A Detente over History?

A Shared Sense of our Past, a Shared Vision of our Future This is a commentary on the need for a shared sense of American History, first posted on February 15, 2021 in Between Hell and High Water. The author, Michael Koetting, writes a regular column, Between Hell and High Water, and is an advisor…


What Does the Flag Stand For?

The Unthinkable Risk of Turning Our Backs on Inclusive American Values This is a commentary on the meaning of our national flag, first posted on July 4, 2021 in Between Hell and High Water. The author, Michael Koetting, writes a regular column, Between Hell and High Water, and is an advisor to Civic Way. Michael…


How America Ends

TitleHow America Ends
AuthorYoni Appelbaum, Senior Editor, The Atlantic

Will democracy survive our current factionalism?

  • Our democracy has long depended on faith that elections are “neither permanent nor intolerable,” that losing one election is mere prelude to next election
  • Democracy is at risk when either party loses faith in their ability to win next election
As Is Situation:
  • Increasingly shrill, apocalyptic political rhetoric stokes fears & validates tribalism
  • Thoughtless tweeting & digital demonization fuels greater political acrimony
  • Increasingly divided political camps (geographically & ideologically)
  • Declining trust in civic institutions, democracy & each other
  • Waning ability of center to absorb extreme ideological movements & impulses
  • Despite recent successes (e.g., Electoral College, Supreme Court & Senate), many GOP leaders fear dramatic demographic changes will end GOP dominance
  • Narrowing GOP base could irrevocably damage two-party system & democracy
Historical trends:
  • US history replete with examples of political over-reaching & worse, e.g.:
    • Federalists passed Alien & Sedition Acts, criminalizing criticism of administration
    • As Northern states abandoned slavery & outgrew South, Southern states lost faith in elections, became more strident & used federal laws to support slavery (e.g., 1850 Fugitive Slave Act)
    • “Redemption era” Democrats stole franchise from black voters
    • Progressive Republicans wrested municipal governance from immigrant voters
    • Reaction to World War I immigrants led to many regrettable events (e.g., Prohibition, Palmer Raids, Ku Klux Klan revival & nativist immigration laws)
  • Democracy ultimately prevailed as electoral losers realized they could build new coalitions & regain their influence in future elections, e.g.:
    • Political parties have continually realigned to accommodate immigrants (e.g., In 1924, Democratic Party nearly destroyed by fight between nativist & anti-nativist forces, but, after losing in 1928, won next 5 national elections with broad ethnic coalition)
    • While immigrants have influenced US culture, most have embraced core American values (e.g., entrepreneurialism & egalitarianism) & become more American
  • Today’s GOP seems to have lost its faith in democracy & immigration:
    • After Romney’s 2012 loss, RNC recommended expanding base to include minorities, women & youth & rebuilding party into organization that could win national majority
    • In 2016 primary, GOP voters abandoned GOP establishment’s calls for inclusion for candidate with disdain for public service, democracy & diversity
    • Instead of expanding base, GOP turning against democratic processes, challenging legitimacy of elections & using other tactics to hold power focusing on suppressing voters (e.g., extreme gerrymandering, polling place cuts, voter suppression & immigrant census count suppression)
Future issues:
  • Demographic – cultural strains from ascendancy of historical political minority
  • Economic – economic stress from global competition & postindustrial economy
  • Informational – growing reliance on smart phones, social media & misinformation
  • Political – waning hope of either political party for future elections increases vulnerability of democratic systems to reckless self-serving demagogues
Next steps:
  • Center-right leaders start rejecting nativism, broadening partisan coalitions & competing more aggressively for new voters in diversifying nation
  • Conservative thought leaders rebuild GOP as party of conservative principles, develop more appealing ideas for diverse constituencies & mount good faith, fact-based challenge to progressivism in free marketplace of ideas
  • GOP must renew its commitment to vibrant democratic institutions & competitive elections, learn to gracefully accept electoral defeats & restore its faith that democratic elections offer a viable, short-term path to victory
Our Take:

Our two-party system is messy, but it has shown a remarkable ability throughout our history to adapt to change. Continually competing for majority support, our parties have assimilated movements, built and rebuilt coalitions and tailored their platforms to those ever-changing coalitions. And they have absorbed and even quashed the assaults of Nativists, Luddites and Know-Nothings and other extremists.

