Lyndon B. Johnson was famous for saying “When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be mayor.” With congressional approval ratings at an all-time low, more attention has been focused on cities to make things happen (we began reporting on this trend in 2013). Now, we even have a mayor running for president!
With important mayoral races being determined this spring, we predict that this next decade will not be dominated by leadership inside the Beltway, but instead will be the “Era of the Mayor.” We have noticed that these mayors have been playing three key roles:
Chief Innovation Officer – If one word is being uttered in city halls today, it is innovation. This includes all forms of innovation, not just technological advances. Most importantly, this innovation must drive results and, ultimately, cost savings for citizens. As Chief Innovation Officers, mayors can help champion new ideas within city halls across the country. But, we are also seeing cities hire City Innovation Officers to help usher in this new era of data-driven strategies. One of the leading groups to assist mayors with this innovative work is Bloomberg Philanthropies. Check out their solution-oriented ideas to make all our lives easier and tackle social issues, such as homelessness.
Chief Equity Officer – Another word being used at city halls is equity. The National League of Cities has featured “equity” as one of the key trends in their “City of the Future” series. Many cities are opening Offices of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. One of the leading groups focused on improving equity at the municipal level is Living Cities. Read their recently released report on the lessons learned from five cities that have focused on building racial equity. As Chief Equity Officer, mayors have a unique opportunity to ensure that all people can contribute to the economic vitality of their city, and the City itself, as a leading employer, can serve as a role model.
Chief Silo-busting Officer – Because mayors often represent the entire community, they can bring people and organizations together around joint solutions. Breaking down the walls of our own siloed thinking, e.g., healthcare vs. education or nonprofit vs. business, has been recognized as a solution to our inefficiency at addressing social problems. We have been honored to present some of our ideas at the U.S. Conference of Mayors about ecosystem mapping and how it can drive greater collaboration and alignment of resources.
Of course, geographical silos also exist. For some great ideas on how to break these down and build regional collaborations, we suggest reading a great call-to-action article in the Boston Review on “A Modern Case for Regional Collaboration.” It showcases how most of our issues do not stop at our cities’ borders and require interlocal cooperation and solutions. They call on mayors to “bring together civic leaders across the region so they could achieve more together.”
With their local influence and the wide range of roles they play, mayors are critical to developing and implementing solutions to social problems. We encourage all social sector organizations to reach out to their mayor (as well as city council and City staff) and bring them into discussions about the issues facing clients and the community. These men and women are ready to innovate, break down silos, take action and serve as champions in this “Era of the Mayor.” Please feel free to share examples of how your mayor has taken a leadership role as we continue to chart this new trend in the social sector.