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Plus: An effort to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution stalls; Illinois tackles mental health in kids; remote work saps revenue in D.C.; states prepare to reduce Medicaid rolls; and more news you can use from around the country.
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It’s Friday, March 3, and we’d like to welcome you to the weekly State and Local Roundup. This week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her bid for reelection on Tuesday as voters showed their frustration with escalating crime.
Lightfoot, the city’s first Black woman mayor and first openly gay mayor, saw her approval ratings steadily decline during the pandemic as crime in the city rose. Nearly 700 people were killed in Chicago last year, a decline from the 804 murders in 2021 but still well above pre-pandemic levels. Robberies continued to climb, according to police data.
Lightfoot lost popularity for many reasons since dispatching a field of seasoned politicians four years ago. She backed away from campaign promises and frequently fought with other officeholders. But concerns about crime topped the list. A poll by Northwestern University and a coalition of Black and Latino nonprofits showed that crime was the biggest issue for 57% of voters, followed by inflation and the cost of living.
The top vote-getter, Paul Vallas, the former schools chief, campaigned on public safety as a “human right,” and promised that “confronting the city’s crime problem and ensuring our residents’ safety is my top priority.”
Vallas will face Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, a former teacher, in the April 4th runoff. Johnson has said he would invest in promoting 200 more detectives to focus on solving crimes and ensuring the Chicago Police Department’s consent decree, a court order requiring reform of the agency, is “administered with all due expediency.”
Both finalists also promised to fire Lightfoot’s police chief, David Brown, who announced after the election that he will step down before the runoff.
Lightfoot is far from the only mayor feeling the heat. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell faces a possible recall as violent crime in her city spikes. Homicides in New Orleans had increased about 44% through mid-September in 2022, compared with 2021, according to data from the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a public safety nonprofit.
One of the organizers spearheading the recall effort, according to NBC News, asked, “In 2022, we were the nation’s murder capital, how does that happen?”
Even New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who largely rode into office as the tough-on-crime candidate, has seen his approval ratings flag amid rising crime concerns. Registered voters in New York City gave Adams his first negative job approval rating since taking office in 2022 with 37% approving of the way he's handling his job as mayor. Asked specifically about the way Adams is handling crime in New York City, 57% disapprove, according to the February Quinnipiac University poll.
Crime concerns are also playing a big role in the mayoral races in Denver and Philadelphia.
Denver, too, has experienced a spike in homicides and gun violence since the Covid pandemic, making the issue central for the 17 candidates running to succeed Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. The Denver Post found that 12 of the candidates “use the word ‘safe’ in their campaign slogans or name safety as a key issue in their platforms. Several have released detailed public safety platforms with solutions ranging from adding 400 more police officers to expanding non-police responses to 911 calls.”
And in Philadelphia, nearly all of the nine Democrats vying to replace Mayor Jim Kenney have said they will declare gun violence a citywide emergency. The total number of homicides recorded in 2022 was slightly lower than the record set in 2021. But the city still reached a grim milestone: for the second year in a row, it matched the record of 500 killings set in 1990, at the height of the crack-cocaine epidemic.
Lightfoot’s loss and Cantrell’s possible recall fight provide further examples of how much crime is weighing on voters’ minds in recent months. A Gallup poll leading up to the midterms found that “Americans are more likely now than at any time over the past five decades to say there is more crime in their local area than there was a year ago.”
It found that 56% of U.S. adults said there is more crime where they live, up five points from 2021, and 78% said they think there is more crime in the U.S. overall.
The mayoral race in Chicago is playing out very similarly to the mayoral races in New York City in 2021 and in Los Angeles last year.
Adams, a former police captain, largely won by promising to drive down gun violence and restore public safety across New York City. And L.A. Mayor Karen Bass defeated billionaire developer Rick Caruso, whose campaign focused on law and order, by promising to increase the number of police officers on the streets.
Even though most mayors or mayoral candidates promise to reduce crime, the task is complicated by the fact that many police departments can’t find officers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the number of local law enforcement employees decreased by 4% between March 2020 to August 2022.
At the time of Lightfoot’s loss Tuesday, the police budget had ballooned to $1.9 billion and the department was still struggling to hire personnel after the number of officers fell 12% in the period from 2019-2022.
Make sure to come back here every Friday for the week’s highlights. If you don’t already and would prefer to get it in your inbox, you can subscribe to this newsletter here. Have a great weekend.
News to Use
Trends, Common Challenges, Cool Ideas, FYIs, and Notable Events
- Equal Rights Amendment. The states of Illinois and Nevada lost their bid to make the Equal Rights Amendment part of the Constitution on Tuesday. A federal appeals court said the two states failed to show that they had a “clear and indisputable right” to compel the U.S. archivist to certify and publish the ERA as part of the Constitution.
