No Trump Zone: How the GOP should take back cities

Welcome to the NTZ: an article that’s not about you know who.

For the years our daughter was in college at Johns Hopkins, my husband and I would travel down the highway from Pennsylvania to pick her up and drop her off in Baltimore. We also occasionally still travel through Charm City on our way to BWI airport or DC.

Each time we make this journey, we comment to each other: this road (usually a main thoroughfare in the city) is as bad as it was when we lived here 30 years ago. That then leads to a brief discussion of how the city is faring, and how the roads aren’t the only things that have not improved.

Baltimore, like most big urban centers in America, has been under Democratic rule for decades. Yet that party seems to suffer no consequences for continually failing the mostly poor and minority communities within city boundaries. Year after year, Democrats get elected to lead big cities and put them on a path to…nowhere. Democrats’ dominance of the inner-city vote has become so overpowering, in fact, that it’s safe to say most local Republican parties don’t put a lot of time or energy into running candidates for mayor. Why spend money on sure-to-fail efforts when it could be spent on other races where chances for success at the polls are at least 50-50?

But I’d like to see Republicans, conservatives, take back cities. If we truly believe that conservative principles uplift and improve lives, why are we not spearheading campaigns to apply those principles in areas desperately in need of improvement?

The most obvious answer is: it’s hard and it will take time. In other words, a Republican mayor can’t just snap his or her fingers and make poverty go away, schools improve, and roads get fixed. The less obvious answer, though, might be in these questions: Are Republicans afraid their principles won’t really work? Are they afraid to fight the battles to make them work? If the answer to those questions is “no,” here are the issues Republican big-city mayors could fight hard for to improve lives:

Better education: And by better education, I mean school choice. Full, open, bust-down-the-doors school choice. Voucherize the whole city system and strike deals with surrounding counties to voucher kids to those schools. Increase charter schools and cyber schools. Encourage homeschooling co-ops. Go to court to include religious schools in the mix. This battle will mean bare knuckles fighting with entrenched interests — teachers unions, for one, comfortable suburbanites, for another. But a Republican mayor who kept the love of children in his or her mind first and foremost (as opposed to hatred for the NEA) could win this battle, or at least make huge strides in it. It will mean going against entrenched minority groups, too. For example, the NAACP has not been a big supporter of school choice. But they should be called out for this bad policy approach and revealed as adversaries of the people’s interests in this regard.

Lower crime: Yes, this is a hot issue to tackle in the wake of deaths in police custody. But a Republican mayor would speak to a lot of mothers by talking strongly about halting homicide rates among minorities. This will mean amping up policing, and a good leader should make no apologies for trying to keep his/her citizenry safe. It will mean amping up drug rehab programs and employment programs for criminals who’ve served their time, too. It will require imagination and diligence.

Better police departments: Along with an emphasis on lower crime rates, a good mayor would have to acknowledge that better policing means vigilance in policing police. You don’t have to be a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement to recognize that a powerful police department itself has to be watched carefully to ensure that power isn’t abused. A Republican mayor should not dismiss the concerns of the BLM group out of hand but instead respond to them with strong civilian monitoring boards, transparency when custodial deaths occur, and community outreach.

Jobs: I’m not even putting the adjective “better” in front of this word because inner cities need jobs, period, for minorities in particular. Economic development is a tough field, to be sure, dependent on many things outside of a municipality’s control — usually state policy. But a Republican mayor can at least promise to have representatives knocking on the doors of the statehouse every single day pushing for economic development in and around cities. He or she can lobby for job training programs and exemptions from regulations to make cities more attractive to job creators.

Chances are that any mayors elected on the basis of these approaches would find themselves at the end of the first term with still a lot to do. And they’d have to jump back in the arena and  keep trying to get them done.

Republicans need to roll up their sleeves and get back in big city politics, instead of abandoning them to the other party. If we really believe our policies will benefit people, shouldn’t we be trying to implement them for the least among us — the poor populations that live in inner cities? Republican leaders should stop turning their backs on those harmed by the failed policies of Democrats.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.