Cities Are “Charting a New Course for American Liberalism”

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Kicking Ass, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from seriykotik1970’s photostream

In his “The Revolt of the Cities” piece in The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson explains how cities are “mapping the future of liberalism” by meeting the needs of their citizens that the federal government can’t. You may recall that after the last round of elections in November, President Obama invited a group of newly elected progressive mayors–including Pittsburgh’s own Bill Peduto–to the White House to discuss urban policy. Given the makeup of Congress, proposals such as universal Pre-K don’t stand much of a chance of passing on the federal level. And this is where our urban mayors have been stepping up to try to fill the gap. From education to living-wage ordinances to ensuring oversight of their police, mayors in America’s largest cities are promoting economic and social justice.

The article places a heavy emphasis on the City of Pittsburgh and starts out by quoting Mayor Peduto:

Pittsburgh is the perfect urban laboratory,” says Bill Peduto, the city’s new mayor. “We’re small enough to be able to do things and large enough for people to take notice.” More than its size, however, it’s Pittsburgh’s new government—Peduto and the five like-minded progressives who now constitute a majority on its city council—that is turning the city into a laboratory of democracy. In his first hundred days as mayor, Peduto has sought funding to establish universal pre-K education and partnered with a Swedish sustainable-technology fund to build four major developments with low carbon footprints and abundant affordable housing. Even before he became mayor, while still a council member, he steered to passage ordinances that mandated prevailing wages for employees on any project that received city funding and required local hiring for the jobs in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ new arena. He authored the city’s responsible-banking law, which directed government funds to those banks that lent in poor neighborhoods and away from those that didn’t.

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Pittsburgh Skyline, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from joseph a’s photostream

Meyerson identifies the same coalition which elected President Obama as being important in the elections of these new progressive, reformer mayors: Latino, Asian, and African immigrants and millennials are coming to the polls as demographics have changed in our larger cities. Additionally, in cities like Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Seattle, new labor-community coalitions have been built–helping each other reach their respective goals. The article singles out SEIU’s Local 32BJ’s work as an example of that.

Of course it’s not just mayors, but also progressives on city councils who are helping to transform urban politics and Meyerson goes in depth discussing Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak:

In 2009, Natalia Rudiak, a Pittsburgh native who had studied at the London School of Economics and done economic-development work in Africa, decided to run for council in a district she describes as “the most socially conservative in the city.” In a city whose politics long had been dominated by middle-aged and elderly men, Rudiak, then 29 years old, wasn’t taken seriously by the Democratic establishment. But Rudiak came with multiple ties to union leaders (her father ran a public-employees local) and had spent time on campaigns with Merriman-Preston. Peduto’s prevailing-wage bill was pending in the council during her campaign, and she stumped for it everywhere she spoke. In return, 32BJ flooded her district with precinct walkers, as did environmental and feminist groups. Shortly after her upset victory, the council passed the bill.

You can read the entire article online here.