On the menu today: Joe Biden says all the right things, but Portland protesters tried to set more fires last night; examining the four horsemen of America’s urban apocalypse; and wondering who’s left out there who can actually work well with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.
What Joe Biden Looks Like
Yesterday, Joe Biden traveled to Pennsylvania for a twelve-minute speech on rioting in America’s cities and challenged his audience: “Ask yourself: Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?”
A lot of Trump fans will answer “yes,” even though it’s not a terribly plausible argument. A more plausible one is that Joe Biden looks like an almost-78-year-old lifelong politician who is trying to manage a party of disparate interest groups in which 26 percent voted for self-described socialist Bernie Sanders this past year and 50 percent view socialism positively, and who leads the party that almost universally runs America’s largest cities — metropolises that are full of elected officials who may not have a “soft spot” for rioters, but who have repeatedly demonstrated a stubborn refusal to take the steps necessary to stop them.
That assessment doesn’t really roll off the tongue, but it has the advantage of being true. Biden may not see himself as a socialist, but you can’t begrudge Americans for being wary of deploying a congenial Washington backroom back-slapper as their backstop against socialism.
Biden may not be pro-riot, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be head and shoulders more effective in stopping them than the four horsemen of America’s urban apocalypse: Portland mayor Ted Wheeler, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, or New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. And Biden certainly has no interest in any public scrutiny of the performance of those four mayors, or the state of urban governance during a nationwide spike in homicides and shootings.
Yesterday Biden said just the right things: “I want to be clear about this: Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting — it’s lawlessness — plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted.”
More than 200 people on Monday night marched to the Pearl District condominium tower where Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler lives to demand his resignation. The demonstration quickly turned destructive as some in the crowd lit a fire in the street, then placed a picnic table from a nearby business on top of the fire to feed the blaze. People shattered windows and broke into a ground-floor dental office took items including a chair, also added to the fire, and office supplies. Shortly after 11 p.m., a bundle of newspapers was set ablaze and thrown into a ground-floor storefront in the residential building.
Last night in Chicago, there were no riots, but ten people were shot, one fatally. That was the 497th homicide in the city so far this year, 145 more than last year. The preceding weekend, 55 people were shot, ten killed.
Yesterday in New York, a 62-year-old Brooklyn church caretaker was fatally shot in his church, two men were shot during a daylight gun battle outside a Bronx daycare, a 67-year-old man was left with bleeding on his brain after a seemingly random attack on the subway in Manhattan, an assailant snuck up behind a 66-year-old man and bashed him in the back of the head with a bottle in broad daylight in Harlem, and New York City marked the 1,000th shooting of the year, nearly doubling the total from last year at this time.
Joe Biden traveled to Pennsylvania yesterday and said all the right things . . . and not a darn thing changed.
This latest round of urban violence isn’t happening in a vacuum. Some of us remember Baltimore in 2015, where Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declared, “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that.” Many Americans — particularly Republicans and suburbanites — view urban Democratic officials with suspicion, fearing they’re insufficiently committed to protecting life and property. They ran for office on happy talk and far Left ideals and are proving largely incapacitated in the face of an angry mob.
For the past decade or so, a recurring voice on the op-ed pages has been some mayor arguing that America’s cities are enjoying an unparalleled renaissance, and that cities have become even more important to the economic and political life of the nation than in past eras. Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg has been beating the drum on this for a long while, funding a Harvard program touting the importance of mayoral leadership in cities. Back in 2013, The Atlantic observed, “Leaders of major cities are increasingly taking on diplomatic and inter-state roles.” The Democratic presidential primary featured mayors or former mayors in Sanders, Bloomberg, Julian Castro, Cory Booker, and de Blasio. Former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel wrote a spectacularly ill-timed book entitled The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now Running the World, published in . . . early March of this year. Emanuel boasted that, “mayors [are] in the forefront of the government you have confidence in.”
Eh, not so much.
We can cut cities some slack on the response to the coronavirus; almost everyone was caught flatfooted for that. But America’s cities are not enjoying a renaissance anymore. In some cases, they’re witnessing an exodus — not emptying out, but those who can afford to live in the suburbs are moving out to smaller communities with safer streets and better schools (when they’re open) and less expensive real estate and cost of living.
Every city is unique, but in these four high-profile examples, these mayors seem hapless and hopeless in the face of persistent widespread violence.
In Portland, Ted Wheeler is convinced the violence in his city is President Trump’s fault, says so regularly, and laments that there’s no realistic way to prevent the violence plaguing his city. In Seattle, Jenny Durkan called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone a “block party atmosphere” and predicted a “summer of love.” Seattle Police only intervened after the second fatal shooting, which killed a 16-year-old.
In Chicago, Lori Lightfoot defends the heavy police presence around her house, insisting she and her neighbors “have a right in our home to live in peace.” Indeed, mayor, that’s what everybody else in Chicago wants, too.
Joe Biden could call out any of these mayors as failing the Democratic Party’s ideals of governance. He would ruffle some feathers, but it’s not like he’s going to lose the vote in Portland, Seattle, or Chicago. Biden could argue, with ample evidence, that these leaders are serving their communities poorly. Democrats like to think of themselves as protectors of the most vulnerable.
But Joe Biden doesn’t think he was put on this earth to fight with other Democrats. Sure, he may not agree with Wheeler, Durkan, or Lightfoot. But he’s not going to have that clash. Instead, the Biden messaging is that because Donald Trump is president, Trump is the one ultimately responsible for the looting, arson, rioting, and assaults.
As for that fourth horseman . . . in New York City, Bill de Blasio has been fighting with the cops off and on since he took office in January 2014. New York Police Department officers symbolically turned their back to him at the funeral of a police officer in 2014 . . . and 2015 . . . and in 2017. Former police commissioner Ray Kelly characterized de Blasio’s campaign rhetoric as “anti-police.” De Blasio’s record is full of cynical moves, often perceived to be driven by his presidential ambitions, such as boasting he “spent six years undoing the damage [Bloomberg] created with this bankrupt policy [of stop-and-frisk].” De Blasio drastically reduced stop-and-frisk but did not eliminate it entirely.
The NYPD has its flaws, and almost everyone in the city could think of police reforms they would like to see. But de Blasio is near the end of his seventh year in office, and he still hasn’t figured out how to build a functional working relationship with the NYPD. The mayor’s lingering animosity towards the police force he allegedly manages feels like a luxury the city can no longer afford. New Yorkers need a police force, and in an ongoing crisis such as this, the city really needs as little friction as possible between the mayor running the city government and the police force enforcing the laws. Apparently, that’s too much to ask.
(It isn’t just de Blasio and the police force; last month New York City’s health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, resigned and voiced her “deep disappointment” with de Blasio’s handling of the pandemic. Barbot had her own share of inaccurate and regrettable statements in the run-up to the coronavirus pandemic, but her sudden and acrimonious departure might leave some city residents wondering just how many people in city government actually work well with de Blasio.)
ADDENDUM: Our Andrew Stuttaford, articulating the balance between sensible precaution and the need to live our lives, when confronted with a serious contagious virus:
The way humanity has learnt to deal with disease has been to find a way to live with it, and to do the most that can, to the extent compatible with keeping ordinary life going, be feasibly done to minimize its effects, while working towards a cure, more effective treatments and, where possible, a vaccine. But waiting for a vaccine is not an answer. It is an evasion.