Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Blogger Candidate Forum: Why Not A Mayor?




Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely Wednesday afternoon and time for Blogger Candidate Forum.  News of the day: condolences to the Presidents George H. W. and George W. Bush; the entire Bush family on the passing of former-First Lady Barbara Bush.  Mrs. Bush was truly one of the great First Ladies of the 20th-century.  Mrs. Bush was more than FLOTUS and the mother of a president.  Her greatness came for her forthrightness and just being who she was.  There was never any of that blow dried artifice about her, so common with candidates and their spouses.  What you saw was what you got.  That what made her one of the great First Ladies.  Mrs. Bush believed that being FLOTUS was a great honor and anyone who did not want it had a problem.  She was a vigorous advocate for literacy, especially for children.  Whether you voted for both or either one of Presidents Bush, you had to respect "America's grandma."  Blogger and #BloggerCandidateForum sends their love and hopes for happier times to the Bush family.  Now on to today's subject.

Is it too early to start talking about the presidential elections?  No, not really.  The presidential primaries are two years away but potential candidates, on both sides of the aisle, are beginning to position themselves.  One interesting develop is the emergence of mayors as potential nomination candidates.  One potential, albeit long shot, candidate is Los Angeles Mayor Eric J. Garcetti.  Mayor Garcetti, a Democrat, traveled to Iowa this past weekend to introduce himself to the voters.  The Iowa visit is significant because this is the state that launched two other long shot candidates into the White House: Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.  Although, Mayor Garcetti has said that he would finish his second term, he told Los Angeles Times reporter Mark Z, Barabak I'm listening this year, "promising a final decision in 2019,...(latimes.com; Apr. 15, 2018; date accessed Apr. 18, 2018).  Mayor Garcetti's visit begs the question can a mayor make the leap from City Hall to the White House?

Traditionally, a mayor with ambitions of higher office has taken the path from City Hall to the Statehouse, maybe Congress before making the jump to the Oval Office.  Only one person in the history of the American presidency has made the leap: Grover Cleveland was the mayor of Buffalo and the governor of New York for a brief time.  Calvin Coolidge briefly served as mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts.  The first mayor mayor to run for the presidential nomination was DeWitt Clinton in 1812.  He lost to incumbent James Maidson.  In 1972, the late New York City Mayor John Lindsay took a run at the primaries before dropping out.  In 2008, his fellow Mayor Rudy Giulani took a run at the Republican nomination before bowing out. (citylab.com; Feb. 18, 2018; date accessed Apr. 18, 2018).

It is a strange phenomenon.  The late great Speaker of the House of Representives Thomas Tip O'Neil once said all politics is local.  If this is true, you would think more mayors would toss their hats into the presidential ring, especially in Democratic-held cities, given that the party has a firm hold on urban voters (Ibid).  However, mayors tend to shy away from higher office (sites.bu.edu; date accessed Apr. 18, 2018).  Anthony Williams writes, "For all of the talk of 'city power' (amazon.com; date accessed Apr. 18, 2018) and 'new localism' (Ibid) among leading urbanist thinkers, the truth is this under representation hurts cities."

However,, electoral trends are shifting, paving a clearer path from City Hall to the White House, possibly for the first time in history.  Mr. Williams reports, "The political boundary between urban and suburban that has long divided the parties is falling away, creating more unified metro-area voter blocs.  Cities--which had so often been liabilities for mayors seeking higher offices--have become an attractive brand of smart, solution based, can-do governance that mayors can showcase in a campaign.  In short, the response to the anti-urban Trumpism is a "pro-metro mayor who energizes the suburban/urban--or metro--vote."  America is primed for a mayor to make the successful leap from City Hall to the White House.

If this is true, then what has prevented mayors from going for it?  The answer can be found in authors of the United States Constitution.  Thomas Jefferson despised cities.  The third president; co-author of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution said,

I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health of men and the liberties of man... (citymayors.com; Sept. 21, 2008; date accessed Apr. 8, 2018)

President Jefferson celebrated the gentleman farmer as the American ideal, writing,

The mobs of great cities add just so much to support of pure government as sores do to the strength of human body (latimes.com; Oct. 12, 2017; date accessed Apr. 18, 2018).

