This Catherine Lucey article doesn’t tell us what exactly the “loyal opposition” faction of the Philly GOP thinks it could do to become more competitive at the city level, but I have some ideas!
The problem with city level politics is that they’re uncompetitive. And they’re uncompetitive because the national party brands map poorly onto the issue space at the local level.
The only reason federal elections are competitive at all is that voters are able to use the party labels as a shortcut to understand roughly where candidates are going to come down on the federal issues.
That all breaks down at the local level. The national party labels tell us next to nothing about candidates’ positions on municipal issues.
What’s more, the Democratic registration advantage is so huge that even if the Republicans did develop a popular platform on municipal issues, it would still be very hard for them to win given the preponderance of low-information “Michigan voters”.
What you really need for competitive city elections then is either:
1) completely different political parties, or
2) fusion voting.
The actual ideological divisions in the municipal issue space can mostly be boiled down to insider-outsider politics in land use and business policy. A few examples would be:
Developers and future housing consumers vs. incumbent landowners;
Future business owners vs. incumbent business owners;
Future taxi drivers vs. incumbent taxi drivers;
Mobile vendors vs. incumbent food sellers;
What you really need is a Growth and Development Party (GDP!) that’s for breaking down barriers to entry in the land market, and favoring new entrants in business and labor markets.
On the other side, you’d have something like a NIMBY Party to aggregate the interests of the sundry incumbents and rent-seekers out to maintain the status quo.
Currently you find the would-be members of the GDP and NIMBY parties fairly evenly represented among the Democratic and Republican politicians in local government, so these issues don’t get polarized along party lines. But somebody should polarize them!
The more promising way to make local elections more competitive would be for Harrisburg to legalize fusion voting.
Fusion voting is when a single candidate can appear on multiple ballot lines, allowing minor parties to endorse major party candidates.
So for instance, in a city council election with fusion voting, you’d have a Democratic ballot line, a Republican ballot line, a Growth and Development Party ballot line and a NIMBY ballot line. The Dems would run some candidates and the GOP would run some candidates, and then the GDP and the NIMBYs would choose which major party candidates best line up with their issue positions, and put them on their ballot lines.
Then people could vote a straight GDP ticket or a straight NIMBY ticket, selecting a mix of Democrats and Republicans who can be expected to vote their issue preferences once in office. Fusion voting turns party competition into interest group competition, which tends to be quite potent even in a “one party town.”