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Election '07: What do I want in a mayor?

10.3.2007 by André Natta · → Leave a comment

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Leading up to next Tuesday, people have been still attempting to make us “make it easy for folks” by picking a candidate for them. I still don’t believe that our primary purpose is to do that. There is a place for suggesting or even grandstanding, but I still don’t quite believe that the place is here. Actually I don’t know of many places where I believe it to be proper save for a courtroom or a debate competition. Maybe the local drinking establishments after a long day of work.

Regardless, it has forced me to think of what I’d actually like to see in a mayoral candidate. The standard for me is actually Martin O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore currently serving as governor of Maryland. There’s also a little bit of Joe Riley of Charleston influencing what I’ve come to expect in political leaders. You can choose to agree or disagree, but you might want to read the rest of this before you decide.

Charismatic – first and foremost, despite everyone’s belief to the contrary (including mine from time to time) the primary role of the mayor is in fact to be the city’s biggest cheerleader. They are the ones that people feed off of to get that positive attitude to move a city forward. They’ve also got to be able to turn it on or off at a moment’s notice based on the situation. I’ve had the pleasure to see both of the men I mentioned above speak in person, and the edge goes to O’Malley. He literally “moved” the crowd while providing an inspiring speech to a theater full of visitors that would have made me want to move to Baltimore, if I wasn’t there with the boss for a conference.

Visionary – The best story I ever heard about Joe Riley came from a former supervisor that worked for him. The story was later retold by the South Carolina mayor himself in an interview for a national magazine. He said that he once picked the type of gravel used along their waterfront park because of the way it sounded beneath his feet. The initial reaction is probably the fact that he was getting a little too caught up in the details. Well, that attention to detail also allowed for some of the strongest development that ever happened in downtown Charleston. He was also able to convey that vision of success not just to the residents and the business community but to those outside of the city.

Stubborn – I’d rather have someone just say no than to sway to popular opinion (at least as a general rule). If that person has conveyed their vision properly, no matter how much you may dislike their decision, you must respect their opinion. That said, the ideal would be someone that will stand for what they believe in and admit when presented with additional information that there may be another way to do things. If you elected the person to office, you chose the way that the city will generally move. If you voted and your choice did not win, it’s still possible to support some of the winner’s views. If you didn’t vote – there’s no reason to complain, unless it happens to be the heart of the region.

Power Broker – It’s ideal in my world to have someone that can broker a deal behind closed doors and who is not afraid to not get credit. At least not among the general public. The phrase that guides me through my life in this aspect is that “Leadership is action, not position.” It is most important that the person that wins is able to deal with failing in public as much as that person can enjoy winning in private. Call me a slightly old fashioned individual, but sometimes I’m much happier after losing knowing that I did all I could than I would be if I won and it didn’t feel right.

Has to know how to have fun – We really won’t get into what Riley does, but the fact that O’Malley was still fronting his Irish rock band while serving Baltimore probably got him more respect from those that would have otherwise ridiculed him about everything. He was still trying to live, still trying to be a person.

I’d say that it was an ideal situation, however I’ve seen and experienced two individuals that met the criteria. The drive of being successful gets me up everyday, and those days that I wear my It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham” shirt, many times I truly believe it, despite what’s been said and how I’ve been treated. It wouldn’t hurt of the folks running for this job realized that the ability to convince people that it is truly their city and that just because Election Day comes and goes doesn’t mean that you should not care any less. So in my mind, these traits described above allow that person to do what she or he can to energize the city.

Does it mean that I’ve chosen someone to vote for? No. But maybe these are the traits we should be looking at instead of focusing on the issues that have been driving the conversations. These traits allow the issues to be dealt with as quickly and effectively as possible.

So what traits do you think are important for the next mayor? And I mean in general; save your comments about the individual candidates for this comment thread over on our Election ’07 site. Let’s see if we can start that kind of dialogue here today. We may be better for it on October 9 (and possibly 30th).

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. He can be reached using any of the methods listed on our contact page.

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Filed under: Alabama · Birmingham · Commentary · Election '07 · politics

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