“American politics is dominated by an enduring myth,” writes author Peter Collier—the myth “that Democrats are the party of the common man, the voiceless, the powerless, the poor. That if you care about what happens to the least among us, you will cast your vote in the Democratic column.”
But as Collier also points out, the vast majority of America’s voiceless, powerless, and impoverished people are concentrated in cities that have been run exclusively by Democrats for decades—even generations—without interruption. These are cities where stratospheric rates of crime, poverty, unemployment, out-of-wedlock births, homes without fathers and failed school systems have become a way of life—along with oppressive and confiscatory taxes whose only discernible achievement is to keep the leaky ship of city government afloat for as long as possible before it is inevitably capsized by economic and social calamity.
Minneapolis, Minnesota is perhaps the least likely case in point. Camouflaged by the state as a whole, a synonym for plainspoken stability, it is just one of the many American cities that were once thriving centers of industry, prosperity and optimism—until Democrats took them over. Since 1978, Minneapolis has been governed exclusively by mayors from the Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFLP)—the state affiliate of the Democratic Party. Prior to this long era of Democratic dominance, Minneapolis’ poverty rate was consistently lower than the national average. Throughout the 1980s, when the trickle down of the Reagan economic boom had a positive effect on cities nationwide, Minneapolis shared in these good times, adding some 3,000 new jobs to its downtown area each year from 1981-87. As of 1983, only 8% of the city’s metropolitan-area population lived below the poverty level, as compared to approximately 15% of the national population.
But by 1988, then-mayor Donald Fraser—a member of the DFLP—had grown troubled by the stark contrast he saw between the majority of his city and who were thriving economically, and a number of African-American neighborhoods where crime, teenage pregnancy, and welfare dependency were experiencing a growth spurt. Taking a page out of the same playbook other big city Democrat mayors were using, Fraser believed that the cure was redistribution of income. He decided to revamp the way in which social-welfare expenditures were allocated and believed, specifically, that federal and local agencies needed to focus more of their resources on the economic problems confronting unwed mothers (who were disproportionately black) and their children.
Fraser’s successors as mayors of Minneapolis—Sharon Sayles Belton (1994-2001), R.T. Rybak (2002-2013), and Betsy Hodges (2014-present)—have shared this same core belief in the importance of massive public expenditures on social-welfare programs and wealth-redistribution initiatives.
The result has been disastrous. As of 2015, the poverty rate in Minneapolis was 25.3%, nearly twice the 14% statewide rate for Minnesota and the 14.3% rate for the United States as a whole. In 2010, a study of 142 metro areas in Minnesota found that only 15 bore a heavier property-tax burden than Minneapolis, and that was before the city raised its property taxes by 4.7% in 2011.
More recently, Minneapolis property taxes increased by 3.4% in 2016, and by a crippling 5.5% in 2017. Notwithstanding the growth in revenues generated by these taxes, the government of Minneapolis has been incapable of balancing its budget. In 2015, for example, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s budget included $84 million in federal subsidies and grants. In 2017, the Metropolitan Council—which describes itself as “the regional policy-making body, planning agency, and provider of essential services for the Twin Cities metropolitan region”—received $91 million in federal funding. That same year, the Minneapolis Public Schools operated with a budget deficit of nearly $17 million.
But massive deficits, coupled with ever-increasing dependency on federal assistance, have done nothing to persuade the political leaders of Minneapolis to question their zealous devotion to leftist political solutions, including an unwavering commitment to the “sanctuary” policies that prevent city employees from assisting federal immigration authorities. When President Donald Trump in 2017 announced that he planned to cut off all federal funding for sanctuary cities, for instance, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges stated defiantly: “As long as I stand as Mayor, he’s going to have to get through me.”
Just as Minneapolis residents face daunting economic challenges, so have they had to learn to live 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. Minneapolis was slow to adopt the new law-enforcement and criminal-justice strategies and thus lagged behind the national trend for several years. Today, crime rates in the city remain far higher than statewide and national figures alike. In 2015 the violent crime rate in Minneapolis—encompassing homicide, rape, robbery, and assault—was about 3 times higher than the national average. All told, Minneapolis ranks among the most dangerous 5 percent of all cities in the United States.
Like so many other major American cities, Minneapolis offers melancholy testimony for the bankruptcy of Democratic Party urban policies. Under the guise of compassion, Democrats have exploited the residents of these cities as a means to ever-more-entrenched political power, using them as a captive electoral bloc every national election while allowing their life prospects to continue to erode.
Like so many other Democrat-run cities, Minneapolis is the urban equivalent of a captive nation, its residents watching their civic life decline while the cynics who control their prospects continue to make their city a mad laboratory for failed polices and stolen dreams.