Will We Ever Slay the Evil Gerrymander?
One state took a small step this week , but we're a long way from eliminating noncompetitive districts and partisan malfeasance.
Alan Ehrenhalt served for 19 years as executive editor of Governing Magazine, and is currently one of its contributing editors. He has been a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review and op-ed page, the Washington Post Book World, New Republic and The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of four books: The United States of Ambition, The Lost City, Democracy in the Mirror, and The Great Inversion. He was also the creator and editor of the first four editions of Politics in America, a biennial reference book profiling all 535 members of Congress. Alan Ehrenhalt is a 1968 graduate of Brandeis University and holds an MS in journalism from Columbia. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard from 1977-1978; a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1987-1988; a Regents’ Lecturer at UCLA in 2006; an adjunct faculty member at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, at the University of Richmond, from 2004 through 2008; and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland Graduate School of Public Policy in 2009. In 2000 he received the American Political Science Association’s McWilliams award for distinguished contributions to the field of political science by a journalist. He is married, has two daughters, and lives in Arlington, Virginia.
One state took a small step this week , but we're a long way from eliminating noncompetitive districts and partisan malfeasance.
It may depend on what millennials really want. But none of the ideas aimed at that generation would make more than a dent in America's acute housing shortage.
Efforts to merge municipalities make a lot of sense, particularly in this virus-plagued, cash-poor moment. But they usually don't succeed. Three struggling Illinois towns are about to try it anyway.
It means different things to different people. In the end, it doesn't really mean much at all. And there's very little that politicians or government can do to uphold or restore it.
Cities keep lurching between electing their governing bodies from districts and choosing them at large. The district approach is gaining, but its fragmentation doesn't promote a broad view of community needs.
For decades, we've embraced openness in everything from city planning to the way our homes are built and our schools and offices are arranged. But the age of openness may be winding down.
Over a half-century in office — and running for office — this man of paradox broke virtually every rule in the politico's rulebook. Californians loved him for it.
They've been trying for a long time to attract city dwellers by installing amenities that urbanites crave. COVID-19 fears are providing them with a new opportunity to get it right.
A scholar who's been studying the place for half a century thinks so, and it does seem to be ahead of other cities in some respects. But there also are some ways it's behind the curve.
White blue-collar families and their racial fears defined the urban landscape of 50 years ago, as Black Americans struggled through destabilizing change. The cities of today are very different places.
We used to look to Washington for leadership in times of national crisis. Those days are gone, and we're seeing a transfer of power. Which level of government will come out on top?
The factors that led to the revival of our city centers will still be there in the aftermath of the coronavirus shutdown: low crime, a craving for entertainment and the desire for physical proximity.
It may seem hard to believe that the time of a deadly pandemic might one day be remembered wistfully by those who lived through it. But something like that has happened before in American life.
With an eye on tourism and development, states keep trying to come up with evocative new taglines. Sometimes they stumble.
Tension between downtowns and neighborhoods isn’t going to go away.
By clustering in cities, even small ones, they have weakened their political impact.
A lot of what we think we know about it turns out to be wrong.
With falling ridership and scrapped expansion projects, urban transit faces an uncertain future.
Well-run governments must have clear lines of leadership. Just ask Pueblo, Colo.
They take mixed-use development to an extreme with buildings that residents may never need to leave.
There are plenty of theories about how they will reshape urban areas. But it’s anybody’s guess.
There’s still plenty of coverage of governors and legislatures. But the void of newspaper reporters has been filled with partisan-slanted bloggers.
The ascent of cities is real, though things may not be as rosy as some suggest.
When it comes to transportation planning, Atlanta and Nashville are both at a crossroads.
Two states still allow split-verdicts to send people to prison. That may change soon. But maybe it shouldn't.
Some of today's scandals would have gone unseen a couple decades ago.
Whether you're talking about Detroit or Youngstown, Ohio, so-called legacy cities have similar problems with no simple solution.
We first published in 1987, a year when states and cities seemed poised for innovation.
In 1977, the GOP faced an identity crisis. It eventually found a winning formula and returned to power.
A lot of the hard-line GOP governors who won in 2010 have surprised their supporters with a shift toward pragmatism. What’s driving the change?
A look back at their evolution may offer some idea of what lies ahead.
The stadiums that cities invest in often end up losing money. There’s another, more profitable option: music festivals.
Cities love to boast that they're special. It's not always true, but it can be a useful myth.
A gritty blue-collar town in Minnesota reflects the tensions in many places located between cities and suburbs.
