Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Civic Power In Age Of New Localism; November 15, 2017

Hello Everyone:

Welcome to another addition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Let us start with the big news:  way to go Doug Jones.  Or should Blogger call him Senator-elector Jones?  It was a nail biter of a finish but the newly elected Gentleman from Alabama became the first Democrat in a quarter of a century to be elected from the state.  Naturally his Republican opponent, Republican Roy Moore, refused to concede the raise; claiming that G-d was in control of the results.  Religion is the refuge of scoundrels.  Yours Truly thinks that the Man in White is pretty happy that hateful Paedophile will not be taking a seat in the United State Senate chamber.  Of course, Mr. Donald Trump had his say.  First tweeting (what else?) his congratulations to the Senator-elect.  Then he tweeted that he knew Mr. Moore would not win and the system was rigged in favor of Senator-elect Jones.  The lion's share of gratitude goes to African-American Alabamans, especially the women.  Ninety-seven percent of African-American women in the state voted in favor of Doug Jones.  Democratic National Committee Chairperson Tom Perez, Blogger hopes that you and the party leadership were paying very close attention.  These magnificent ladies can make or break you.  Commit your time and resources to them, all the time, not when you need their votes.  Senator-elect Jones' victory comes not long after Democratic victories in New Jersey and Virginia.  No doubt Republican National Committee Chairperson Ronna Romney McDaniel has to be terribly worried about next year's midterm elections.  Word has it that the president is already casting blaming on his "wingman" Stephen Bannon.  For now, let us savor the moment and the possibility of a "blue wave" washing over the halls of Congress come next November.  The real work starts now.  Our real work starts now with a discussion on mayors.

Over the past month, residents of over 30 American cities cast their votes for their mayor.  Whether it is veteran mayors like Cleveland's Frank Jackson or first-time Mayor of Helena, Montana Wilmot Collins, American mayors now stand on the front lines of major global and social changes.  Bruce Katz and Alaina Harkness write in their CityLab article "Mayoral Powers in the Age of New Localism," "The world's challenges are on their doorsteps-refugee integration, climate change adaptation, economic transition-yet the federal government has withdrawn and many state governments are actively opposing cities' agendas."  The question the co-authors ask, "What do these new leaders need to do succeed in a climate that is at worst hostile and at best indifferent to pressing urban priorities?"

First of all, mayors must acknowledge that we are experiencing a new paradigm in urban governance and problem solving that is closing in on the real hard facts on the grounds: "Cities are networks of public, private, and civic institutions that power the economy and shape critical aspects of urban life."  The co-authors illuminate this paradigm shift in their forthcoming book The New Localism: How Citites Can Thrive in the Age of Populism  (; date accessed Dec. 13, 2017), available in January of next year.  "New localism" is defined as "pragmatic and solutions-oriented, and by design includes exemplary leadership across sectors and segments of society."  However mayors, as their city's chief executive officer, have a particular responsibility to relate a vision and activate their networks to create, pay for, and implement everything from essential services to grand infrastructure projects.

The co-authors note, "For such an important office, we know frustratingly little about the specific mechanics that make mayors effective."  Fortunately there is a new Brookings Institute report, Leading Beyond Limits: Mayoral Powers in the Age of New Localism (Ibid; Oct. 24, 2017) that takes a look at the sources and uses of mayoral powers and what they need to lead and govern.  If you asked the average person what kind of power what his or her city's mayor has, you are likely to get a blank stare.  Truth is that being a mayor in the Age of Populism is quite fraught with challenges.  The co-authors write, "Though cities and governance contexts very tremendously around the world, there are plenty of common challenges-fragmented governance environment, the need for increasingly technical skill sets to address complex problems-and some broader recommendations that could strengthen mayoral leadership in cities everywhere."

First, the obvious, mayors have to exercise the formal powers they are invested with: plan, tax, and zone to the maximum extent.  The co-authors use the example of New York City's High Line which would not have been possible without Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration creative maneuver to  rezone the area, assigning air rights to current property owners and establishing a new investment market that placed a preminium on density and development.  Bringing this opportunity to fruition depended on the mayor's highly sophisticated staff and their willingness to take a chance on high-risk, high-reward intiative.

Second, "mayors have to demonstrate extraordinary network leadership to expand their reach and impact beyond the limits of their formal power."  The social media can be a useful tool for communicating policy intiatives with a city's residents but a real demonstration of power comes from face-to-face contact.  This means clearly articulating a vision and recruiting a variety of public and private sector partners, in person, in order to make this vision a reality.  One example is Louisville, Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer.  Mayor Fischer has been advocating seamless education and training pathways for his citizens.  Although he did not have direct control over the actor's in the region's education and workforce development sectors, he was still able to draw up a wide array of supporters for his goal.  The result was the Cradle to Career intiative (; date accessed Dec. 13, 2017), "a well-documented model of the coordinated approach to city problem-solving that is a hallmark for the new localism."  Bruce Katz and Alaina Harkness point out, "Though each of the four strategies-kindergarten readiness, elementary and secondary education, college completion, and workforce-oriented skills training-is run by a different organization, Fischer and his team play a key role convening, coordinating, and holding the partners collectively accountable for the results."

Finally, mayors need to concentrate the maximum force of their formal powers and network in the direction of identifying and enhancing the value of public assets.  Realistically, it is impossible to address the needs of residents today or plan for the future without a significant increase in local resources.  American mayors may have to look beyond their borders to find ideal examples of institutional innovation, while they develop their own models.  Take the example of Copenhagen, Denmark which created a "new publicly owned, privately managed corporation to capture and distribute the value of land from the redevelopment of its port and harbor."  This mechanism helped shield the process from politics and allowed Copenhagen to pay for a major investment in public transport infrastructure with the proceeds.  The co-authors write, "The Swedish finance experts Dag Detter and Stefan Folster argue [; July 18, 2017 date accessed Dec. 13, 2017] that the use of similar models, combined with a key move to develop city balance sheets that closely track the value of public assets, could yield billions of dollars to fund infrastructure, education, and other critical needs."

There is a lot we still need to learning and much more to do if we are to give our civic leaders the proper tools to meet today's challenges. Mayors need assistance in building the capacities and links to supporting institutions that can increase their ability to be successful network leaders.  Civic leaders need help identifying the financial tools and organizational mechanisms-i.e. publicly owned, privately managed corporations- that will help pay for urban initiatives when state and federal resources cannot be counted up.  In general, we all need a better understanding of mayoral and city powers and the way they are changing, including national databases that follow local government changes in real time and gauge the quality and efficacy of city governance.

Today's mayors-veteran or novice-need to the capacity to lead beyond the boundaries of their formal power, "even as they organize themselves to advocate for powers matched to the scale of the challenges they face and the outsize contribution they make to state, national, and global economies." In this period of big shifts in governance, American and global cities need to quickly learn from examples of institutional adaptation and accordingly change.

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