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How Moderates Used Attacks on 'Defunding Police' To Win Key Posts

On November 3, progressives in Boston were celebrating because voters elected Michelle Wu, to the mayor’s office. That celebration, however, was an outlier. For progressives elsewhere, a very different story unfolded, reports the Washington Monthly. In Seattle, long considered to be one of the nation's most liberal cities, voters chose moderate candidates over progressives in three out of four city elections, including mayor. In Buffalo, a self-proclaimed socialist who won the Democratic primary lost the general election to the moderate incumbent, who mounted an aggressive write-in campaign. Both elections were seen as proxy battles between moderate and progressive Democrats, especially on the issue of police reform. In Seattle and in Buffalo, progressive candidates advocated for reallocating police budgets toward other social services and other community programs.


Their losses are a clear signal that progressives must alter their messaging on policing—and be prepared to counter the inevitable scaremongering that will come from their opponents—if they want to avoid more defeats in 2022. In Seattle, protesters of George Floyd's death demanded that the city defund Seattle’s police department by 50 percent and reallocate that spending to social programs. City Council member M. Lorena González agreed, but lost the race for mayor by nearly 20 points. The winner was Bruce Harrell, a former city council member who attacked González for her prior support for police defunding. Harrell pushed to hire more officers and increase police training. In both Buffalo and Seattle, moderates essentially characterized the choice as between order and chaos. As long as attacks on police reform keep working, moderates and conservatives will keep using them. If progressives want to convert police reform’s general popularity into electoral victories and tangible changes, they’ll need to adopt language and rhetoric to keep voters on their side—even in the most progressive places.

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