The Political All Stars of 2021

I’m definitely one of those people who believes that its hard to know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.

That’s probably why I’ve always loved history.

As we start off 2022, which by all signs should be quite the year politically here in these United States, I want to reflect back on the year that recently ended.

Specifically, I want to mention those candidates and elected officials who displayed either their mastery of the political process, or those who demonstrated integrity under great political pressure.

Eric Adams

In June, Brooklyn Borough President and retired NYPD Police Captain won the 13-candidate primary election to become the Democratic Party’s candidate for Mayor of New York City.

He then went on to win the General Election with over 72% of the vote.

Adams did so by emphasizing an issue that in recent years had fallen out of favor with many Democratic elected officials and activists – safety.

And he did so without dismissing voters concerns about police misconduct or racial bias.

According to Adams’s candidate statement on Ballotpedia:

“People do not feel safe in their homes or on the street. We cannot go back to a New York that is unsafe for New Yorkers—especially our children. We won’t go back.

As a former police officer who patrolled the streets in a bulletproof vest in the 1990s, I sadly know what I am talking about. Lawlessness spread through our city like a disease then, infecting communities with the same terrible swiftness that coronavirus threatens today.

At the same time we face a crisis of confidence in our police. And we cannot have lower crime without greater trust.”

Byron Brown

Whenever a candidate tells me they are going to run as a write-in candidate, I tell them they’d be better off taking the money they’d spend to do that and buy Lotto tickets.

I’ve never met a write-in candidate who won an election.

That will change if I ever meet Buffalo’s mayor, Byron Brown.

Brown was first elected Buffalo Mayor in 2004. But last June he lost the Democratic Primary to nurse India Walton, a self-described Social Democrat.

Instead of accepting this defeat in his party’s primary, Brown qualified as a write-in candidate.

He then campaigned against Walton by defining her as an inexperienced radical, while courting middle of the road and Republican Buffalo voters.

At the same time, Brown never ran away from his own Democratic ideology.

Rather, Brown emphasized his ability to get things done.

“I’m humbly asking you to WRITE DOWN BYRON BROWN for Mayor on the November 2nd ballot.

When I was elected in 2005, I promised that I would work to revitalize our City, build a safer, smarter, stronger Buffalo and ensure that every community shares in our opportunity and our success.

And we’ve made incredible progress.

I’m running in the General Election because there is far too much at stake to stop now. We cannot afford to turn back Buffalo’s progress.

It worked. Byron Brown was re-elected as Mayor with over 59% of the vote.

Glenn Youngkin

Glenn Youngkin did something that to many did not seem possible.

He was elected the governor of Virginia as a Republican.

While technically a southern state, Virginia has been consistently voting statewide for Democrats running for President, Governor, and Senator.

The race was former Democratice Governor Terry McAuliffe’s to lose.

And with one comment at a debate McAuliffe provided Youngkin a big opening, saying “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach.”

We say in politics that when your opponent is drowning you don’t toss them a rope, you throw them an anvil.

Glenn Youngkin’s campaign quickly threw their opponent a heavy anvil.

McAuliffe said his words were being taken out of context, but the damage had been done.

Youngkin continued to drop this anvil on McAuliffe until Election Day.

Youngkin also managed to dodge the anvil McAuliffe and his campaign kept throwing at them:  Donald Trump’s endorsement of Youngkin.

The former president had strong support in Virginia’s solid Republican counties, but he’d never won statewide.

Youngkin knew that hugging up on Trump could hurt him in the suburban areas he needed to win to beat McAuliffe.

While accepting Trump’s endorsement, Youngkin maintained a respectable distance from the ex-president.

This apparently calmed fears about Glenn Youngkin amongst suburban voters whose biggest concern was education.

In an extremely close race Glenn Youngin was elected Governor of Virginia with 50.6% of the vote.

Ed Durr

Never heard of Ed Durr?  Neither had I until November 3, 2021.

New Jersey Senator Steve Sweeney had heard of Edward Durr though.

Durr was his Republican truck driver opponent that spent less than $10,000 — and won!

This absolutely shouldn’t have been possible.

First Sweeney was the President of the New Jersey State Senate. His political power was massive and he was deeply entrenched.

Politico reported that “the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, spent about $5.4 million on a 2017 effort to unseat Sweeney, yet he still won by 18 points.”

Sweeney obviously didn’t take Durr seriously, but that points to a larger problem.

The incumbent wasn’t paying attention to his district.  He’d likely become too isolated from his constituents while serving in the capital in Trenton.

No one gets beat — especially like this — when they are in touch with and on the same page as their voters.

(Tap here to read more about the pros and cons of challenging incumbents)

Ed Durr clearly understood the mood of the people in the Senate District.

He and his volunteers worked hard and went directly to the voters with his winning message.

Durr capitalized on voter frustrations with New Jersey’s pandemic responses that led to a turnout that favored Republicans, almost defeating the Garden State’s incumbent governor Phil Murphy as well.

Bruce Harrell

When people think of of Seattle they tend to think of Starbucks, the Space Needle, Frasier the Twelfth Man, and Pearl Jam.

