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Democratic Socialists Lost Big on Election Night With India Walton Defeat

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In June, India Walton, a proud democratic socialist, beat incumbent Byron Brown in the race to see who would become the Democratic nominee for mayor of Buffalo, New York. This past week, Walton got walloped by her opponent, who eked out a last-minute write-in win.

Brown’s “campaign was crafty,” reports The New York Times, “spending $100,000 to distribute tens of thousands of ink stamps bearing the mayor’s name to allow voters to ink his name on ballots, something allowed by state law.” This will be Brown’s fifth term as Buffalo mayor, one he garnered by emphasizing coalition building with more moderate and conservative supporters. On Tuesday night, he oh-so-humbly declared his own write-in win “one of the greatest comeback stories in our history.”

As for Walton, “she exceeded my expectations in the general in some ways,” University of Buffalo political science professor Jacob Neiheisel tells Reason.“We thought her ceiling was 30-35% and she outperformed that,” though he alludes to the fact that it’s hard to tell what percentage of her support is comprised of true believers versus those who simply wanted a change.

Walton’s campaign was hobbled, at least in part, by her campaign staff’s inability to regain control of media coverage after news reports surfaced that her car had been impounded due to failure to pay parking tickets and an expired inspection. Though Walton initially smartly leveraged this by reminding voters that these are the struggles poor people go through all the time, she fumbled later on when blaming the impounding troubles on her opponent.

“Brownsuccessfullyturned theelection debateto the petty personal mistakes of Walton, a woman who became a working mother as a teen, before becoming a nurse: she was charged with $295 worth of food stamp fraud in 2003; she owed $749 in back taxes in 2004; she was stopped for driving with a suspended license; she visited her cousin before he went to jail; she failed to show up for a court summons sent to the wrong address; shewrote a rude Facebook post; and hercar was towed just last month over unpaid parking tickets,” writes Branko Marcetic at Jacobin, noting that Walton did not come from a moneyed background.

Neiheisel says that Brown made a mistake when he underestimated Walton’s team initially. “He should have seen this coming,” he says, noting that Federal Election Commission filings showed that Walton had significant downstate support, broadcasting ad spots in the right markets, and a solid media team. Still, “I don’t think I’ve seen someone [within Buffalo politics] who has been quite as willing to append the socialist label to themselves [as Walton],” says Neiheisel, noting that there’s a “generational gap” at play where younger voters are more willing to outwardly profess their democratic socialist or socialist affiliations.

Walton’s platform consisted of boilerplate socialist commitments, especially in the realm of housing policy. She wanted to “provide financial relief to small landlords in exchange for rent forgiveness for tenants” while implementing the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), which “means that when a property goes up for sale, existing tenants will have the first option to purchase the property.” (TOPA provides funding for tenants to do so.) And, “if a tenant does not want the ability to purchase, they can assign their right to purchase the property to a local non-profit housing agency, which will then manage the property.”

Walton’s website says that “TOPA is a powerful anti-displacement and wealth generation tool.” What her website doesn’t say is that Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) proposals to intervene in the provenance of housing stock often creates problems. Tenants’ rights protections, which DSA types (including Walton) almost always advocate for, raise landlords’ costs of doing business, which results in them either raising rents or selling off their housing stock. Socialists tend to attempt to stymie developers building new housing stock, operating under the delusion that building new luxury apartments will raise rents for everyone, while also failing to recognize that higher vacancy rates correlate with less rent inflation.

Despite Walton’s loss, several DSA-endorsed candidates performed concerningly well. Kendra Hicks won her bid for a seat on Boston’s city council; incumbent Quinton Zondervan won his reelection bid for a seat on nearby Cambridge’s city council. J.T. Scott was reelected to the city council in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Other DSA upstarts in the state were less successful: Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler failed in his bid for reelection to Cambridge’s city council. Becca Miller, Eve Seitchik, and Tessa Bridge all failed to garner enough votes to be elected to the seats they were vying for on Somerville’s city council. In all, the planned socialist takeover of Somerville, Massachusetts, didn’t amount to much, and Boston DSA-backed incumbents had a much easier time getting the votes they needed than new entrants did.