At first glance, the author appears to suggest that it is solely up to the GOP (or center-right) to reform itself and save our nation, a notion that seems simplistic if not unfair. However, after watching the recent impeachment trial in the US Senate, the author’s fears about the GOP seem all too prescient. With the solitary exception of Mitt Romney, GOP Senators appeared almost eager to cast aside long-held conservative principles (starting with public accountability). To many observers, they seemed less a party than a cult slavishly devoted to their “supreme leader.”

Our history gives us hope that American system will prevail, but success will not be attained solely because of the work of one party or the consequences of one election. For our democracy to prosper, we must do more than hope that one party will put the country first. Sure, both parties could benefit from serious reform, but we also must take other steps. We must engage more citizens, reduce the influence of money in politics, improve civic education, make our elections competitive and improve governance. And we must ground these actions in our founding constitutional principles.

The Enemy Within

TitleThe Enemy Within, Atlantic, December 2019
AuthorJames Mattis, retired United States Marine Corps general & former Secretary of Defense

Have we taught our children the principles of citizenship or already forgotten them?

  • In 1838, Abraham Lincoln warned that our nation’ greatest threat came from within, that while our external enemies would not defeat us, we could still “die by suicide”
  • Our politics are paralyzing us; we doubt instead of trust, dismiss instead of listen, demonize instead of compromise & stress differences instead of commonalities
  • E pluribus unum is not just a phrase on our coins, it is a moral imperative, a noble expression of our duty to build a “more perfect” union for future generations
Historical context
  • Our founders designed a constitutional system durable & flexible enough to build on our strengths & fix our flaws (e.g., 13th & 19th Amendments), a historic achievement
  • Our founders understood that we humans are imperfect & that our success as a nation would depend on our humility, realism & collective capacity to solve civic problems
  • America remains an experiment, a never-ending commitment to perfecting our union that demands our ceaseless attention, patience & patriotism
  • Every citizen’s responsibility is to work with others to fix our constitutional system when it falters, not discard it for empty slogans or vague promises
As Is Situation
  • Cynicism, while momentarily gratifying, is a cowardly & corrosive trait that fosters distrust, resentment & suspicion; ultimately, it solves nothing
  • Dissenting views are inevitable & useful, but mean, scornful rhetoric is not
  • Per recent Pew survey, 2/3 of Americans believe that our declining trust in government & one another hampers our ability to solve our nation’s problems
  • Our institutions (e.g., media, judiciary, labor unions, universities, teachers, scientists & civil servants) are easy targets, but attacking or neglecting them impedes our ability to solve problems & improve society
  • Short-term thinking often succumbs to selfish, shortsighted temptations (e.g., leaving burdensome debt or eroding environmental conditions for our descendants)
  • Today’s tribal warfare & political paralysis have created a national crisis, with a mounting backlog of neglected problems, one that demands a sober, unified response
Civic leadership
  • Real democratic leadership is patient, quiet, diplomatic & collegial
  • Real leaders don’t arrive on white horses with grand promises to cure every ill
  • Leading is serving, always seeking & drawing inspiration from those we lead
  • Per Dwight Eisenhower, leadership is “the art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it”
  • Civic institutions may suffer from low favorability ratings, but they remain our best vehicles for reaffirming & transmitting our values over time
Civic action
  • Progressing nationally means participating locally
  • One of our most vital challenges is declining civic participation & faith in government, but only we can solve it by increasing our participation
  • Overcoming challenges is usually done one base hit at a time, not by swinging for fences
  • Civic participation often inspires change from ground up (e.g., Rosa Parks’ bus ride & local environmental clean-up efforts)
  • America is more about our pews (e.g., communities, local governments & civic institutions) than our pulpits (White House, Congress & media)
  • Impetus for long-term change often comes from pews, not bully pulpit
Next Steps
  • Strengthen civility – listen to others, ask questions in ways that enlist opponents & frame challenges as solvable problems not as irreconcilable differences
  • Take long view – set strategic goals & debate problems & solutions against long-term ideals (e.g., stewardship & intergenerational fairness)
  • Honor incremental change – reward small, gradual improvements (e.g., public schools, infrastructure, electrification & nuclear-arms control)
  • Recognize our commonalities – value what Lincoln called our “bonds of affection” (e.g., shared traditions, freedoms, generosity, warmth, humor & service to others)
  • Remember our collective power – renew our ability to come together at moments of crisis (Pearl Harbor & 9/11) & turn adversity into a crucible for progress
  • Strengthen civic institutions – invest more in the civic institutions we need to remain a vibrant democracy & beacon to the world (e.g., schools, universities & governments)
  • Improve civic education – upgrade curricula & instructional materials to ensure our students understand our civic principles, ideals, aspirations & responsibilities
Our Take

