Which U.S. cities are considered to have the most radical governments?
May 16, 2016 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of small-to-medium sized U.S. cities and towns that are known for having exceedingly radical city governments (whether left- or right-wing). What have these governments done that makes them considered radical? What obstacles have they faced in attempting to implement their policies?
posted by matkline to Law & Government (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Kennesaw comes to mind. Every head of household must maintain a gun and have ammo for it.

It's really the only policy that I know of that seems extreme, but to me it feels really extreme.
posted by ReluctantViking at 11:40 AM on May 16, 2016

Seattle recently elected Kshama Sawant, a Socialist, to city government. Not many open elected Socialists in the United States at any level, city or otherwise. She helped enact a regional $15/hr minimum wage, which is a pretty radical concept to Democrats and Republicans alike.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:41 AM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Burlington, Vermont. You may have heard of it's one-time mayor, Bernie Sanders.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:47 AM on May 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

Not contemporary, but Milwaukee famously had a spate of Socialist governance in the early 20th century that aggressively pursued public improvements, decentralization and expansion of the city, living wages and other urban development goals.
posted by voiceofreason at 11:48 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

San Francisco's government isn't really that radical, but there is the time in 2004 the mayor unilaterally declared that of course gay marriage is legal (not that this should have actually been a radical position, but actually doing it was a big deal in 2004) and directed the clerk to issue marriage licenses accordingly. Several thousand people got married. Those licenses were later voided by the California Supreme Court.
posted by zachlipton at 12:01 PM on May 16, 2016

Berkeley, CA has to be up there. In 2008 the city council told the US Marine Corps that they were "unwelcome intruders" and gave official support to protesters outside their recruiting office, causing a brouhaha. A couple of years ago they passed a law mandating free medical marijuana for the poor. And there's a soda tax, plastic bag law, high minimum wage, etc.
posted by theodolite at 12:26 PM on May 16, 2016 [7 favorites]

ReluctantViking, it's worth noting that the Kennesaw gun law was never enforced.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:35 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Takoma Park, Maryland has this reputation. Most of the highlights are there in the Wikipedia article, but they're a "nuclear free zone," they let 16 year olds and non-US citizens vote in municipal elections. There was a big debate when their food co-op started selling meat, and I've heard a story I'm not sure I believe that the city government bought Subarus for their city managers because it was the only company that met their standards for who they were willing to do business with. It's also "quirky," by probably uptight East Coast Standards.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:40 PM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Colorado Springs was so anti-tax that they slashed into lots of services most people think of as being standard for a city. Lots of coverage out there, here is some more.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:42 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

One could argue that master-planned communities such as Celebration, Florida, or Irvine, California, are/were fairly radical ideas at their inception. Irvine is especially ironic in this case -- a highly corporatist city with a notable Republican billionaire pulling the strings, but the city government was run for several years by an ultra-left Democrat.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:47 PM on May 16, 2016

Carrboro, NC (or greater Chapel Hill area)
posted by greta simone at 12:57 PM on May 16, 2016

The City of Industry in California is pretty radically corporatist, in the sense that most of the city's "residents" are corporate or industrial tenants and most of the voters are controlled by a handful of well-connected families.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:19 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

This may be a bigger city than you want, but the Minneapolis-area Metropolitan Council is unprecedented in the US the amount of regional power it has over member cities. It's led to pretty radical outcomes in avoiding the "race to the bottom" of a lot of US city/suburb conglomerations (in pollution, zoning, etc.), preventing tax-sniping where cities undermine their neighbors' tax rolls for their own benefit, equalizing school funding somewhat, and getting really good regional transit. These are pretty common schemes in Europe but it's the only metro area I know of in the US with this level of regional planning.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:30 PM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure Santa Monica, CA can still retain the nickname "The People's Republic of Santa Monica" but we're pretty good about some stuff. Obviously this is only"radical" compared to what most MeFites would strive for.

Affordable Housing (Not just development concessions but true, means-tested housing. The median household income is 110K but 11% live below the poverty line.)
City of Santa Monica Housing and Economic Development Department
Renting In Santa Monica Part Three: Affordable Housing

Bikes and Pedestrians
Breeze Bike Share
Bike Lanes
Santa Monica Bike Center
Bike Action Plan
Pedestrian Action Plan

Minimum Wage
Increase to $10.50/hr July 2016 and process until it reaches $15/hr in 2020

More than a dozen structures in the City that have been recognized with LEED Certification

The city also adopts lots of resolutions like this one to acknowledge the "rights of natural communities and ecosystems within Santa Monica to exist, thrive and evolve" and participates in all the usual boycotts, like the one against Arizona.

I'm not sure if we're still "the home of the homeless" but the city does have an extensive program to deal with the problem and for the number of homeless we have I don't see or hear about many of the nightmare stories I read about elsewhere.

The population is 90K, but it balloons to 250-300K during the day and during summer. Traffic is an ongoing problem but the last segment of the Metro Expo line opens on 5/20 (I’m so excited!) so hopefully that will eventually help things.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:02 PM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Consider Richmond, CA, including its program to "pay criminals not to kill" and its "Richmond CARES" program, which would seize underwater mortgages from big banks to renegotiate them with homeowners, lowering the principal owed (quick summary here, interesting explanation here). This followed a lawsuit against the Chevron refinery located there, prompting one interviewer to ask "Isn’t it enough to take on your city’s biggest taxpayer? Why take on the big banks too?"
posted by salvia at 2:02 PM on May 16, 2016

Antelope, Oregon got caught up in a strange situation when the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh movement bought a ranch there and formed a settlement. The members of the movement all registered to vote in the town, and among other fun things they elected a majority of the city council, changed the name of the town to Rajneesh, made the town square a clothing-optional zone, and so on and so forth. For a couple of years there it got pretty weird.

It isn't anymore. The Rajneesh movement fell apart, and most of them left, and things returned pretty much to normal.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:12 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Rajneesh story reminds me of small cities in the Mojave desert contracting with Los Angeles to handle sewage treatment, as they have plenty of land and perfect weather for evaporative sludge drying beds. In many cases, families more or less own the town governments, so they vote favorable conditions for themselves and pocket the money.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:15 PM on May 16, 2016

Related to Rajneesh story, Kiryas Joel is a village in upstate NY that is composed almost entirely of Satmar Hasidic Jews. It's a bit hard to separate fact from anti-Semitism, but there is definitely something weird going on there. It's been accused of being a village theocracy
posted by permiechickie at 4:55 PM on May 16, 2016

An interesting new idea being discussed by the Santa Monica City Council:

Council greenlights exploration of new rent subsidies
At their May 10 meeting, the council approved a request from Mayor Pro Tem Ted Winterer and Councilmembers Sue Himmelrich and Kevin McKeown that staff explore expanding affordable housing policies to include a local rent-subsidy program that would target severely rent burdened low-income renters currently living in rent-controlled apartments.

Also heartening, because there are definitely residents who hate poor people: Cole said the results of a study examining a potential sales tax increase showed residents supported increased spending for housing aid and said 67 percent of the survey respondents specifically approved of a rent subsidy.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:08 AM on May 19, 2016

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