“Our goal is … to take over Somerville and to start implementing a Green New Deal for Somerville, free transit, defunding the police, creating affordable housing, bringing back rent control,” Boston DSA spokesperson Seth Gordon toldPolitico back in March, which noted that such “endorsements are a signalthat the Boston Democratic Socialists of America is flexing some new political power, and eyeing a move toward the mainstream.”

Elsewhere in the country, Rajesh Barnabas lost the race for a Rochester, New York, city council seat. Three DSA candidates won seats on Minneapolis’ city council. And in Florida, Richie Floyd won a seat on St. Petersburg’s city council.

DSA endorsed 32 candidates in total; though many of the highest-profile contenders like India Walton were rejected by voters, the DSA’s strategy of casting a wide net in local races appears to have somewhat come to fruition, with the organization reporting a 69 percent success rate.

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“Turkeys Instead of Tickets” May Violate Fourth Amendment Rights

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Thanksgiving is associated with tradition. And it appears there’s a relatively new one popular with police departments in recent years: pulling over unsuspecting drivers to give out turkeys instead of tickets.

This holiday season was no exception, with media reports detailing such outreach efforts put on by the Mesa Police Department in Arizona, the McAllen Police Department in Texas, and the Fulton Police Departmentin Illinois.

The catch: It’s potentially against the law.

“They’re legal so long as there is reasonable articulate suspicion that a crime was committed,” says Andrew Fleischman, a defense attorney with Ross and Pines. “Absent that, it violates the Fourth Amendment.”

In other words, the cops haven’t violated anyone’s constitutional rights if every driver pulled over for a turkey allegedly committed a traffic infraction. But that’s not what’s going on here.

Some departments aren’t exactly hiding it. The cops in Fulton, Illinois, for example, admittedly eschew the Constitution and conduct such traffic stops on those who do follow the rules of the road. “Officers weren’t plucking out scofflaws,” reads a piece on the program in SaukValley.com. “Rather, they were issuing turkeys instead of tickets, all part of Operation Turkey Stop to reward mindful drivers.”

And while other departments aren’t necessarily so brazen with the messaging, it stands to reason that officers likely aren’t exchanging turkeys for tickets when it comes to drivers who are actively endangering others and abusing the rules of the road.

“I was like ‘Oh my God, no, what did I do?'” said Perla Romano, who was stopped in McAllen, Texas. “‘I was scared because what did I do? I just panicked.'”

In Mesa, Arizona, cops zero in on those who commit minor civil infractions. Officers focus on “stop sign violations, red light violations, or making wide turns,” says Mesa Police Sgt. Chuck Trapani. “We pull them over, and if they didn’t have any criminal violations like warrants or anything like that, then we’d give them a warning violation, plus a turkey.”*

A spokesperson for the McAllen Police Department was not able to comment and the Fulton Police Department did not respond to Reason‘s request as of this writing.

Though the initiative may sound benign, the Fourth Amendment exists for a reason: You have a right to privacy, and a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. One wonders what might happen if an officer pulled someone over for a turkey and happened to catch a whiff of marijuana. Trade in that free Thanksgiving dinner for a potential jail cell.

Traffic stops rarely turn violent or deadly. Yet such instances are not unheard of. According to an investigation by The New York Times, police have killed more than 400 unarmed passengerswho were not suspected of any violent crimesduring traffic stops over the last five years, which amounts to more than one death a week. “It’s [a] frivolous use of their monopoly on force,” says Fleischman.

The spirit behind the program, according to the Mesa Police Department, is to engender affection between officers and the public during a time when cops have faced a sort of unprecedented pushback. Research indicates that such trust is indeed vital to building safer communities. But there are better ways for police to do that than by flouting the rule of law and violating people’s constitutional rights.

*UPDATE:This piece has been updated with a comment from the Mesa Police Department.