Mattis warns that our constitutional system, as robust as it is, cannot long endure our current tribalism & paralysis. He urges more personal humility, respect, compromise & collaboration. He counsels more support for our civic institutions & leaders who are diplomatic, collegial & patient. He implores us to substitute long-range ideals for short-term gratification. Finally, he calls for a renewed commitment by each of us to become better, more informed citizens, actively engaged in tackling the growing backlog of civic problems & perfecting our union for future generations. Mattis does not address the costs of civic education, but Civic Way believes that the best investment we could possibly make in democracy would be in a more thorough, robust K-12 civic education.

Localism (Part 3)

TitleA 10-Year Perspective of the Merger of Louisville and Jefferson County, Kentucky
AuthorJeff Wachter (Abell Foundation)

Has nation’s most recent major city-county merger, by Louisville & Jefferson County Kentucky into Louisville Metro government, met expectations?

Merger model:
  • Voters approved merger (54%-46%) in 2002 which took effect on January 1, 2003
  • City & county governments merged into single government (Metro Louisville) headed by mayor & 26-member Metro Council
  • City designated as Urban Services District (USD) with higher property taxes for higher services (e.g., fire protection, sanitation, recycling, street lighting & cleaning)
  • Fire services excluded, but City & County police units merged into Metro Police
Pre-merger initiatives:
  • Per 1975 court-order, City & County schools merged into single County School District
  • While prior city-county consolidation referenda failed in 1956, 1982 & 1983, several functional mergers (e.g., planning, zoning, parks, recreation, library & purchasing)
  • In 1985, leaders negotiated City/County Compact which created 1.25% occupational tax-sharing formula & Greater Louisville Economic Development Partnership & imposed moratorium on incorporation of new cities & annexation of unincorporated areas
  • In 1998, City & County renewed City/County Compact for 10 more years, but neither city-county tensions nor city-county merger support abated

In 1997, city & county leaders merged Greater Louisville Economic Development Partnership & Louisville Area Chamber of Commerce into Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI), area’s first full-service, regional economic development organization (EDO)

Pre-merger profile:
  • Louisville’s population steadily declined from 1960 to 2000, falling to US’ 65th largest city & Kentucky’s 2nd largest city
  • Jefferson County included 93 cities, including Louisville, each with own government
  • City run by mayor & aldermen represented 21,000 people each, while county run by elected judge-executive & 3-member Fiscal Court representing 230,000-person districts
  • Area’s manufacturing base declined & economic transformation, which began during 1990s, slowed by ineffectiveness of multiple competing EDOs
  • Louisville was 259th safest among cities with at least 75,000 residents
  • City suffered from steadily declining tax base
  • City-County government experienced steadily increasing combined workforce & costs

