A thing I've noticed about arguing with Nick Spencer is that it's very boring, and also pointless. But at the same time, watching him argue with other people becomes a lot more interesting when you've made even a cursory examination of Spencer's past as a failed politician in Cincinnati, Ohio. His shitty politics have a bearing--even if it's not necessarily direct--on his Capt. America storyline, his incessant tweeting (particularly with regard to diversity issues at Marvel), his vocal critique of the badass patriot who punched nazi publicist Richard Spencer in the face, and even Marvel's attitude toward the Captain America blowback in general. The problem is that information about Nick Spencer the Politician is sort of a pain in the ass to find because we're talking about 2003 to 2005-era Internet...about politics in Cincinnati...much of which appeared on his campaign blogs, which he has since deleted.
I'm not here to offer any analysis about Capt. America because let's be real: I don't care. This post is just a quick resource for anyone who's interested in Spencer's political past, but doesn't feel inclined to dig around for it. Most of it is in Nick Spencer's own words.
Before we get going, a quick FAQ:
Are you suggesting that Nick Spencer is a nazi?
No. But I see fascist tendencies in his call to eliminate social services in Cincinnati to fund the rapid expansion of broken-window policing.
What are his politics, then?
Spencer identifies as liberal these days, but in 2005, when he called himself a Republican, his political platform was rooted in elitism, white fear, and subjugating small-time criminals. The running themes I see now that he's "liberal" are a blind faith in authority, pathological self-involvement, and a weird persecution complex.
Are you biased?
Yes! Nick Spencer is an asshole.
Nick Spencer ran for a seat on the Cincinnati City Council in 2003 and 2005. He lost both times, coming in 21st and 17th place, respectively. He had a website for both campaigns, got some press (local and national), and was part of a vibrant community of unhinged bloggers around the Cincinnati area.
II. Political Platform
This post focuses on Spencer's 2005 campaign, when his platform was eliminating human services in Cincinnati, beefing up its police force, expanding its jails, and ridding its streets of criminals and homeless people.
In terms of primary sources, first and foremost we have "Fighting for a Safer Community," Spencer's "detailed Action Agenda for taking on the criminals terrorizing our streets." This is an official document from his 2005 campaign. Note that all quotes in this section are from that doc unless otherwise noted, and the ital is always mine.
"Cincinnati's Neighborhoods are under attack," Spencer wrote. "As an Over-the-Rhine resident and business owner, I've seen firsthand what violent crime and drugs can do to destroy a neighborhood. I've gone up against the dealers and thugs in an effort to clean up my block and make it safe for my customers, my friends, and my loved ones. I'm tired of seeing this lawless disregard for order, and I won't rest until I've made all of our neighborhoods safe again."
Here's how Spencer proposed to make Cincinatti's neighborhoods more safe:
- Hire more police. "On Council, I will propose adding at least 200 new recruits to the ranks of our police department, over the next 4-5 years."
- Adopt Rudy Giuliani's broken-window policing strategies.
- Spencer wanted to crack down on "quality of life" crimes (which he sort of misdefined, but whatever).
- "When violent crimes are often the most noticed, the reality is that most violence springs from illicit trades referred to as 'Quality of Life' crimes. In order to prevent more homicides and shootings, our city must adopt a zero tolerance policy towards drug dealing, prostitution, car break-ins and theft, and curfew violations. ... I will propose increased penalties for drug and prostitution crimes, and will work with the police to take back our neighborhoods through anti-drug barricades, undercover vice efforts, and crime sweeps."
- Spencer wanted to implement CompStat, the software that was developed under Giuliani in conjunction with stop and frisk and broken-windows policing in New York City.
- Here's Spencer: "The [CompStat] program collects, analyzes and electronically maps crime and quality of life data in breathtaking detail, helping the Police determine where to deploy their resources most effectively. The Cincinnati Neighborhood Support Center, a non-profit group, has offered to coordinate a full Compstat evaluation of the city. I will work to provide funding for this initiative...."
- Spencer wanted to beef up police surveillance.
- "I will push to give police and neighborhood safety groups the tools they need to disrupt and destroy the corner drug trade that's slowly killing many of our neighborhoods. Through new technology like surveillance cameras and gunshot sensors...we can reclaim our corners."
- Expand jailing capacity. Once Spencer helped implement more aggressive policing of Cincinnati's most troubled neighborhoods (which were already quite aggressively--and ineffectively--policed), the city was going to need more room for all those newly minted criminals.
- No problem! Here's Spencer: "Criminals are being released for serious crimes like drug dealing and prostitution just moments after their initial arrest. I will work with the County Government to find a suitable site for a new jail facility...."