After the summer of 2020, they also associate Seattle with the CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) and the city’s abandonment of the Police Department’s East Precinct.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan famously mis-characterized what was happening in her city as “the summer of love.”

At the same time, the Defund the Police movement gained traction and the Seattle City Council voting to cut approximately 20% of SPD’s budget.

Reading the political tea leaves quite accurately, Durkan decided not to seek another term.

Going into the November General Election were councilwoman S. Lorena Gonzalez and former councilman Bruce Harrell.

Both Gonzalez and Harrell are self-proclaimed progressive Democrats.

The difference between the two came down to keeping Seattle’s residents safe.

Gonzalez had voted to cut police funding.  Harrell said clearly at a closing mayoral debate, “Make no mistake about it.  I’m not defunding the police.”

His message resonated and he was elected Seattle’s Mayor with over 61% of the vote.

Yes, voters want honest, fair, unbiased law enforcement.  They also want laws enforced to keep them safe and maintain order in their communities.

As the Wall Street Journal reported after Election Day:

Mr. Harrell promised to rebuild the police department, restore public order, and refuse to tolerate property destruction.

Ms. González was president of a City Council that slashed the 2021 police budget by nearly $35.6 million, or about 9%, compared with 2019.

More than 300 officers have resigned or retired in the past two years. Seattle has seen some 443 shootings this year, up from 332 in all of 2019.

Feces litter the city’s streets, and downtown businesses struggle amid rampant homelessness, shoplifting and drug use.

Joe Manchin

Some Democrats may not like the inclusion of the Senator from West Virginia on this list.

If that’s you, please keep reading.  You’re appiness will return momentarily.

I’m including Senator Manchin not because of his electoral success, which is pretty incredible being he’s a Democrat in a very Republican state.

Joe Manchin is on this list because he has demonstrated great integrity.

He’s done this by standing up to members of his party, the President, and hyper-partisan activists.

He’s done this by remembering that his first priority isn’t to the Democratic Party, but to the state that sent him to Washington D.C..

Much of the legislation moving through the Capitol would not be good for West Virginia.

Rather than going along for the sake of getting along, Manchin has made both his priorities for West Virginia and his policy boundaries clearly known.

Machin explicitly told Majority Leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, who also heads the evenly divided U.S. Senate, in detail what he will and will not vote for.

He has told President Biden as well.

And he told the pubic when his offers and attempts at compromise with the leaders of his own political party were ignored.

This resulted in a vicious campaign of ridicule and shaming to push Senator Manchin to alter his positions.

He held his ground.

By showing this type of integrity, Joe Manchin reminds everyone that an elected official’s fealty is to their constituents.

He should not be viewed as a traitor to the Democratic Party. He’s simply a U.S. Senator doing the job he was elected to do.

It is the job of political parties to recruit candidates and win elections to grow and maintain majorities, not to dictate policies and procedures.

Mike Pence

Now if you’re a Republican reading this, particularly an unyielding supporter of former President Trump, it might be your turn to be unhappy with this list.

The former Vice President is named here for the same reason Joe Manchin is on it.

Mike Pence demonstrated immense integrity in the face of the most incredible pressure.

The very president Mr. Pence had served as an unquestionably loyal vice president called upon him to do something he did not have the Constitutional Authority to do:  stop the certification of the 2020 Election after the Electoral College had voted.

Because of Pence’s loyalty to Donald Trump and the Republican Party, combined with the fact that the outcome would directly affect his own political position, there real questions existed about what the former Vice President might actually do.

And it is not any sort of an exaggeration to say there was intense pressure being applied for Pence to effectively nullify the Electoral College vote – at least in certain states.

Rather than playing coy, Vice President Pence released a letter stating clearly that the Constitution did not vest him with that power.

As Pence’s letter stated:

Our Founders were deeply skeptical of concentrations of power and created a Republic based on separation of powers and checks and balances under the Constitution of the United States.

Vesting the Vice President with unilateral authority to decide presidential contests would be entirely antithetical to that design. As a student of history who loves the Constitution and reveres its Framers, I do not believe that the Founders of our country intended to invest the Vice President with unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted during the Joint Session of Congress, and no Vice President in American history has ever asserted such authority.

The certification of the vote was subsequently interrupted on January 6, 2021 when individuals convinced that the Presidential Election had been fraudulent, burst into the U.S. Capitol.

A number of them even chanted that they were there to hang Vice President Pence.

Once order was restored, the certification of the Electoral College votes was completed, and Mike Pence declared Joe Biden the next President of the United States.

In the face of harassment from the very president he had ably served and threats of death by activists of his own Republican Party, Mike Pence showed there is real steel in his his spine.

Not only must an elected official always remember they are elected to represent their constituents not their political party, it is just as vital that elected officials uphold the sacred oaths they take to support and defend the United States Constitution.

That is always the case for every elected official, even if it would politically benefit them to do otherwise or if the sitting President of the United States — insists that they do the opposite.

Candidate Take-Aways

Each of these candidates provides great examples – both while running for office and while holding it – that any candidate of any political persuasion can learn valuable things from.