Growing City-County racial divide as city’s African-American population nearly doubled from 18% in 1960 to 33% in 2000

Post-Merger Profile:
  • Population grew nearly 7% during 2000s (not solely due to merger) & City emerged as US’s 18th largest city & state’s largest city
  • Louisville Metro, due to merger & some municipal consolidations, has 83 cities, some of which use Louisville Metro for certain services (i.e., usually ex-county services)
  • Council members represent 25,000-30,000 residents for county & USD, improving overall representation, but diffusing clout of individual representatives
  • Louisville Metro more effective at setting coherent agenda, tackling big issues & launching major projects, especially for region
  • While area’s economic transformation not solely attributable to merger, unified EDO & progressive reputation made Metro Louisville more competitive (e.g., more effective business relocation & expansion efforts & increased employment)
  • Louisville became 6th safest city with at least 500,000 people & rose from 259th to 157th safest among cities with at least 75,000 residents
  • Louisville Metro operates Louisville Fire & Rescue for USD & area still served by 20 independent fire departments, but Merger 2.0 Task Force recommended merging suburban fire departments into Louisville Metro to improve fire protection & save money
  • Streamlining government has enabled Metro Louisville to deliver comparable services with fewer employees, no tax increases (property tax rates for former city & county residents have declined) & only minor fee increases (e.g., booking fees for arrestees)
  • Combined police staffing levels remained unchanged, but post-merger police funding increased at similar pre-merger rates (4-8% per year)

6 of 26 council districts (23%) represented by African-Americans & while this has diluted influence within USD, it has extended influence into county

Approval factors:
  • Prior merger of school systems removed potential stumbling block
  • Strong local pro-merger leadership (e.g., Democratic Mayor & Republican County Judge-Executive, Senator McConnell & every county judge-executive & city mayor since 1980)
  • Strong local media support (Courier-Journal, LEO magazine, Louisville Magazine, The Voice Tribune & Louisville Defender)
  • Created African-American majority districts to address local NAACP concerns
  • Excluded fire protection services from merger due to firefighter union objections

State legislature passed enabling legislation lifting ban on city-county merger referenda & allowing one-time-only referendum for county voters

Other cities:
  • Of 105 city-county consolidation referenda held in US from 1902 to 2010, only 27 (about 25%) approved by voters; most efforts end without vote (e.g., Pittsburgh & St. Louis)
  • Most recent major US city-county mergers occurred in Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Miami & Nashville (some mergers have included suburban cities)
  • Recent smaller city-county mergers included Athens GA, Augusta GA, Kansas City KS, Lexington KY,) include Lexington, Kentucky
  • Some consolidated upon creation or early in history (e.g., Anchorage, Denver, Honolulu, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco & Washington, DC)
  • While post-merger studies have been limited, major regions with city-county mergers (e.g., Indianapolis, Jacksonville & Nashville) have experienced overall net benefits (e.g., reputation, economic growth, streamlined government & stable taxes)

Post-merger issues may include tax distribution, service refinements (e.g., policy & fire), USD boundaries & political representation (especially for minorities)

Our Take:

Restructuring local government is daunting. Winning voter approval is a formidable hurdle, often pitting supporters against odd coalitions (e.g., rural whites & urban African-Americans). Implementing structural changes also poses serious challenges. Still, if we want local governments to do more (often with less), we must be willing to challenge the status quo & replace calcified structures & processes with modern models & systems.

Merging local governments (e.g., counties, cities & special districts) & realigning their operations with today’s challenges will not be easy. But, those regions with the vision & boldness to be innovative will likely become more competitive, not just among their more recalcitrant peers, but in the global marketplace as well. More effective, efficient & accountable local governments will win the future. They will make better use of scarce resources & enable their leaders to speak with one voice & tackle the regional challenges that too often vex our current jumble of balkanized, overlapping & bickering fiefdoms.

