When the murder rate falls, a city usually has reason to celebrate. But that’s not true in Chicago: Even with a drop in homicides in 2022, the city was still the scene of 695 murders.
It’s a figure that would be appalling in a war zone, yet it was an improvement over the 774 slayings in 2020 and the more than 800 in 2021.
This is the record on which Mayor Lori Lightfoot hopes to get re-elected Feb. 28.
She has a fight on her hands, and so do Chicagoans.
If she wins, numbers like this, and worse for other violent crimes, will be the new normal — statistics that pose no obstacle to an incumbent’s re-election.
If Lightfoot loses, blue-city mayors across the country, from Los Angeles to New York, will take notice. And wartime Chicago might just get a peace plan.
Then again, Chicago is a one-party city. Its problems are much larger than its diminutive mayor. If Lightfoot goes down, another Democrat will replace her.
Chicago’s predicament is all too familiar in urban America. Cities as different as San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington, DC, are in much the same mess.
Crime is out of control, but politics is one party’s monopoly. That constrains choices just like other monopolies do.
But so toxic is the GOP label in urban politics that Democrats use it to demonize other Democrats. Polls show Lightfoot in a tight race with Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas. Garcia has tried to brand Vallas a crypto-Republican — despite the fact Vallas was once the Illinois Democratic Party’s lieutenant-governor nominee.
Chicago could use a real Republican of the kind New York City elected when murder rates nationwide were near their peak. Rudy Giuliani showed what a difference a mayor from a competitive GOP can make.
Giuliani turned a dirty and bloodied New York around. If his successor, Michael Bloomberg, ultimately rebranded himself as an independent, he nonetheless continued the policies that brought a renaissance to Gotham.
What matters most is not the Republican name but real political competition and independence from the Democrats’ party machinery and ideological straitjackets.
What the cities need is intellectual diversity — above all in urban policy.
The secret to Giuliani’s success lay in part with an institution that was not, and is not, an organ for the GOP. New York City has something Chicago needs: a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to a serious urban conservatism.
The Manhattan Institute was a policy foundry for Giuliani and Bloomberg. It did for New York City what an array of conservative think tanks have done in the 50 states.
Organizations like Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Arkansas Policy Foundation don’t have the national profile the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation do — though, significantly, Heritage’s new president, Kevin Roberts, comes from one such institution, the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Yet these think tanks are at the forefront in adapting conservative ideas for individual states, with powerful results for policies like school choice and protections for religious liberty and Second Amendment rights.
The Manhattan Institute is unusual as a city-level think tank, however. It’s home to some of the best urban-policy and policing experts in the country, including Heather Mac Donald, arguably the most single most important researcher countering liberal attacks on law enforcement today.
Conservatives have all along recognized the need to speak to states and regions in their own accents, with policy frameworks, as well as policies themselves, tailored to local sensibilities.
Yet the same goes for cities — which conservatives have too often dismissed because urban America doesn’t resemble the red-state heartland.
Ted Cruz learned a painful lesson after he attacked Donald Trump for “New York values.” Our cities are America too. And conservatives have something to offer them, as the success of a lonely urban conservative think tank in New York City demonstrates.
A Manhattan Institute for Los Angeles or San Francisco, or St. Louis or Chicago, or Atlanta or Philadelphia will not break the single-party stranglehold overnight. But it will open the door to better alternatives to murder-city mayors like Lori Lightfoot.
Even the reddest states have to take the problems of blue cities seriously. If Texas ever turns blue, it will be because of the growth of liberal cities like Austin and liberal sensibilities in places like Dallas. States like Georgia go purple, or tip entirely to the Democrats, when urban liberalism goes unchallenged.
What Chicago needs is not Lightfoot-lite but a Giuliani. Getting there starts by sending in the tanks — the think tanks.
Daniel McCarthy is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review.