Maine Voices: ‘Strong’ mayor model doesn’t guarantee racial justice
Some progressive activists in Portland say moving from our current form of council manager to an executive mayor form is an anti-racist cause.
Their argument is based on an analysis posed in a former USM student’s MA in History paper claiming that the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s influenced one of our dozens of chartered formations nearly 100 years old.
This analysis leaves out information from a historian interviewed by the Charter Commission, explaining that Portland was one of hundreds of other cities to change its form of government in the early 1920s to fight corruption. This narrative also ignores the dozens of subsequent revisions to our city charter over the past 100 years approved by the citizens of Portland, including our current charter created entirely by Democrats in 2008.
Proponents of the executive mayor form of government have presented no data to support the idea that the form of government produces better outcomes for people of color and conveniently ignores the stark racial inequality of our most unjust city governments. and the most corrupt in the country.
Certainly in recent years the tragic and highly publicized murders of black Americans at the hands of police in cities run by executive mayors such as Minneapolis, New York, Baltimore, St. Louis and many others have awakened Americans to our systemic problem of police brutality against people of color. But despite our country’s growing awakening to systemic racial injustice and police brutality, the executive mayors of these cities have not been held accountable for their failure to address these issues, nor have they produced better results. for their residents. Mayor Jacob Frey, incumbent of Minneapolis when George Floyd was murdered by police, was recently re-elected. It won its two closest challengers hands down, both running on more progressive platforms.
There are, however, significant drawbacks to an executive mayor form of government. According to City Lab and The Atlantic, the 10 cities with the worst income inequality in America are all led by executive mayors.
Flint Michigan, the predominantly black city known for its poisoned public water supply, shows how re-elected Mayor Dayne Walling’s poor governance can destroy lives. In Baltimore, Mayors Sheila Ann Dixon and Catherine Pugh were charged and convicted of theft, tax evasion, fraud and conspiracy.
While opponents of a board-manager charter model focus on the sins of the 1920s, these very real and very damaging scandals all took place in the past decade. Meanwhile, researchers from the School of Government at the University of North Carolina found that municipalities with a council-manager system were 57% less likely to be convicted of corruption than municipalities with a mayor-council system.
We can and must do more to protect our most vulnerable residents and communities, fight income inequality, and make Portland a more welcoming city for people of all backgrounds.
But given the evidence, progressives have to ask themselves: What meaningful racial justice gains or progressive reforms would we see in Portland under an executive mayor form of government that we couldn’t achieve with a council-manager model à la square ? And are we willing to accept the risks for our community in order to achieve these goals?
— Special for the Press Herald
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