissance, and even the most troubled city can usually find at least one neighborhood or industry that’s thriving. But overall, the picture remains grim. Buffalo may not be in the worst shape of any American city, but it ranks somewhere near the bottom.

In 2008, Forbes listed Buffalo among the ten “fastest dying” cities, and the 2018 Census Bureau estimates indicated that “the City of Buffalo is shrinking — even with the much-publicized influx of immigrants and hurricane evacuees. Between 2010 and 2018, the Census Bureau estimates that Buffalo lost roughly 5,000 residents, or almost two percent of its total population.” An update published earlier this month concluded that, “New data again suggest that Buffalo lost population last year.”

This is part of a long, slow, steady, multi-generational decline: “Buffalo reached its population peak in 1960, when it ranked as the nation’s 15th-largest metropolitan area, one slot below Minneapolis. Buffalo has since dropped all the way to 50th place, while Minneapolis remains in the top 20. Five other markets in our study group were smaller than Buffalo 59 years ago, but are larger today.” The city is disproportionately elderly; only one in three children lives with both of their parents; it has one of the smallest percentages of self-employed residents of any major northern U.S. city; it has a lower percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees; roughly one-sixth of the workforce in Erie and Niagara counties is employed by federal, state, or local governments; the local colleges attract few out-of-state students; and it has a particularly low percentage of residents who moved from other states or countries.

(Republicans will notice that the city hasn’t had a GOP mayor since 1965 and no Republican has served on the city council since 1983. Some on the right might even cheer the election of a socialist mayoral candidate, if for no other reason than to disrupt an inexcusable culture of complacency in a longtime one-party city government.)

Add it all up, and you’ve got a struggling Rust Belt city that has been in rough shape for a long time, is in rough shape today, and unfortunately appears likely to remain in rough shape for at least the near future, if not longer.

That grim portrait does not seem like the ideal circumstance for a four-term mayor to shrug off his Democratic primary opponent and take his renomination for granted, but apparently that’s what happened here. No less a figure than Governor Andrew Cuomo concluded that longtime incumbent Byron Brown was metaphorically caught napping.

“You’re going to have anomalies. . . . Buffalo was a different situation,” Cuomo said. “Super low turnout. Mayor Brown — who I know very well, and I have nothing but good things to say about Mayor Brown — but he decided . . . basically to avoid engaging in a campaign. And then you had a very low turnout. We know that combination, we’ve seen that before. That doesn’t work. Avoiding the campaign . . . and then you wind up with a very low turnout, and then the only people who vote are the people who are organized by the opponent. We’ve seen that movie before.”

And thus, India Walton, a nurse and progressive activist who had never been elected to any office before, will be the next mayor of Buffalo. (Buffalo Republicans did not run a candidate for mayor.)

You’re going to see a lot of coverage like this from John Nichols declaring, “she’s on track to become the first democratic socialist mayor of a major American city since Frank Zeidler, a one-time Socialist Party presidential candidate, led Milwaukee from 1948 to 1960.” (I suspect that somewhere on Capitol Hill, a certain Vermont senator is grumbling that Burlington should count as a major city.)

The irony is that most Republicans will look at Walton and see just another Democrat. Once in office, she intends to immediately “declare Buffalo a sanctuary city, which means that city employees will NOT use city resources to assist or cooperate with any ICE investigation, detention, or arrest relating to alleged violations of the civil provisions of federal immigration law.” (The most shocking aspect of this proposal is that Buffalo isn’t a sanctuary city already.) She pledges to remove police from responding to most mental-health calls, end enforcement of low-level drug possession, and convert the city’s vehicle fleet to electric cars.

Both socialists and people who hate socialists have strong incentives to treat Walton’s upset win as an extremely consequential political development, and either hail or denounce her as the tip of the spear of a socialist takeover of American politics. Allow me to disappoint everyone. Walton was a much better-than-usual candidate — “a full-time working mother at the age of just 14. She earned her GED while pregnant with twins who were born prematurely, an experience that inspired her to become a nurse in the same NICU where her boys’ lives were saved.” The incumbent represented the calcified status quo with an indefensible record, who took his reelection for granted. And the turnout was, as of this writing, fewer than 22,000 people. That’s a bit more than the average attendance of a Buffalo Sabres home game in non-pandemic circumstances. And Walton won by 1,507 votes.

The other reason to doubt that Walton’s victory represents the vanguard of a revolution is the enormity of the task before her — and the persistent, interconnected, systemic problems plaguing her city — although I suppose you could argue that Buffalo is in such rough shape, if Walton can demonstrate any improvement in residents’ lives in any manner, she’ll have good odds for reelection.

