“I Love This City!”

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.


When Will They Ever Learn?

One of the problems with highly ideological politics of the sort we have these days is that there is no Republican or Democratic way to pave streets and pick up garbage. At the local level, very few voters care whether the Mayor is pro-life or pro-choice; they are much more likely to rate their political leaders on such decidedly non-partisan and practical matters as police protection and snow removal. 

Here in Indianapolis, that homely truth is apparently unknown to Mayor Ballard. Snow removal last year was abysmal; you would think that our Mayor might have used the summer to correct the problems preventing acceptable snow removal. Evidently not.

At 8:00 a.m. this morning, I approached the interection of 15th and College. Now, living downtown, I’m used to MY streets, at least, being plowed and/or salted. Since traffic coming into the regional center is a given, past administrations have taken care of the major streets in the mile square no matter how well or poorly they did elsewhere. This morning, however, with a mere 2″ of snow, traffic was crawling down College on a sheet of ice. I saw no city trucks anywhere during my (admittedly short) commute. I also saw no evidence that there had ever been trucks–not on College, not on Central (!!), not on Michigan. It wasn’t until I reached the IUPUI campus that I saw signs of snow removal–courtesy of IUPUI’s buildings and grounds folks.

This is unacceptable. It’s bad enough when the Mayor bills his junkets as “Economic Development” even though he takes his wife and NOT his Deputy Mayor for economic development. It’s bad enough that he has taken all sides in the debate over broadening the smoking ordinance. The LEAST he could do is see to the nuts and bolts of municipal governance–the basic tasks we expect any Mayor to discharge.