Last week, Jon Stewart interviewed New York’s new Mayor, Bill De Blasio.
Neither my husband nor I had actually heard De Blasio speak. We knew, in a hazy way, what his platform had been and what his stated priorities were, having followed the campaign coverage in the New York Times and elsewhere, but this was the first time we’d actually heard De Blasio himself.
He plopped his huge frame down in the “guest” chair on the Daily Show set, and responded to Stewart’s greeting. The first words out of his mouth were “I love this city!”
I was so jealous.
How long has it been since Indianapolis has had a mayor who unabashedly loved this city, and said so at every opportunity? I can tell you–it has been since Bill Hudnut. There are a lot of things politicians can fake, but it would take truly significant acting skills to convey the genuine devotion to place that was Hudnut’s signature and seemed so authentic coming from De Blasio.
Loving one’s city is no guarantee that a mayor’s policies will be wise, or his appointments capable. It’s not a substitute for political savvy or the sort of deep understanding of the nature of urban community that are the (rare) attributes of a really great mayor. That said, however, an obvious love for one’s city tells citizens a lot of important things about character and political motivation.
Too many mayors view election to City Hall as a stepping stone to higher office rather than an opportunity to make their city better. Too many seek office to feed an ego rather than serve a constituency. These motives aren’t the property of one political party, and they aren’t limited to mayors, obviously–but I would argue that they hamper mayors in ways they don’t hamper legislators.
A mayor who loves his city makes it his business to know his city. He or she is a student of urban policy, an ever-present participant in civic conversations, a visitor to distressed precincts as well as privileged enclaves, and a convener of contending interests rather than an instigator of conflict–in the immortal words of George W. Bush, “a uniter, not a divider.”
I don’t know how De Blasio will do as Mayor. For a man who is small in stature, Bloomberg–who also clearly loved New York– left very big shoes to fill. But there is something very reassuring about electing someone who so obviously cares about the city he will lead–who embraces the public rather than walling himself off from it, who invites dialogue rather than shunning it.
Yep. I’m jealous.