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No “Defense of Others” Defense in Justina Pelletier Hospital Hacking Case

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From U.S. v. Gottesfeld, decided earlier this month by the First Circuit (Judge Kayatta, joined by Chief Judge Howard and Judge Lynch):

In March 2014, Martin Gottesfeld and others committed a “Distributed Denial of Service” cyberattack against Boston Children’s Hospital and Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, causing both to lose their internet capabilities for three to four weeks. Gottesfeld targeted Boston Children’s and Wayside because of their role in caring for Justina Pelletier, a child whose medical condition and treatment were at the center of a custody dispute that received national attention.

Gottesfeld publicly admitted responsibility for the attacks. He was subsequently charged with intentionally causing damage to a protected computer, 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(5)(A), and conspiring to do the same, id. 371. After an eight-day trial, Gottesfeld was convicted on both counts and sentenced to 121 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised release….

Gottesfeld challenges the district court’s order precluding him from raising at trial the affirmative defense known as “defense of another.” A district court “may preclude the presentation of [a] defense entirely” if the defendant does not produce sufficient evidence “to create a triable issue.” …

“Use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it is necessary for the defense of … another against the immediate use of unlawful force,” so long as the person “use[s] no more force than appears reasonably necessary in the circumstances.”

Gottesfeld sought to argue at trial that his cyberattack on Boston Children’s and Wayside was justified because it was necessary to protect Pelletier from remaining under the care of those institutions. In support of this theory, he primarily pointed to news and television reports stating that Pelletier was being “abused” and “tortured” under the care of Boston Children’s and Wayside; that Pelletier’s custody proceeding might be “compromised”; and that Pelletier’s parents had contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies regarding Pelletier’s plight to no avail.

This evidence would perhaps support a finding that Gottesfeld subjectively believed Pelletier was at some risk of harm. But he marshals no case to support a finding that he reasonably believed that she faced the threat of immediate unlawful force. To the contrary, he knew that her custody was authorized by a court order. Furthermore, even if he thought that some individual or group of individuals were using or threatening to use unlawful force, that would have provided no justification for Gottesfeld to take hostage thousands of other persons’ internet connections.

{To the extent Gottesfeld contends that he reasonably believed that Pelletier’s treatment during her custody was unlawful, that argument is waived multiple times over: Gottesfeld did not clearly assert it before the district court and only now tries to develop it in his reply brief. Even were we to consider this argument, public commentary and opinion comparing Pelletier’s treatment to torturewhich is all he cites to support this claimdoes not alone support a finding that he reasonably believed that she was in fact being subjected to torture. To rule otherwise would be to empower every citizen with the ability to simultaneously incite and immunize criminal conduct by another even as a judicial tribunal is available to hear the claims of harm.}

Nor could a jury have found Gottesfeld’s chosen methods reasonably necessary. The issues of Pelletier’s custody and treatment were before a court, and all allegations known to Gottesfeld were known to law enforcement authorities. To the extent that Gottesfeld viewed these alternative courses of action as unlikely to succeed, we have previously explained that a defendant’s likely inability “to effect the changes he desires through legal alternatives does not mean, ipso facto, that those alternatives are nonexistent.” …

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University Administrators on the Rittenhouse Verdict

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Conor Friedersdorf (The Atlantic) has a very good article on this; an excerpt:

Rather than encourage independent scrutiny, administrators on many campuses have issued statements that presuppose answers to hotly contested questions, and assert opinions about the not-guilty verdict in the case and its ostensible significance as though they were matters of community consensus.

The whole episode is an illustration of a bigger problem in academia: Administrators make ideologically selective efforts to soothe the feelings of upset faculty members and students. These actions impose orthodoxies of thought, undermining both intellectual diversity and inclusion. “Certainly,” declareda statement by Dwight A. McBride, president of the New School, “the verdict raises questions about … vigilantism in the service of racism and white supremacy.” In reality, many observers are far fromcertainthat, when 12 jurors concluded that a white man shot three other white men in self-defense, they were saying anything about white supremacy.

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