Unlike a generation ago, today’s urban renaissance often displaces people and businesses.
In the ideological war over urban planning, anti-transit conservatives are gaining funding and allies.
Whether states are governed by a coalition of farmers and teachers or an alliance of corporate executives and insurance brokers matters.
Wealthier people often move to gentrifying neighborhoods for the mom-and-pop stores, but their presence is driving the shops away. Can cities save them?
After advising municipalities on how to construct roads for years, Charles Marohn now believes America needs to stop building new highways. Will his new way of thinking catch on?
In 1994, Seattle won praise from urbanist thinkers nationwide with its 20-year plan for population and economic growth.
Over the past few decades, it’s become easier to convict public officials for corruption but harder to know who’s really guilty of it.
Some worry the benefits of a better education don’t outweigh the new problems it brings.
The midterm elections marked the return of divided government, with more than a third of states in split-power situations.
More than 80 years after Prohibition ended at the national level, Arkansas voters will decide in November whether to keep their state dry.
As state legislatures' structures and salaries have changed, so have the type of people the political office attracts.
As gay Americans gained more acceptance and integrated themselves throughout cities over the past decade, a sociologist argues they've also lost some of their community and history.
America's fourth-largest city has never had a zoning code.
Nearly every state has faced lawsuits over school funding. But only in Kansas have judges tried to quantify the quality of education.
The Eastern European city found a way to offer free rides to citizens for a small cost to government. The U.S. has tried it before. Will cities try it again?
It’s a tempting idea, but cities simply don’t have the power to do what most of their residents want them to do.
We measure school performance by test scores because it’s easy. But no simplistic set of A-F grades can ever account for all the intangible ways schools nurture their pupils.
One minute, states are complaining about the federal government meddling in their business. The next, they're imposing dictatorial mandates on localities.
The wealthy Virginia county outside Washington, D.C., has been free of the nasty political environment home to its neighbors – until now. Causing the controversy is a proposed streetcar, which nearly a dozen cities are building.
If you live in Louisville, this is the time of year when it hurts your pride a little bit just to pick up the sports page. The cities that are your natural rivals--cities that used to rank right alongside you in size, image and self-confidence--are winning priceless national publicity on the professional football field.
Somewhere in America, I suppose, there is a public official who believes unreservedly in devolution--believes that power, autonomy and flexibility should reside as far down in the governmental system as practically possible--and is willing to act on the basis of those beliefs, even at the expense of his own political authority.
One afternoon in the fall of 1995, John McDonough tells us in his new book, "Experiencing Politics," he was sitting in his seat on the floor of the Massachusetts House of Representatives as the chamber prepared to vote on a huge tax break for Raytheon, the locally based defense contractor.
We Americans profess not to like nepotism very much, but when we see it on a grand enough scale, we're intrigued. We're not bothered by a presidential election in which both of the candidates owe every political triumph in life to the exploits of their fathers. We can get used to the idea of the president's brother as attorney general, or the president's wife as chief domestic policy adviser.
A few weeks ago, the Vermont Senate discussed a proposal to require that all state judges step down from office upon reaching the age of 110. This may sound like the mootest of moot points, given that no jurist in Vermont--or anywhere in the world, I imagine--has ever lived that long. But it had a purpose.
The mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson, is talking about an experiment he launched earlier this year. Once a week, his department heads and senior managers are required to appear at an open meeting and answer questions from ordinary voters. "I learned that from the Sandinistas," he says.
If there's any group of American citizens you wouldn't expect to find at the cutting edge of political reform, it's the lobster fishermen along the coast of Maine. Not only do they have a national reputation for being cranky loners--they readily accept it.
"My fellow citizens, I rise today to speak in opposition to affordable housing, quality day care and the Baptist Church." I briefly considered saying those words a few weeks ago as I spent a long Saturday afternoon at a County Board meeting in Arlington, Virginia, waiting for the five minutes allotted to me as a citizen speaker on a public issue.
A few weeks ago, the chairman of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority descended 100 feet below ground, unfurled a huge American flag, announced the opening of a tunnel, and began scouring history for superlatives. "This project," he boasted, "rivals the Hoover Dam and the Panama Canal."
Granville Hicks, the literary critic, would have been a hundred years old a few weeks ago. Hicks died in 1982, and so he isn't exactly a household name anymore--I didn't know much about him myself until I ran across a copy of "Small Town," his portrait of the village of Grafton, New York, written just at the end of World War II. But the story is worth remembering, both for the unusual life the author led and for the ideas he emerged with after decades of personal struggle.
