The Left Has Killed Our Great Cities
A Commentary By Stephen Moore
Mark down Tuesday, April 4, as the night Chicago died.
That's when we learned that Second City voters narrowly elected Brandon Johnson as their next mayor. This is a city that was flattened during the reign of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who lost in the first round of voting for Chicago mayor because she didn't finish in one of the top two spots. Lightfoot, elected in 2019 after a career as a federal prosecutor who then held several appointed positions in Chicago, shut down the city for more than a year during COVID-19. She also bankrupted small businesses, allowed rioters to burn down whole neighborhoods, presided over the worst crime wave in 50 years and let the schools go to hell.
Now, the voters have selected Johnson. Elected to the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 2018, Johnson narrowly won the mayoralty of America's third-most-populous city on April 4 over Paul Vallas, a former Chicago schools CEO and a Democrat who presented himself as a political moderate compared to the far-left Johnson.
The incoming mayor may turn out to be a worse mayor than Lightfoot. Johnson's occupation is an organizer for the teachers unions. The unions spent several million dollars on the race. They got their man.
What this means is that Chicago's municipal government will now be a fully owned subsidiary of the Chicago Teachers Union. (Can you imagine what the union contracts are going to look like?) This is a city where, in roughly two dozen schools, zero children can read or write at proficiency level.
Johnson said that crime and shoplifting from local schools are societal problems. And he may continue Lightfoot's policy of not prosecuting people who rob stores -- often owned by minorities.
It's not just Chicago that has become a war zone. Portland, Seattle and San Francisco were not so long ago the crown jewels of the West Coast. They were said to be progressive cities that worked. No more. Now, they are unlivable. San Francisco is overrun with homeless people on seemingly every downtown street corner, feces on the sidewalks and trash everywhere.
In Portland, major businesses are pulling out in the aftermath of the takeover of the radical anarchists during COVID-19. Crime is so rampant that Walmart recently said "adios," shutting down its last store. Rains PDX, a clothing store in Portland, shut down last November after a string of break-ins made it impossible to stay open. This printed sign pasted on the door says it all:
"Small businesses (and large) cannot sustain doing business, in our city's current state. We have no protection, or recourse, against the criminal behavior that goes unpunished. Do not be fooled into thinking that insurance companies cover losses. We have sustained 15 break-ins ... We have not received any financial reimbursement since the 3rd."
For the first time, Seattle is losing population. To be "progressive," Seattle is imposing a massive capital gains tax increase -- socking it to the rich. So they are fleeing the city and Washington state.
One of the nation's top demographers, Wendell Cox, has been analyzing the just-released Census Bureau data on county population. He found that "during the late 2010s and before the pandemic, population growth and domestic migration transitioned toward smaller metropolitan areas from larger ones. That outmigration is accelerating."
The nation's 10 largest counties have lost more than 1 million residents since 2019. The biggest losers have been the counties that are home to New York and San Francisco and Chicago's Cook County. Even Los Angeles County, the nation's most populous county, with just under 10 million people, is now contracting.
Welcome to the real-world impact of progressivism. Instead of worker paradises, the Left has transitioned our once-shining cities into slums, murder zones, homeless encampments and boarded-up stores. They have become cults of economic and political quackery -- and tragically, few Democrats have the courage to speak out. They are worried about being called racists when the reality is that the victims -- of terrible public schools, high murder rates and an anti-business creed -- are the minorities they say they care so much about.
The three poisons of America's leftist cities are 1) high taxes, 2) schools that don't educate and 3) crime running rampant. As mayors such as Rudy Giuliani of New York City proved in the 1990s after the Big Apple had been driven to its knees, all it takes is committed leadership to fix these problems. Things can change quickly, as they did in Manhattan.
The fact that Chicagoans have elected not a reformer, but a deformer, suggests that inner-city residents still don't get it -- or they don't care. Or they are all on the payroll of the city governments that are going bankrupt. Alas, our cities can't be saved if the voters in these metropolises don't want to be saved.
Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a co-founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. His latest book is "Govzilla: How the Relentless Growth of Government Is Devouring Our Economy."
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