Editor’s note: The following is the first in a series of articles that will expose the misery of life in America’s poorest cities, all of which have one thing in common: they are controlled exclusively by Democrats. Each article presented by FrontPage will reveal how the production of mass urban poverty is much more than just a failure of leadership, but a means of political survival for the Left. To read the background pamphlet by David Horowitz and John Perazzo, “Government Versus The People,” click here.
The city of Minneapolis, Minnesota—whose population is composed of 63.8% whites, 10.5% Hispanics, and 18.6% African Americans—has been governed exclusively by mayors from the Democratic Farmer Labor Party, the state affiliate of the Democratic Party, since 1978.
As of 2011, the poverty rate in Minneapolis was 23.5%, more than one-and-a-half times the national figure of 15%. This differential is consistent with a longstanding, well-documented trend: Virtually all of America’s poorest cities have been led politically by Democrats for many years, even decades. In 2010, for example, not even one of the ten poorest large cities in the U.S. had elected a Republican mayor since the 1980s. In fact, 8 of the 10 cities had been led exclusively by Democrats for more than half a century.
The common thread running through each of these economically decrepit cities is a phenomenon that Harvard scholars Edward Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer famously dubbed “The Curley Effect,” after its prototype, James Michael Curley, who served four non-consecutive terms as mayor of Boston between 1914 and 1950. This phenomenon, Glaeser and Shleifer explain, is the strategy of “increasing the relative size of one’s political base through distortionary, wealth-reducing policies.” Forbes magazine puts it this way: “A politician or a political party can achieve long-term dominance by tipping the balance of votes in their direction through the implementation of policies that strangle and stifle economic growth. Counterintuitively, making a city poorer leads to political success for the engineers of that impoverishment.”
This typically occurs when Democratic administrations adopt policies that redistribute wealth from the prosperous to the poor, causing the latter to become economically dependent upon their political patrons, and thus to become a permanently pro-Democrat voting bloc. At the same time, these redistributive policies cause the people harmed by them (i.e., those from whom wealth is extracted) to emigrate to other cities and states, thereby further solidifying the political power of Curleyist practitioners.
The beneficiaries of Curleyist redistributionism invariably become unable to perceive the connection between left-wing policies and their negative consequences. Instead, they view Democrats as the noble, last line of defense that stands between them and total destitution. As a result, their loyalty to Democrats persists, undiminished, regardless of how bad conditions may get—chiefly because they interpret the failures of leftist policies as evidence that those policies simply did not go far enough, probably as a result of conservative obstructionism. Thus do residents of Democrat-controlled cesspools of poverty and crime continue, in perpetuity, to elect Democrats to political office.
Prior to the permanent Democratic takeover of Minneapolis in 1978, the city’s poverty rate had been consistently lower than the national average. Then, through most of the 1980s, the ripples of the Reagan economic boom delivered a positive effect to cities nationwide, including Minneapolis. Indeed, Minneapolis added some 3,000 new jobs to its downtown area each year from 1981-87. In 1983, only 8% of the city’s metropolitan-area population lived below the poverty level, as compared to approximately 15% nationally.
But by 1988, Minneapolis’s left-wing Democratic mayor, Donald Fraser, had grown troubled by the stark contrast between those sections of his city that were thriving economically, and a number of African-American neighborhoods where crime, teenage pregnancy, and welfare dependency were widespread. Fraser believed that the proper remedy for these pathologies would be to implement a host of taxpayer-funded, government-administered social-welfare programs. “What is needed,” said the mayor, “is a more thoughtful discussion, a rethinking of the city, of welfare support, and it should begin right here.” Specifically, Fraser held that federal and local agencies needed to focus more of their attention and financial resources on the economic and social problems confronting unwed mothers and their children. His successors as mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton and R.T.Rybak, have shared this same perspective—a mindset that has fueled the decades-long trend of ever-increasing wealth redistribution and government subsidies for the poor, not only in Minneapolis but across the United States.
By no means is financial hardship in Minneapolis limited solely to low-income residents. Indeed, the city’s homeowners pay higher property taxes than their counterparts in most other metropolitan municipalities. One study of 142 metro areas found that only 15 of them bore a heavier property-tax burden than Minneapolis as of 2010, and that was before Minneapolis raised its property taxes by 4.7% in 2011.
Just as Minneapolis residents face significant economic challenges, so must they deal with the city’s sizable crime problem. In the early 1990s, crime began trending downward in much of the U.S. for various reasons, including the decline of the crack cocaine epidemic, more aggressive policing strategies, and harsher punishments for criminal behavior. New York City, under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and police commissioner William Bratton, led the way in this regard with their CompStat crime-tracking system and their use of the so-called “broken-windows” approach to crime-prevention. In comparison to other cities, Minneapolis was slow to adopt the new law-enforcement and criminal-justice strategies and thus lagged behind the national trend for several years. But once the city changed its ways (e.g., by incorporating CompStat) in the late 1990s, it likewise experienced a noteworthy reduction in crime.
Notwithstanding this positive downward trend, however, crime rates in Minneapolis remain far higher than statewide and national figures alike. For example, in 2010 the violent crime rate for Minneapolis exceeded the corresponding Minnesota rate by 346.55%, and the overall U.S. rate by 161.03%. Similarly, the property crime rate in Minneapolis surpassed the Minnesota rate by 84.44%, and the national rate by 61.27%.
In a particularly ugly develoment, Minneapolis in recent times has been the scene of numerous incidents involving “flash mob” violence, usually by large groups of black assailants targeting white victims. For example, on March 17, 2012, a gang of some 20 young men inflicted serious brain injuries on one young man, just an hour after a large group of assailants had beaten an out-of-town couple in that same location. Six days later, without provocation, 15 to 20 suspects attacked and beat three cyclists, leaving one of the victims with a broken jaw. As Sergeant Steve McCarty of the Minneapolis Police Department observed: “It’s just mainly to create mayhem, assault people and just whatever they can do. It’s a weird mentality I don’t think a lot of people can fathom or understand. Just to victimize people.” And a few days after that, four Minneapolis juveniles assaulted two men in quick succession, rendering one of the victims unconscious and inflicting serious injuries (including a broken arm) on the other.
It has long been commonplace for Democrat-led cities to have much-higher-than-average crime rates. As of 2011, for instance, America’s ten most dangerous cities were all strongholds of Democratic political leadership. Minneapolis’s experience, therefore, is par for the course.
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