Our Towns, A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America

TitleOur Towns, A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America (2019)
AuthorJames & Deborah Fallows

Visiting towns across America by plane, the Fallows found communities confronting local problems head-on with hope, candor, compromise, pragmatism & determination, a story of regions, cities & towns transforming themselves in spite of toxic national politics.

Relevant trends:

Traditionally, federal government offered the best vehicle for solving intractable challenges (e.g., civil rights, public education, health care, clean air & water & interstate highways). However, the growing gap between federal dysfunction & faith in local governance is causing local leaders & governments to seize the initiative in confronting civic problems.

Local progress:

Shows, sports, tragedies & tweets have masked exciting progress in unexpected places. Like Louis Brandeis’ “laboratories of American democracy,” local governments have long served as civic labs for testing ideas, reforming institutions & achieving tangible civic progress (e.g., Cleveland’s Mayor Johnson in the early 20th Century). Localism offers real hope for overcoming national inertia on many issues (e.g., as demagogues fuel national divisions over immigration, many communities quietly welcome immigrants as assets).

Criteria for success:
  • Leadership – strong, energetic, creative, continuous & prominent local leadership with a deep sense of place, ownership & local patriotism
  • Collaboration – a proven commitment to working together, overcoming national political differences & building effective public-private partnerships that cut across bureaucratic barriers to leverage local assets & get things done
  • Vision – bold plans that inspire communities & offer tangible results
  • Civic narrative – clear, compelling & widely-accepted civic stories that help citizens grasp how today’s efforts support tomorrow’s vision
  • Openness – commitment to preventing brain-drain by attracting & engaging new leaders & residents, including immigrants
  • K-12 schools – distinctive, innovative K-12 schools
  • Higher education – strong, agile research university or community college playing greater roles in local civic affairs (e.g., economic development & K-12)
  • Downtown – Vibrant core areas with controlled car access, narrow streets, accessible retail, ample residences & appealing amenities (e.g., brewery, restaurants, coffee shops, bike trail, river walk, festivals, farmers market & baseball parks)
Sample success stories:
  • Columbus OH – focused civic leadership, clear vision, strong civic narrative, engaged university, vibrant downtown & voter support for government
  • Greenville SC – continuous local leadership, openness to emerging leaders, research university capacity, elementary engineering school program & impressive downtown
  • Fresno CA – openness to immigrants, appealing quality of life & joint computer training program (tech start-ups, local governments, colleges, schools & libraries)
  • Sioux Falls SD – strong civic narrative, appealing quality of life, openness to immigrants & vibrant downtown
  • Bend OR – strong civic narrative, appealing quality of life & effort to attract OSU branch
  • Burlington VT – openness to new people & vibrant downtown
Our Take:

With this book, the Fallows have given us a powerful antidote to our national dysfunction & an important contribution to civic progress. It not only chronicles the oft-unheralded efforts of optimistic local leaders driven to improve their communities, but demonstrates the exciting promise of local leadership, cooperation & action. Shifting our focus to local issues will free us to tackle problems & attain progress in more civilized, pragmatic ways.