- Mental health and kids. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a plan to address a mental health crisis among children in the state. He wants six state agencies that address the issue to work together more effectively to get treatment for children. The mental health of children nationwide rapidly unraveled during the Covid pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2021 found 44% of American children had depressive episodes lasting at least two weeks. Nearly half had contemplated suicide.
- Curbing social media use. Lawmakers in Utah approved a pair of major social media measures this week. The proposals would require parental consent for children to create social accounts and make it easier to sue social media companies for alleged damages to teens. Social media regulation has been a priority for the Utah Legislature all session. Gov. Spencer Cox called for strong action against tech companies in January, citing declining trends in teen mental health in recent years.
- Remote work takes its toll. D.C. officials have been saying for months that the increased number of workers not coming into their offices would have implications for the city’s coffers. In a new revenue estimate issued Tuesday, the district’s chief financial officer said the city will likely take in less revenue than originally expected in the coming years, largely because of a “deteriorating real property market.” The estimate shows decreases in expected revenue ranging from $81 million to $199 million between 2024 and 2026.
- Culling the Medicaid rolls. As part of a 2020 law, Congress prohibited states from kicking residents off of Medicaid, even if their eligibility changed while the national Covid emergency was in place. But with the emergency declaration expiring April 1, states now must reevaluate residents’ eligibility and remove ineligible recipients from the program. Rural health advocates are concerned about how the reduction in revenue will affect small-town hospitals, which have already long been struggling to survive. Others worry that millions of people who are still eligible for Medicaid will lose coverage if they don’t understand the renewal process. Arkansas, which has long sought to rein in Medicaid costs, plans to complete the task quickly. The Biden administration is giving states a year to reevaluate residents’ eligibility, but Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is aiming to disenroll people in half that time.
- Banning transgender care for adults. The Washington Post reports that state lawmakers are filing a growing number of bills to limit gender-affirming care for adults. Until now, most legislation has targeted care for children. Republican lawmakers in at least five states have introduced legislation that would limit such care for adults. Meanwhile, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday signed into law a total ban on gender-affirming health care for transgender children, and also signed off on a new law to prohibit drag shows from public property and limit it to age-restricted venues.
- Free community college for adults. In her first budget, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey included funding for a program to send Massachusetts adults 25 and older back to college for free. Called MassReconnect, the program would cover tuition, mandatory fees, books and various support services such as student coaching for as many as 1.8 million residents of the state who have not yet earned a college degree. According to Healey, the program is modeled after similar efforts in Michigan and Tennessee.
- Ineffective tax breaks. An analysis by The Oregonian found that tax breaks given to big tech companies aren't always beneficial. While the state doesn’t track who gets the biggest incentives, data shows that wealthy tech companies receive the largest breaks and the state often loses money on these economic development efforts.
- Guns on campus. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a measure into law Wednesday allowing people with concealed carry permits to take firearms onto public college and university campuses. He argued that people would bring guns on campuses even without the new law. It takes effect in July 2024. Similar legislation has passed in 11 other states.
- Police takeover. Police in St. Louis have rallied around Senate Bill 78, which would reinstate a Civil War-era system of state control overturned by Missouri voters in 2012 and make St. Louis one of the only major cities in the country without authority over its own police force. Law enforcement unions argue that local control has “put politics in policing” and that state oversight would help address an increase in homicides and a drop in police morale and staffing levels. Meanwhile, plans to put the Baltimore police department under city control instead of state control for the first time in 160 years have been slowed by disagreements over how much power the city council should have in overseeing the department.
Picture of the Week
The ethanol-fueled fungus known as whiskey fungus that thrives around distilleries and bakeries has long been the source of complaints from residents who live near distilleries. The sooty, dark crust blankets road signs, homes, cars and trees, fed by alcohol vapors wafting from charred oak barrels of aging whiskey. Now, reports The New York Times, it is driving a wedge between some residents of Lincoln County, Tennessee, and Jack Daniel’s, the famed distillery founded in 1866 in neighboring Moore County. A resident has sued to stop the construction of a warehouse to age whiskey that Jack Daniel’s says would generate $1 million in annual property tax revenue for the county. (Photo: Ivan COURONNE/AFP via Getty Images)
What They’re Saying
“There’s a lot of sound and fury, and eventually, it signifies nothing. But it still takes up time and energy and effort here when you don’t have much time, energy or effort to expend.”
–Sarah Graham Taylor, legislative director for the City of Alexandria, on the Virginia legislative session, which adjourned this past Saturday without passing a budget. There was plenty of political posturing, but little legislation, DCist reports.
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