- Totally defund social services. Spencer knew that those 200 new police officers he planned to hire weren't going to come cheap. His idea? Cut social services funding for the city in its entirety.
- "To help pay for these staffing increases ($8.6 million per year)...I will also propose elimination of the Human Services Budget (typically $4 million per year), with the dollars instead going to payroll for safety employees."
- Displace squatters. Spencer wanted to create (or expand?) a "Blight Team" to root squatters out of buildings.
- "We must crack down on absentee landlords who offer safe haven to the criminals terrorizing our streets. ... I will work to expand and strengthen City Hall's Blight Team, which is responsible for targeting troubled buildings throughout the city and enforcing building and code violations."
- Use eminent domain to relocate homeless shelters and services out of the neighborhood where he lived and worked. Per Cincinnati CityBeat, Spencer's 2005 campaign blog called on the mayor of Cincinnati to use eminent domain against Mary Magdalene House (a homeless shelter) and the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless.
- Here's Spencer: "It's time to stop playing around and get tough here. ... The city must use all of its powers to protect the civic and financial investments that have been made in the area. The glut of social services that encourage panhandling in the district must be addressed."
- You read that correctly. Nick Spencer described organizations dedicated to helping homeless people as a "glut of social services that encourage panhandling."
If you poke around the materials surrounding Nick Spencer's failed political career for long enough, you'll notice that when he touts his leadership in the community, he talks about "rebuilding" (i.e., gentrifying) Over-the-Rhine, the Cincinnati neighborhood where he lived and worked. Over-the-Rhine was of course at the center of the Cincinnati riots of 2001, which followed the acquittal of the white police officer who murdered Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black teenager. The riots left a big impression on Spencer--not as a symbol of racial inequity in his city, but for their economic impact on Over-the-Rhine (both in terms of property damage during the riots themselves, and the boycott of downtown businesses that followed). Economic prosperity was an important issue to Spencer, who (along with some other guys) owned an Over-the-Rhine bar called alchemize (lowercase a), where he used to spin tunes once a month under the moniker of DJ Nick.
In his writings, Spencer frequently attributed all the lawlessness and blight he saw in the streets of Over-the-Rhine to "thugs" and "prostitutes." This is how Spencer conceived of economic and racial disparities in the rapidly gentrifying area of downtown Cincinnati: (black) thugs and prostitutes vs. (white) business owners like him who had dedicated themselves to the virtuous cause of "revitalization" (i.e., making money). In his official campaign materials he's careful to totally scrub these issues of any mention of race, though anyone who knows anything about broken-window policing can read between the lines easily enough. But Spencer was much more explicit about who exactly he sees as the criminal class on his blog, where he frequently let his hair down and got racist af.
- Here's Nick Spencer blaming a local shootout on a black radio station owner and a rap song (about racial profiling, of all things):
- Here's Spencer blaming the same shootout on random black club owners:
- Here's Spencer talking about his plans to spearhead a community effort to block the same black club owners from leasing a space in Over-the-Rhine:
- Here's Spencer making fun of a black mother for worrying about the way in which the police handled the arrest of her 18-year-old child:
"Hilarious." --Nick Spencer on police brutality
IV. Spencer's Persecution Complex
Nick Spencer wanted to terrorize, incarcerate, and otherwise displace poor people and small-time criminals first and foremost for business reasons, but he also believed that his personal safety was on the line. Personal safety is another running theme you'll notice if you take the time to look at what Nick Spencer has written over the years. Take, for example, this early 2005 blog post in which Spencer seems to believe that he was being pursued by a cabal of "drug dealer and hooker" assassins:
His paranoid campaign to paint (presumably) unarmed criminals as violent psychopaths who were hellbent on ruining his life continued through the remainder of his campaign. Check out this incredible excerpt from "Spencer Under Siege," a June 2005 article from CityBeat:
Note the invocation of an imaginary gun: "When the pimp reached into a corner trash can, Spencer thought that he was going for a stashed gun. He drove off before seeing what came up in the man's hand."
The intersection of art and the political ideologies of creators is far from straightforward. I leave you to your own conclusions. I just want to state for the record that Nick Spencer's political campaign in 2005 involved a proposal to eliminate all human services in the city of Cincinnati in order to fund the brutalization, imprisonment, and/or relocation of the poor black people that he worried were devaluing his bar and threatening his safety. He also, behind the scenes, routinely lobbed ludicrous allegations of responsibility against black business owners regarding crimes that they plainly had nothing to do with. Ultimately, Nick Spencer "revitalized" downtown Cincinnati by getting evicted, stiffing contractors, and moving to another state to begin his new life as a comics writer. He now spends his days writing stories about how Captain America is a nazi and feeling persecuted by social justice warriors and comics critics on Twitter dot com.