When I started writing this column, I promised myself I wouldn't use it as a soapbox for personal grudges or quarrels. It can come off as bad sportsmanship, and most of the time, it bores the reader. But some opportunities are just too juicy to pass up.
On the far west side of Detroit, between the murky River Rouge and the suburb of Dearborn, sits a little neighborhood called Copper Canyon. It's a pleasant community of modest brick bungalows, manicured lawns and peaceful streets. It's also one of the few integrated neighborhoods remaining in the city.
At the intersection of Wilson and Highland streets, a few blocks from where I live in Arlington, Virginia, there is a big, gaping hole in the ground. It isn't much to look at, as you might expect. But it's a hole in the ground with a rich history. If you will indulge me in a few paragraphs of local nostalgia, I think I can use it to draw some lessons about the ways of growth, planning and survival these days in metropolitan America.
There was a small news item in last month's issue of this magazine. The Business of Government section reported on a new online program in Missouri that gathers disease data from 50 labs and hospitals and tells the Health Department almost instantly if something resembling an epidemic is loose in the state.
There was a time, not too long ago, when almost everyone in Seattle remembered Caspar Sharples. He was a revered physician and educator during the early years of this century, the founder of two hospitals and a guiding force behind development of the city's school system.
A few years ago, I went for a drive through the winding streets of Emery Manor, a subdivision of small, Levittown-like rambler houses built in the Chicago suburbs in the early 1950s. People in the older neighborhoods nearby said terrible things about Emery Manor when it was going up: They called it a drab, tasteless collection of identical tiny boxes, scarcely better than shacks.
There's something about the subject of public housing that saps the enthusiasm of even the most dutiful students of government. Self- described policy wonks who have little trouble discoursing on the Medicaid dual-eligible problem or the mass transit mode split start to fidget when anybody brings up Section 8 or Hope VI.
The 20th century produced a pantheon of brilliant urban thinkers and planners. Some built, some mostly wrote, some did both. Some did better than others at translating their ideas into reality. But one way or another, we are living with the consequences of their vision:
Fifty-eight years ago, Justice Felix Frankfurter told his brethren to stay out of the business of drawing political maps. "Courts ought not to enter this political thicket," Frankfurter warned in Colegrove v. Green. "The fulfillment of this duty cannot be judicially enforced."
On a wall at my neighborhood community house, in Arlington County, Virginia, there are two gold plaques with 43 names on them. They are the names of all the people who have served as president of the Lyon Village Citizens Association since 1926, the year the neighborhood was created.
1It's a cliche that there are no great Washington novels. I don't know if it's true or not. It may be. The book most often cited as a candidate, "Democracy," by Henry Adams, was written 120 years ago; in recent times, more critics probably have praised it than have read it.
Early in the Nixon administration, when supporters of civil rights worried that the new president was about to follow up on the racially divisive rhetoric of his 1968 campaign, Attorney General John Mitchell sought to reassure them with a few simple words: "Don't watch what we say--watch what we do."
When people think about Montana, "consensus" isn't the first idea that pops into their heads. "Conflict" would be more like it. The history of Big Sky Country is filled with epic confrontations between farmers and ranchers, miners and copper companies, environmentalists and property owners.
Once upon a time in this country, architects did everything they could to sound like romantic poets. Generations of history students have faithfully copied down Daniel Burnham's pompous but powerful admonition to "make no little plans--they have no magic to stir men's blood."
I'm not a lawyer, so I've never aspired to being a judge. But I sometimes indulge in fantasies about the sort of judge I would be, if given the chance. I'd be a wonderful judge--patient, fair-minded, even-tempered, witty, self-deprecating--but above all, restrained.
I remember being taught in the fourth grade that one of the few really noble elements of human nature was the willingness to put aside differences in time of crisis. It's no fairy tale, either; we've all seen it dozens of times. A river floods, or a city is devastated by an earthquake or terrorists strike without warning--and all of a sudden there's a feeling of common purpose and a suspension of petty bickering.
Back when Lester Maddox was governor of Georgia, in the late 1960s, there was a riot at the state prison. Reporters asked him what he planned to do about the conditions that caused the trouble. Maddox rejected the entire premise of the question. "There's nothing wrong with our prison system," he said. "We just don't have a very good class of prisoners anymore."
In a conversation last week with Michael Nutter, who is all but certain to become mayor of Philadelphia in a few months, I was struck by a couple of things: the dramatic return of the crime issue in urban politics right now, and the dilemma an incoming mayor such as Nutter faces in trying to deal with it.