Municipal elections in the United States rarely make their way onto the front pages of the international press. Unless Michelle Wu (Boston) and Eric Adams (New York) win. The two newly elected mayors became the kind face of an ill-fated election night for Joe Biden on November 2, who received a stern warning in Virginia and New Jersey for next year’s legislatures. Wu and Adams instead made history: she, who was sworn in last Tuesday, becoming the first woman and the first Asian to rule their city in 200 years; him, as the second black mayor of New York.
Both are Democrats, like the councilmen of 63 of the 100 most populous cities in the United States, according to data from Ballotpedia, “Encyclopedia of American Politics and Elections”. Do your triumphs certify that the demographic diversity that defines the country has a greater reflection on the political power that manages it?
Yes, if the data from the big cities is checked. The four most populous (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston) are governed by the aforementioned Adams, Eric Garcetti, of Italian-Mexican descent, and Lori Lightfoot and Sylvester Turner, a black man and woman. Pittsburgh, Kansas, Cincinatti and Seattle will debut African-American (the first two) and Asian-American (the second two) mayors after this month’s elections, while Dearborn (with 42% of the population of Arab origin) elected the first Muslim councilor of his story. And if you compare the top 15 of cities, 13 of them were governed in 2018 by white men (compared to the current seven), and there were no women on the list (in 2021 there are three, four more if the first 20 are taken).
Richie Zweigenhaft, emeritus professor of psychology at Guilford College in North Carolina, believes “there is real change happening.” He is the co-author of a reference book on the subject, Diversity in the Power Elite, which, published in 1998, examined the diversity in the elites in the political, military and business spheres and has had three editions (the last, in 2018), which have been drawing an evolution whose speed defines, however, as “glacial” . “It is true that municipal power always tends more to diversity, which is not as widespread in the House of Representatives or the Senate,” he warns.
“They let minorities rule in those places because in city councils there is not much money at stake,” says Ishmael Reed, novelist, poet, essayist and playwright from Oakland, one of the most respected voices of the black community in the United States and also one of the most uncomfortable. “When the crisis depopulated the urban centers, the whites fled to the suburbs and the poor stayed with the center. They are the ones who vote for these politicians. It’s a cruel joke ”, adds the author of Mumbo Jumbo (1972), satire on racism in his country that joined the select club of Penguin classics in 2017. Reed distrusts the sudden realization of the importance of diversity; he does not believe that it goes from “a fad in the big newspapers that consists of taking blacks on the culture and style pages.”
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Zweigenhaft recalls “that a mayor’s office often serves to make the leap into national politics.” And there he turns to the Pete Buttigieg case. “The Secretary of Transportation went from governing a city [South Bend, en Indiana, 102.000 habitantes] to a position in the power elite. He is a white man, but as an openly gay man with a husband (and now two twin children), he brings diversity to the political pinnacle. ” The recent approval of the infrastructure package, the first of the star measures that Biden has managed to carry out, has given it a central role in the Administration.
At the summit, and in the Democratic pools for the 2024 elections, he is accompanied by Kamala Harris, whose appointment as vice president marked several milestones as she was the first woman, the first Afro-descendant (with a Jamaican father) and the first of Asian ancestry (the mother is Indian) to achieve it (simply anecdotal, on Friday she also became the first acting president for just over an hour and a half, while Biden underwent a colonoscopy). He promised at the beginning of his mandate to set up the “most diverse Administration in history.” And he named, among others, the Latin Alejandro Mayorkas (Secretary of National Security), the Native American Deb Haaland (Interior) or the Asian Katherine Tai (maximum representative of foreign trade). Of the 24 members of Trump’s cabinet, only three were from minorities.
Despite the exceptionality of everything that has to do with the previous president, it is true that the commitment to diversity used to be a more urgent priority for Democrats than for Republicans. But that’s also changing: of the 15 seats held by the Conservative party in New Jersey and Virginia, 10 will be held by women or a member of a minority, as Henry Olsen, a Conservative columnist for The Washington Post.
Partly because of that republican awareness, the current compositions of the House of Representatives and the Senate are also the most diverse in history. According to a study by the Pew Reseach Center: 23%, 124 of 535 legislators, belong to a minority (in 2011 there were 82, and in 2001, 63). Some groups, such as African Americans, are represented in a percentage similar to what they occupy in society (13%). Latinos, on the other hand, have half of the sites (9%) that would correspond to them (19%). Of course, the numbers are worse in the upper house, where the election of senators is less direct.
The Indian Nobel Laureate in Economics Amartya Sen, who has lived in the United States since the 1990s and knows the “experience of being the other” well, congratulates himself on the fact that, in addition to increasing his presence in quantity, he also does so in quality: “ Take the example of Democratic congressmen Pramila Jayapal [presidenta del caucus demócrata del Congreso] and Ro Khanna. That people of Indian origin could go so far would have been unthinkable before ”.
In his studies, Zweigenhaft introduces a distorting variable that is as old as the world and does not understand skin color: social class. An absolute majority of members of the political and economic elites come from the upper and upper-middle classes.
And that’s also special Michelle Wu, the youngest mayor of America’s top 100 cities, according to the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics. Last Tuesday, this daughter of Taiwanese immigrants was sworn in in Boston alongside her husband and children, Blaise, six, and Cass, four, and in front of an excited crowd. She said that the first time she entered City Hall (in 2010, as an intern), she felt “invisible”. “Today I know that anything is possible in this building,” he said. Now it’s time to face the challenges of a city on the edge: a center deserted by the pandemic and teleworking, a growing homeless population that the authorities attribute to the opioid crisis (which has killed 100,000 people in the United States in 2020). Unidos) and the position of chief commissary of the police to be filled. Tasks in which your future is more at stake than your past.
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