He and his contemporaries laid out the ideological lines that still delineate American lives and politics.  The Republican Party has become the anti-urban party, slashing funding for cities and supporting policies detrimental to urban dwellers such as immigration, gun control, and tax cuts.  By contrast, the Democratic Party are considered the champions of the poor. (Ibid)

Tony Favro writes, "Cities, in other words are central to the American worldview.  They are not mere geographic locations, but potent symbols of the division in American society and partisanship in American politics (citymayors.com; Sept. 21, 2008) "  Cities symbols a positive cultural, progressive, communal dynamic and a value system that frequently contrasts with deeply held values of individualism and civic virtue.

Although Americans respect urban mayors as managers, they do not necessarily see them as guardians of cherished values.

Thomas Jefferson would have been absolutely horrified by the Industrial Revolution and the rapid growth of cities in the 19th-century.  

Getting back to the original question of why no one has gone from City Hall to the White House.  Some mayors have been more plausible candidates than others.  Others, like President Calvin Cooldige, served as Vice President before occupying the Oval Office.  In 2008, former Mayor of Wasilia, Alaska Sarah Palin burst onto the national scene as Republican nominee Arizona Senator John McCain's running mate.  Former Mayor Guiliani sang her praises at the Republican National Convention, telling the crowd  that as mayor of a town of 7,000 people, she had executive experience to be Vice President of a country of 300 million (Ibid).  That got everyone excited until it painfully became clear that she had no real grasp of the issues facing the country.

Mayors  Eric Garcetti and New Orlean's Mitch Landrieu have been tipped as potential candidates for Democratic nomination.  In an interview on Wisconsin television , he optimistically stated, "that more than 250 years of unbroken mayoral futility are no deterrent (latimes.com; Oct. 12, 2017). During a visit a year ago June following his second inauguration, Mayor Garcetti said,

 I think all the rules are off,.... No African American could be president until one was.  No reality star could be president until one is. (Ibid)

Both statements are true.  Mark Z. Barabak makes this disclaimer: "While Garcetti is making the moves of a White House hopeful--chatting up Democratic donors and national political reporters; showing up at high-brow policy forums; visiting New Hampshire, the first primary state--he remains publicly coy about a run a run in 2020." (Ibid)

Mayor Garcetti could be a late entry into the 2018 California governor's contest.  One thing is certain, Mayor Garcetti does want to play an active role in the national political debate.

Mr. Barabak observes, "There is a case to be made that the job of big-city mayor, with its daily, hands-on demands, offers better training for the Whites than, say being one of 100 members of the U.S. Senate most notable these days for accomplishing close to nothing." (Ibid)

Unlike being a senator or representative who seem to be insulated from constituents, a mayor is immediately insinuated into the lives of his or her city's residents, dealing with everything from potholes to mass shootings, or natural disasters.  UC Merced's Jessica Trounstine told Mr. Barabak, A mayor has to be both an executive and a micromanager. (Ibid)

Another part of the problem is the stigma associated with big cities: Crime, corruption, permissiveness, and a sizable minority population that not everyone welcomes as a signifier of vibrancy and diversity.  This makes tough for a mayor to campaign in rural and suburban areas who avoid urban life for precisely those reasons.  Ms. Trounstine continues,

Our geographic divisions are overlaid with our political views--the red-versus-blue map thing--in a very clear way.

Another obstacle in the path from City Hall to the Statehouse, Congress, or the White House is starting with a relatively small core constituency and the need to make political alliances that may not work beyond city limits.

Daniel Hopkins of the University of Pennsylvania said,

In many cities you need strong union backing.  In many instances you need strong backing from the black community, or Latino, or immigrant communities,....Running that gantlet often leaves politicians perceived in certain ways that make it tough for them to appeal on a national stage. (Ibid)

Not that any of this would disqualify Mayor Eric Garcetti should he take the plunge.  If there was anything positive to say to say about Mr. Donald Trump's improbable and impossible election, it is never under estimate a long shot barrier breaking candidate wherever they come from.