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What I Am Looking for In A Mayor

December 28, 2010

I haven’t posted in a while mainly due to the schedule required of a pastor during the holidays. I, like others, was not surprised to see the Tennessean name Karl Dean as the Nashvillian of the Year given the narrative that has been forming in recent months. I understand the argument to be made for the decision, although I think this should be the year of the volunteer rather than lifting up any single individual.

As I was mulling over all this earlier today, wondering why I have struggled with the current administration given what was promised in the beginning, my thoughts quickly turned to what it is that I am looking for in a mayor. Some of the characteristics are ideals that can probably never be lived out in the broken world in which we inhabit, and yet as a person of faith, I continue to maintain hope that the ideals of God’s kingdom lifted up by Jesus — ideals of fairness, honesty, kindness, generosity, and humility – might indeed be possible in today’s world, even in the cutthroat world of politics. This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but a few thoughts along the way as I plan for the future.

  • I am looking for a mayor who is ultimately honest…
    I think we all yearn for politicians who tell the truth, men and women who are willing to say that hard things even when they know that those things are unpopular. But I want to be careful here, for it’s easy to paint all of  the political class as “Lying liars…” (to quote now Senator Al Franken) without recognizing that there are many who try to be honest in the office. What I am looking for, however, it a mayor who is willing to get to the heart of an issue rather than trying to play politics to get something done. If you believe that the Convention Center is necessary for the city, then say so, but don’t try to then hide the true cost or the risk that we are taking. I would have felt more comfortable if Mayor Dean had simply said that this project DID involve a huge risk, that there WAS a chance that it could cost us in the end, but that growth requires risk and given his assessment the risk was worth the possible payout.  What irks me are the backroom deals and the obfuscation that doesn’t trust the public to be able to handle the truth. Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” does not live up to my ideal for mayor.
  • I am looking for a mayor that is willing to acknowledge the imbalance of power and is willing to be more collaborative…
    I really don’t know if Nashville is unique but our charter places a great deal of power in the hands of the mayor with the council having very little power in determining the values and future our our city. I’m sure there are good reasons that Bev Briley set up the city this way back in the day, and I know that our council is far too large to be an truly effective decision making body (thus the infamous “40 Jealous Whores” moniker) but the fact is that when a mayor sets his or her mind toward doing something, there is very little that can be done about it. That is one of the perks of being mayor in Nashville, but something that I would like to see acknowledged and who works intentionally at creating structures by which that power is tempered through collaboration. Yes, ultimately the buck stops with the mayor, but unchallenged power is not something that is ultimately helpful for anyone.
  • I’m looking for a mayor who is willing to recognize the tension between business and neighborhood/quality of life concerns and work to achieve balance between the two…
    My former councilman Sam Coleman was perhaps as effective in this as anyone I’ve seen in regards to property zoning issues. He freely acknowledged that property owners should have the right to sell and improve their properties, but also recognized that these decisions impacted neighbors who needed a chance to voice those concerns. One of the great gifts of council folks is that they are forced to deal with this tension or they are quickly removed from office by their neighbors. Our current Mayor has never had to deal with this tension directly, having served only in the executive branch with little contact with the push and pull of neighborhood life, and thus has tended to lean toward the business community with less passion and concern show toward the needs of neighborhoods. The rhetoric of economic development attempts to suggest that all development is good in the pursuit of “expanding the tax base” (an argument that I question) and attempts to question that rhetoric by neighbors concerned about tradition, quality of life issues, etc. are seen as opponents getting in the way of progress. My preference is for a mayor who is willing to clearly articulate that there are indeed tensions between the business community and neighborhood concerns, and is willing to try to the best of his or her ability to provide balance between the two. This will have to include acknowledging that there are some issues that are win/win, some that have a clear winner that excludes the lose, and some where both sides of the equation are losers (getting back to the honesty ideal).
  • I’m looking for a mayor that recognizes and appreciates Metro Government employees…
    Frankly, I don’t think any of the recent generation of mayors has been particularly effective at motivating the work force of folks who serve our city. Yes, the bennies are good for city employees, but few of them get rich serving the community, and they deserve to be recognized and understood. I’ve been thinking that if I were ever to be mayor (something that will never happen in a million years) I would want to spend a day every couple of weeks shadowing a Metro employee to better understand their needs and concerns. These employees are not serfs to be used for political purposes, they are the people who keep this city running, and we need to empower them in their efforts to help us.

There are other things I’m looking for, and it is certainly possible that those things could be embraced by the current administration.

So let’s keep the conversation going. What are you looking for in a mayor? 

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