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In Local Races, Progressives Mostly Prevailed but Some Incumbents Lost

The tilt of major cities to the left continued, with progressives winning key races in Boston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and other cities. The few bright spots for the GOP were in the Northeast.

In the race for Houston mayor, Texas state Sen. John Whitmire finished first in a large field, but failed to gain the majority needed to avoid a Dec. 9 runoff. He will face Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a more progressive candidate.
In Brief:
  • Progressives gained power on city councils in Boston, Minneapolis and Philadelphia, although they slipped in Seattle.

  • Progressive prosecutor candidates, however, lost in Pittsburgh and Northern Virginia.

  • Most incumbent mayors won, with exceptions in Wichita, Spokane and Duluth, Minn.

  • Progressive prosecutors faced setbacks in a couple of key races on Tuesday, but otherwise highly liberal candidates prevailed in local elections, including some backed by the far-left Democratic Socialists of America or Working Families Party.

    Progressives scored gains on the Minneapolis and Philadelphia city councils, although more moderate candidates prevailed in Seattle. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu was not on the ballot, but she enjoyed a good night, with every candidate she had endorsed going on to victory — including two of her own former aides.

    Cherelle Parker won the Philadelphia mayor’s race, an outcome that had never been in doubt once she won the Democratic primary back in May. Parker, who gave up her city council seat to run, had prevailed over more progressive rivals in the primary.

    In Houston, state Sen. John Whitmire finished first in a large field, but failed to gain the majority needed to avoid a Dec. 9 runoff. He will face Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a more progressive candidate who appears to have a relatively low ceiling of potential support, with many voters telling pollsters they will never vote for her.

    Longtime incumbents won, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (elected to a sixth term) and Erie County, N.Y., executive Mark Poloncarz (elected to a fourth). Both men pledged during the campaign that this term would be their last. In Charlotte, Mayor Vi Lyles won a fourth two-year term.

    Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat, convincingly won a third term, despite Republican challenger Jefferson Shreve opening up his own checkbook to fund his race to the tune of $13.5 million. Hogsett finished with just under 60 percent of the vote, verifying the Democratic status of a city once known for electing prominent Republican mayors such as Richard Lugar and Stephen Goldsmith. “It’s been an expensive education,” Shreve said during his concession speech.

    But several incumbents went down to defeat, including the mayors of Wichita, Spokane and Duluth, Minn. Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple was outspent by Lily Wu, a former newscaster who had the backing of much of the city’s business elite. With early returns showing him trailing, Whipple decided to leave his election party to go home and put his kids to bed.

    In Allegheny County, Pa., Democrat Sara Innamorato prevailed in the county executive’s race. Some local Democrats worried that Innamorato was too progressive to win, but she ultimately defeated previously little-known GOP businessman Joe Rockey, 51 to 49 percent.

    Rockey claimed a moral victory with that showing in a county that’s two-thirds Democratic. “We sent the message that the middle truly matters and the middle can make a difference,” he said Tuesday night.

    Setbacks for Progressive Prosecutors

    Stephen Zappala has been the prosecutor in Allegheny County for a quarter of a century. He won a seventh term, defeating chief public defender Matt Dugan.

    Dugan had handily defeated Zappala in the May Democratic primary, but Zappala decided to run in the fall under the Republican banner. He vowed to push back against the kind of reforms Dugan had touted, saying in one ad, “I will never permit your safety to become an experiment.”

    Zappala raised more money than Dugan, who received most of his financial support from a political action committee funded by George Soros, the liberal billionaire who’s been a prime sponsor of the progressive prosecutor movement nationwide. Soros’ backing served to amplify Zappala’s message that Dugan would be “soft on crime” at a time when crime and public safety were top-of-mind issues.

    Another progressive may have lost a prosecutor’s race in Loudoun County, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Robert Anderson, who served as the commonwealth’s attorney from 1996 to 2003, appears to have unseated Buta Biberaj by about 1,000 votes, but Virginia counts absentee ballots that arrive by Nov. 13. Biberaj has not conceded.

    Biberaj had engaged in a high-profile dustup with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. In September, Youngkin pardoned a man who’d been convicted of disorderly conduct for his behavior at a school board meeting. Youngkin said the man, whose daughter had been sexually assaulted at school, should never have been prosecuted. Biberaj complained that the pardon was a political stunt.

    Melinda Katz, the district attorney in Queens, N.Y., easily prevailed over challengers who complained about her support for limiting the use of bail and other reforms. In Hinds County, Miss., which includes the state capital Jackson, Democrat Jody Owens survived a challenge brought by independent Darla Palmer. Owens supports alternatives to incarceration and has pledged not to prosecute abortion cases.

    Local Victories for the Left

    In Philadelphia, two at-large seats on the City Council are reserved for politicians who are not part of the majority party. In other words, not Democrats. The Working Families Party already held one of those seats but it picked up both on Tuesday. That leaves just a single Republican on the 16-member council — Brian O’Neill, who has represented the Far Northeast on the council for the past 44 years and won yet another term on Tuesday.

    Minneapolis progressives had been hoping to win a veto-proof majority, unseating comparatively more moderate councilmembers aligned with Mayor Jacob Frey. They may have achieved their goal, with four of the five candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists prevailing.

    One key race has yet to be called. Council President Andrea Jenkins trailed challenger Soren Stevenson, who had the backing of both the Democratic Socialists and the Democratic Party itself. Minneapolis uses a ranked-choice voting system, requiring that a candidate receive a majority of votes. Second-choice ballots will be counted on Wednesday, which may determine the winner.

    In Boston, more progressive candidates mostly prevailed, although there were some centrist victories. The defeat of two progressive councilmembers during the first round of voting in September seemed to portend a shift in direction, but it appears they lost mainly due to their own personal scandals, as opposed to any repudiation of their ideology.

    Seattle was the exception to the trend of councils moving further left. Early results indicate that more moderate candidates were leading in all seven races, with three incumbents trailing.

    Republicans enjoyed some notable bright spots in the Northeast. Jay Ruais won the mayor’s race in Manchester, N.H., which was considered an upset, while the GOP continued its recent dominance of Long Island, with Ed Romaine winning the race for Suffolk County. “This is a backlash against policies dictated by New York City Democrats that have gone too far to the left,” said Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, a Republican who unseated a Democrat in 2021. “Suburban and rural voters have had enough.”

    In New York City itself, Republican Kristy Marmorato appears to have upset Marjorie Velázquez, a Democratic member of the City Council. That result was notable not only for being an upset but representing the first time a Republican will represent the Bronx on the City Council since 2004.
    Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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