The city is the new suburb.
According to Census Bureau data, more than 80 percent of Americans now live in metropolitan areas. The population of the District of Columbia, where I live, increased by more than 5% over the last decade and close to 3% in just the last 15 months, outpacing all states over the same period.
This influx of new residents to cities poses a unique challenge for the Republican Party. Presently, Republicans make up just 6% of the elected city council members in the country’s three largest cities. To remain a competitive political party well into the future, we must develop a successful model of a local urban Republican Party that can be exported nationwide. And there’s no better place to start than here in Washington, D.C.
The nation’s capital is a challenging place to be a Republican — there’s no doubt about it. The District’s Republican registration stands at 6.5% of registered voters; Republicans don’t hold any of the 13 City Council seats. But recent years have provided a glimmer of hope. For instance, Republican Tim Day — currently a candidate in a competitive City Council race in the city’s 5th Ward — led the charge against corruption in city government, leading to one councilman’s resignation and subsequent federal charges.
Also, the local party has advocated loudly for school reform (in particular for continued funding and expansion of D.C.’s successful school voucher program) and has been a strong opponent of the knee-jerk tax-and-spend solutions of the current City Council.
The public response has been positive, suggesting that our party’s core principles of small, efficient and honest government can resonate with an urban electorate. But message alone can’t overturn decades of “deep blue” politics — we must pursue a three-part strategy to make inroads into urban neighborhoods.
First, the urban Republican Party must shore up its base. In Washington, D.C., Republican turnout on a percentage basis is consistently lower than our Democratic counterparts. In the past, low turnout has cost Republicans victories in City Council elections. If the party is going to broaden its appeal, it must first have a grassroots base upon which to build.
Second, an urban Republican Party must reach out to new residents. The party’s message of reform and good governance is a natural fit for the young professionals relocating to cities for employment opportunities and a city lifestyle. A young professional organization I co-founded here in D.C. — called “35 Under 35” — has as its mission the recruitment and retention of our future party leaders and candidates. Other cities should follow suit with similar-minded efforts.
Finally, an urban Republican Party must build bridges from wealthier communities to those neighborhoods with little investment and high poverty, such as Wards 7 and 8 here in Washington, D.C. The Republican Party’s message of inclusion, individual responsibility and transparency in local government can win in all parts of a city, as “civil rights” Republicans like Ward 7’s Ron Moten are demonstrating today.
Ron and I recently co-hosted a Black History Celebration to honor the contributions of civil rights leaders to the Republican Party. In Ward 7, which some Republicans have written off altogether, we had over 70 attendees.
In my own candidacy to represent the local party in the Republican National Committee, I’ve knocked on more than 3,000 doors in the city to help build voters’ connection to the D.C. Republican Party. A single conversation or outreach event may not change minds, but consistent and repeated outreach backed up by a compelling message of a balanced, responsive government could mean a new day for Republicans in the nation’s capital. To achieve that goal, we need a strong D.C. Republican Party led by serious people willing to put in the necessary time, effort and hard work.
Jill Homan is the finance chair of the D.C. Republican Party and a candidate for Republican National Committeewoman.