NextCity.org has an interesting proposal to fix the never-endingly sclerotic nature of doing business at City Hall: Get the parties—Democrats and Republicans—out of local governance and reorganize our politics around local issues.
Yet party labels tell voters almost no useful information about a candidate’s stance on municipal-level issues. Democrats and Republicans are found on both sides of debates over zoning, parking, historic preservation and all the rest. So when Philadelphians vote their national party affiliation in city elections, they aren’t necessarily voting for the policies they want.
What are the ideological divisions at the municipal level that could fuel real party competition? Many of them arguably turn on attitudes about growth and insider-outsider issues. Here are a few examples:
- Developers and future housing consumers versus incumbent landowners
- Entrepreneurs versus incumbent business owners
- Future workers versus incumbent workers
- Future taxi drivers versus taxi medallion owners
- Mobile vendors versus incumbent food sellers
If city politics were organized from scratch around these issues, we might see electoral competition between something like a Build Philadelphia party pushing for growth and a Preserve Philadelphia party supporting a more protectionist agenda.
It’s true that lots of cities organize their elections around non-partisan lines, and the politics end up being every bit as political as state and national elections. But to the extent there are rivalries at the local, Democratic-dominated level, they’re often about personalities as much as anything. It couldn’t hurt to try something different here, could it?