Grassroots victories give hope for 2004

News Analysis

Despite Republican claims of having locked up the South after winning governors’ races in Mississippi and Kentucky, the 2004 presidential race is far from over. In addition to polls reporting lack of confidence in the Bush administration’s military and economic policies, some local elections in key states show that campaigns related to mass struggles can pull out the vote. These progressive victories at the municipal and state legislative level are an indication of what is required to defeat Bush and the right wing next year.

Voters in Philadelphia resoundingly re-elected John Street, rebuffing FBI surveillance of their mayor as yet another Republican dirty trick to win the presidency. The African American, Latino and white electorate gave record support to Street based on increased affordable housing and improved conditions during his tenure. Voters also endorsed a referendum in favor of universal health care.

Republicans did no better in western Pennsylvania, a key swing state in the presidential battle. A progressive coalition in Wilkinsburg won big in the city council elections and in an Allegheny County race, assuring that the board of elections will not be under Republican control next year.

In Ohio, an increase in union members running for public office is changing the political landscape. Labor helped elect a progressive school board and city council in Jefferson, while in Ashtabula a strong union candidate defeated the right-wing head of city council.

Local media in Duluth, Minn., another key Midwest state, termed the election results a decided swing to the left. The labor movement flexed its muscle to defeat a conservative mayor and city council incumbents, as well as approving a referendum to increase property taxes to fund public schools.

New York overwhelmingly defeated a charter reform initiated and financed by Republican Mayor Bloomberg, which would have stifled empowerment of working-class candidates and candidates of color. History was made by Working Families Party candidate Letitia James of Brooklyn, who became the first independent elected to City Council in a quarter century. (See related story below.)

Across the river in New Jersey, Democrats unexpectedly recaptured the majority in the State Senate, and increased their majority in the State House. Among those elected was Ellen Karcher, a pro-choice candidate endorsed by Emily’s List who defeated the Republican Senate president. The AFL-CIO said 35 of the 53 union member candidates running for state and local offices in the Garden State won their races.

Emily’s List also campaigned successfully for two pro-choice Democratic incumbents who were targeted by the Republican right wing in Virginia. Both Sen. Linda “Toddy” Puller and Rep. Kris Amundson won with good margins.

In Boulder, Colo., League of Conservation Voters Southwest Regional Director Andy Schultheuss was elected to city council along with a field of progressive candidates.

In the small town of Roslyn, Wash., election work by the environmental group RIDGE produced a city council with a majority of environmentalists and union members, plus a new progressive mayor.

In New Haven, Conn., a concerted effort by a union-community coalition defeated all members of the Board of Aldermen who supported the Yale administration during a recent strike. Several of the newly elected are union and community organizers, who threw themselves into the pitched battle with a vigorous door-knocking campaign.

In Boston, Mass., site of the 2004 Democratic presidential convention, a progressive sweep in the city elections includes the first Puerto Rican member of City Council and two additional African American members. The historic breakthrough is credited to grassroots organizing around progressive issues.

In nearby Lawrence, Martina Cruz waged an outstanding grassroots campaign for school board, carrying three of four polling places although falling short of election by 15 votes. Her campaign attracted widespread support because of her years of work for the needs of children and on broader issues like the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride.

San Francisco is poised to make history if Green candidate Matt Gonzalez wins the mayoral runoff. He was a strong advocate for last year’s successful referendum which will make San Francisco the first city to practice Instant Runoff Voting in 2004. The city’s voters also passed a ballot measure that sets an $8.50 per hour minimum wage for both public and private employment.

At the local level, there is much in the Nov. 4 election results to inspire the broad alliance of labor and allies determined to end Republican control of the White House and Congress next year. Campaigns like those of Cruz, which grow out of mass struggles for the needs and rights of working families, provide the example for pulling out a massive vote against corporate domination and right-wing politics.

The Republican right-wing “Goliath” based on stealth, high finance and demagogy can be beaten by people-powered voter organizing at the grassroots, already in progress across the length and breadth of this great land.

The author, the national chair of the Communist Party’s Political Action Commission, can be reached at joelle.fishman@pobox.com