The New Localism, How Cities can Thrive in the Age of Populism

TitleThe New Localism, How Cities can Thrive in the Age of Populism (2018)
AuthorBruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak, The Brookings Institution
Defining features of new localism:
  • Global – continually promoting global perspectives, links & competitiveness
  • Self-reliant – relentless use of local leadership, institutions & resources to solve problems
  • Pragmatic – committed to focused, innovative & feasible problem-solving
  • Entrepreneurial – courage to reform institutions & leverage assets to seize opportunities
  • Futuristic – disciplined focus on long-term vision, strategies, investments & results
  • Collaborative – participatory, interactive & open civic dialogue & problem-solving
Relevant historical trends:
  • Though most of 20th Century, our reliance on federal & state government increased
  • During 1980s & Reagan’s New Federalism, federal government’s role began to wane
  • Since then, burgeoning federal debt has limited federal fiscal flexibility
  • In recent years, nationalization & toxicity of politics created need for new approach
Factors creating fertile conditions for New Localism:
  • Big socio-economic changes (e.g., demography, equity gaps, urbanism & globalism)
  • Fiscal stress & hyper-partisanship undermining faith in government top-down solutions
  • Rising anger toward global elites, civic institutions, immigrants & other groups
  • Growing embrace of faux populism & simplistic, short-sighted solutions
  • Countervailing search for new approach to governance & problem-solving
Sample New Localism success stories:
  • Pittsburgh – informal civic, business, labor, charity & university alliance spurred big civic investments (e.g., $1.5 billion via Pittsburgh Regional Asset District over 20 years)
  • Chattanooga – dynamic public-private collaboration produced tangible benefits (e.g., 140-acre Innovation District, high-speed Gig City network & smart energy grid
  • Indianapolis – networked governance model—city-county merger (Unigov) + formal civic group (Central Indiana Corporate Partnership)—provides regional platform for assessing problems, tapping assets (e.g., pension funds), crafting solutions & selling initiatives
  • Cleveland – Greater Cleveland Partnership (successor to foundation-funded Cleveland Tomorrow) has provided strategic leadership for region since 2004
  • St Louis – 501c3 entity created by academic, health & cultural entities to develop 200-acre innovation district (Cortex) with state & city support
  • Philadelphia – after 1990s Naval Yard closure, created public-private Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation to acquire Naval Yard, issue tax credits & tax-exempt bonds & spur renewal (e.g., over $1 billion in investments & 12,000 employees)

Copenhagen – created publicly-owned, privately-managed public asset corporation to acquire urban core area, update zoning, borrow funds, build transit line & other infrastructure & raise funds for future phases (e.g., harbor renewal & transit expansion)

Outlook for New Localism:
  • Populistic anger could increase pressures for replacing or reforming civic institutions
  • Outdated, top-down ways could give way to new, localized models of governance & finance sharing power & responsibilities across civic networks
  • Metro areas that modernize structures, build new civic networks, monetize assets & unlock capital could provide models for other areas
  • New Localism could offer most radical restructuring of federalism since New Deal
New Localism best practices:
  • Organization – create formal, well-funded civic network structure to facilitate networked local governance across boundaries (e.g., region, metro, city, CBD & district)
  • Governance – restructure government, unify public asset management, create new structures to finance & carry out initiatives & strengthen public-private partnerships
  • Collaboration – organize diverse stakeholder group, build community engagement mechanism & develop neighborhood service agenda & initiatives
  • Diagnosis – Assess current situation & local institutions, prioritize problems to be solved, define risks & identify potential improvement opportunities
  • Planning – forge ambitious vision based on risks & opportunities, define measurable outcomes & adopt long-term investment strategies
  • Marketing – build community-wide consensus for change, nurture collaborative culture & aggressively promote initiatives, locally & globally (e.g., innovation districts)
Our Take:

For anyone who cares about government & community progress, we urge you to read this important & timely book. It provides a great foundation for understanding the forces contributing to New Localism as well as best practices & proven strategies for implementing New Localism as a governing philosophy in your state, region or community.

The Democratic Party Still Doesn’t Get Grassroots Politics

TitleThe Democratic Party Still Doesn’t Get Grassroots Politics (1-29-18)
AuthorSarah Jones, Staff Writer for the New Republic

Will the Democratic Party seize the opportunity to go local?


Historic numbers of young women and men running for public office, both legislative and executive. Smart, idealistic and principled, they run to make a difference in their communities, often with minimal national resources. Without such support, or any guidance at all, one cannot help but wonder if their enthusiasm will survive their first electoral loss. The importance of money in politics cannot be denied, but shouldn’t we expect more from our future leaders than how much money they can raise?

