Police Funding Among Largest Issues Facing Voters in Mayoral Elections Across U.S.

New city leaders across the U.S. are being chosen Tuesday, as many voters look to see candidates' stances on police and crime before casting their ballot, the Associated Press reported.

Since the death of George Floyd last year, many across the nation have disagreed on how to approach law enforcement. Questions about when and where police officers are needed, and if they are needed at all, began to unfold during 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic and an increase in homicides.

Cities across the country vary in their stances for or against police officers, and in some big cities, an idea of a middle-ground approach has surfaced.

In New York City, Democrat and former police Captain Eric Adams is expected to be elected mayor. Adams would be the city's second Black mayor and uses his life experiences to speak out against racial injustice. Adams described being beaten by police officers as a teenager when he was arrested for trespassing, and when he later became a police officer, he was a vocal critic, advocating for Black officers and speaking out against injustices.

Adams has not embraced calls to defund the police, and his messages on crime and his experiences as a police officer have limited disagreements with his Republican opponent, Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels anti-crime patrol.

In Seattle, Bruce Harrell, a former city council member, has called for hurting more police officers to combat a rise in shootings in the city and criticized his mayoral opponent, Lorena González, for supporting defunding the police during the harsh time.

González, the current city council president, has called for an overhaul of the police department, which is under federal supervision for a pattern of biased policing and excessive force.

In Atlanta, rising crime rates and high-profile killings have many residents asking for a balance of policing and racial justice. Former Mayor Kasim Reed is seeking reelection and cited the crime surge as the motivation for his campaign. He has told voters that the low crime rate during his tenure and the hundreds of police officers he once hired make him the best choice to turn the city back to the right direction.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Curtis Sliwa and Eric Adams
New city leaders across the U.S. are being chosen Tuesday, as many voters look to see candidates' stances on police and crime before casting their ballot. Curtis Sliwa (left), Republican candidate for New York City mayor, and Eric Adams, Brooklyn borough president and the Democratic candidate, smile after a debate at the ABC-7 studios in New York on October 26, 2021. Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo/Associated Press

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a Democrat, has defended the police department against calls to dismantle it. On Tuesday, he's fighting to keep his job against 16 challengers, with the most serious contenders running to his left.

Frey's prospects may be linked to a ballot question that asks voters whether they want to replace the police department with a Department of Public Safety. Frey opposes the change, but his top two challengers support it.

Jacob Neiheisel, an associate professor of political science at the University at Buffalo, said that while local police departments often become an issue in mayor's races, the issue is broader and looms larger for votes after 2020.

"I think that's really front and center into how that they're thinking about this issue. So it is taking up more of the campaign environment than it has in the past," he said.

On the other side of New York state, the mayoral race in Buffalo puts India Walton, a democratic socialist, in a rematch with incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, the city's first Black mayor and a Democrat who lost the primary to Walton this summer.

He is now running as a write-in candidate with support from law enforcement and has criticized Walton for her plans to cut $7.5 million from the police department budget. She says the plan is aimed at addressing the root causes of crime. Brown says the move is "clearly defunding police."

City Council President Felicia Moore, a longtime critic of Reed, is another top contender who has cited rising crime as a reason she's running. Other candidates have spoken about adding more police officers and stressed the need to focus on the root causes of crime, such as affordable housing and unemployment.

In Boston, the contest between city council members Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu means whomever wins will become the city's first woman and first person of color elected mayor.

The candidates, both Democrats in a nonpartisan race, have chiefly clashed over issues such as affordable housing, public education and transportation. But differences on policing and crime have also emerged.

Wu, daughter of Taiwanese immigrants and a protégé of liberal Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, has called for major police reforms. Before she was a candidate, Wu joined other city council members in calling for a 10 percent cut to the police department's budget.

Essaibi George, who describes herself as Polish-Arab American, has opposed reallocating the money and has called for hiring several hundred more police officers. She was endorsed by former Boston police Commissioner William Gross.

Even in Waterloo, Iowa, with a population of about 68,000, policing and race have become a flashpoint in the mayoral race.

The city's first Black mayor, Quentin Hart, has been falsely painted by critics as an opponent of policing and has faced vicious criticism for months from a political action committee called Cedar Valley Backs the Blue, which was formed by retired Waterloo police officers.

The group blasted the city's move this year to retire the police department's longtime griffin logo—which looks similar to a KKK dragon—and sought the resignation of the city's first Black police chief, a close Hart associate.

Hart's opponent, white city council member Margaret Klein, campaigned as a supporter of police officers and won the group's endorsement.