You may have noticed a recurring theme in this newsletter that campaigning is easy and governing is hard. Every election cycle, across the country, lots of bright people, with bold new ideas and brimming with energy, step into big-city politics and promptly get slammed like a card table outside a Bills game in Orchard Park. Entrenched bureaucracies drag their feet and resist reforms. Budgets are tight, and enacting tax hikes drives away businesses. Existing contracts and union rules make quick changes impossible.

Already, the Buffalo police union is arguing that her proposal to create an independent police-oversight board violates their existing contract. John Evans, president of the union representing Buffalo Police officers, argues Walton’s distinction between a “mental-health call” and other crimes is fundamentally unworkable. “I don’t know how she would differentiate a mental health call when it comes in and say it’s not a call for police but some mental health team instead. . . . And a lot of mental health calls do become violent and are very unpredictable. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

It is likely that Walton will find enacting her agenda tougher than she made it sound on the campaign trail. If enacting sweeping reforms to city government, reducing poverty, creating jobs, and improving quality of life were easy, someone would have done it by now. Maybe, four years from now, the city of Buffalo will find itself in the dramatically improved condition that Walton promised. But in the end, her promises and her agenda aren’t that dramatically different from her five previous Democratic predecessors — a larger and more activist city government spreading the money around.

Way back in 2007, Harvard professor Edward Glaeser wrote in City Journal that Buffalo was the ideal early 20th-century city that had utterly failed to adapt to economic changes for nearly a century and that no amount of government spending could help it catch up:

Buffalo’s industries were invariably brawn-based. Buffalo wasn’t a university town like Boston, and it didn’t have Minneapolis’s Scandinavian passion for good lower education. It had the right skill mix for making steel or flour, not for flourishing in the information age.

Since the 1950s, the federal government has showered billions upon billions of dollars on Buffalo and other failing cities, seeking to revitalize them. The spending reflected a natural, humane impulse. But none of it worked, as Buffalo’s entrenched poverty and shrinking population testify . . .

All this spending aimed at resurrecting Buffalo as a place — very different from government aid that seeks to help disadvantaged people, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit — was destined to fail. Urban migrations aren’t random. America’s deserts and mountain ranges aren’t densely inhabited for a good reason: few people want to live in such harsh places. Similarly, people and firms are leaving Buffalo for the Sunbelt because the Sunbelt is a warmer, more pleasant, and more productive area to live. The federal government shouldn’t be bribing them, in effect, to stay in the city.

That makes it sound as if Buffalo’s best shot at reversing longtime population decline is global warming.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Charlie Cooke warns Senate Republicans that they’re about to give up all of their leverage on spending:

The deal that Chad Pergram is reporting fixes this issue for the Democrats, in that it allows them to recruit the 60 bipartisan votes for the Manchin-friendly infrastructure package and to turn around once that’s done and get everything else they want at a simple 50-vote threshold. If Schumer is telling the truth when he says that the Senate will do both bills — and again, one can never be sure — Republicans have decided to give up all their negotiating power and, in effect, to permit the spending of trillions of dollars (the Democrats want six trillion!) that they oppose.

A New President’s Party Having a Lousy Midterm-Election Cycle? Unthinkable!

Dan McLaughlin observes that the issue environment for the midterms is slowly taking shape before our eyes:

Loudoun has, in short, been a key bellwether of Virginia’s blue turn over the past decade and a half. It is too soon to tell whether the critical race theory uproar is actually going to move the needle in Loudoun, or just represents the county’s diminished population of Republicans. But if there is a path for Youngkin to pull off an upset win that would resonate in 2022, that path starts with giving the voters of places such as Loudoun County a choice, and critical race theory could be the spark that lights the blaze. Democrats should heed the warning: Woke in the schools and woke on the streets could mean broke at the polls.

ADDENDUM: Boy, this isn’t suspicious at all:

Chinese researchers directed the U.S. National Institutes of Health to delete gene sequences of early Covid-19 cases from a key scientific database, raising concerns that scientists studying the origin of the pandemic may lack access to key pieces of information.

The NIH confirmed that it deleted the sequences after receiving a request from a Chinese researcher who had submitted them three months earlier.

“Submitting investigators hold the rights to their data and can request withdrawal of the data,” the NIH said in a statement.

Did . . . gene sequences of early COVID-19 cases not seem important to the National Institutes of Health? Out of all the genetic sequences in the whole wide world, doesn’t that seem like one of the ones that would be most worth studying and scrutinizing?

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