As Is:

Despite the mounting fervor of local politics, national Democrats like those at the DCCC seem less than enthusiastic about new campaign methods. New candidates seeking support from the DCCC face a gauntlet of off-putting screening tactics, including questions about their fund-raising contacts. Such recruitment tests, while arguably a rational response the DCCC’s fund-raising failings, call into question the ability of national Democrats or any party organization to build and sustain a strong network of young leaders.

To Do:

If the Democratic Party is too feckless to harness progressive political energy at the local level, on what institutions should we rely to develop the leadership of the future? The answer is unclear, but one path could be to invest in non-partisan leadership institutes that share the values of those young leaders. Developing young leaders with progressive values, particularly those with marginalized backgrounds, requires networking, mentoring, systems and tools, not just money. This is one investment that we cannot afford to neglect.

Our Take:

One of the prerequisites of civic renewal is effective leadership. While some may be born effective leaders, most are not. They are picked from the crowd, nurtured and mentored. We don’t just throw them to the wolves, we share our experiences, give them the tools and point them in the right direction. Then we get out of the way. They will do us proud.

Our Day of Reckoning

TitleOur Day of Reckoning
AuthorCamille Busette, Director of the Brookings Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative

Since 1968, has America made progress as a land of opportunity?


Our future competitiveness will depend on people of color, but the American Dream remains out of reach for too many. Regardless of the source—the Census Bureau, Federal Reserve or Annie E. Casey Foundation—or the metric, the facts are clear. People of color face the longest odds for success in the land of opportunity. And, despite post-Great Recession gains, our vast racial wealth gap remains. Even more worrisome, current federal policies could exacerbate inequality, limit economic mobility and undermine our global competitiveness.

As is

Despite profound demographic changes (e.g., for the first time, most children under age 10 are non-white), our nation seems sharply divided between white and non-white, natives and immigrants, haves and have-nots, insiders and outsiders. For many people of color, the nation offers the threat of insecurity and despair. After eight years of our first African-American president and a national vision of hope, we have handed the keys of national power to the forces of anger, intolerance and greed.

To Do

To ensure our optimal economic performance and our global competitiveness, our nation must afford its young ample educational options and its adults every opportunity to fully participate in our ever-changing economy.

Our Take

As the author reminds us, Dr. Martin Luther King called on us to recognize our common humanity. To honor our legacy, realize our hopes and inspire the next generation of leaders, we must become—and fight to remain—the land of opportunity.

What Millennial Mayors Are Doing for City Hall (1-31-18)

TitleWhat Millennial Mayors Are Doing for City Hall (1-31-18)
AuthorAndrew Small, freelance writer in Washington, DC and former editorial fellow at CityLab

Will millennials have the opportunity, capacity and right stuff to lead?

Key Findings

A wave of bright, young leaders is rising across the country, from Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend (IN) to Mayor Lydia Mihalik of Findlay (OH) to Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami. Millennial leaders possess many characteristics that public executives need to face the future—the humility to be admit ignorance, the courage to ask questions, the ability to multi-task and the willingness to share and borrow great ideas.

Envisioned Landscape

Distressed or stagnating local jurisdictions, like South Bend was in 2012 when Newsweek labeled it one of “America’s Dying Cities,” will test our local leaders. But they also will offer exciting opportunities for the untested idealists of today to become the proven leaders of tomorrow. A youthful public executive office offers hope to voters, an opportunity to replace nostalgia with foresight, to see old problems with new eyes, to trade caution and certainty for innovation and experimentation.

Proposed Actions

The torch of leadership is inevitably from one generation to the next. Millennials are no different. They may surface first in local government, but their service as Mayor or County Executive will likely be a stepping stone to higher executive office. We should embrace such rising stars and help them take the next step.

One More Thing

If we believe in government and care about its quality, we must think more about how to enhance its leadership. Supporting young, emerging leaders can take many forms, but one way is to provide them with the systems and tools they will need to attain their vision for their communities and restore public faith in government.