By now, the American people have acclimated to the quadrennial din that is the primary season in the race for the American presidency. The candidates themselves tout their plans at varying levels of specificity and celebrity pundits critique their every move. Your acquaintances who lean toward the opinionated hawk unsolicited opinions that bleed into your daily conversations and we all wonder if this really is “the most important election in history,” as we are reminded constantly that, in fact, it is. When it comes to politics, everyone has an opinion on what we, as a nation need, and the varying extents of what should be done to save our collective bacon.
As Chairman of Community Leaders of America (CLA), the national caucus of Republican Mayors, I’ve come to understand that as important as the opinion of one woman or one man is — one person cannot solve complex problems alone. We all need to listen and learn, even our would-be presidents. That is the hallmark of leadership. By at of example; in Albuquerque, we’ve successfully tackled serious challenges, like chronic homelessness, by adopting an attitude of listening, learning and leading.
Here’s the approach: convene a group of the right decision makers, people smarter on the issue than you, set your egos and agendas aside, get down to the business of solving a problem, and be accountable to the goal. In the 32nd largest municipality in America, we have now permanently housed over 480 chronically homeless and medically vulnerable individuals and their families through our Heading Home initiative. And we have saved taxpayers 31 percent over the cost of leaving our brothers and sisters to struggle for survival on the streets.
The success of this program belongs to a group of strange bedfellows. And while it may sometimes take a Mayor to lead and implement this kind of collective impact model, success is achieved only through collaboration. When you go it alone, solutions can be sparse, narrowly focused and often stymied by political rivalries.
The concept of convening, listening and leading isn’t novel – it’s decidedly old school with a healthy dose of pragmatism. Simply put, the most effective mayors I’ve observed in our national caucus lead from a foundation of pragmatism. And our presidential candidates could benefit from a bit of our collective insight. We are, after all, serving at the front lines of American government.
I’d like to invite the presidential candidates to meet with America’s mayors. I’d further suggest they consider convening mayors for the express purpose of listening. Mayors, the really good ones, are active in their communities everyday and if presidential candidates want to know if their Pennsylvania Avenue policies make sense on Main Street, they should simply ask us.
Just a few examples of real world solutions being developed by mayors I’m privileged to call my peers in the caucus of Republican mayors:
A mayoral challenge by Mick Cornett toward a healthier life saw Oklahoma City lose over a million pounds.
Indianapolis’s Republican Mayor Greg Ballard was the first mayor of a large city to convert his entire municipal fleet to electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.
In the city of Albuquerque we have implemented the nation’s first city-level policy to incentivize companies towards gender pay equity if they want to do business with city government.
And most recently, Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer was able to get unanimous city council approval for San Diego’s city’s budget, a bipartisan moment the city hadn’t seen in years.
If the 2016 presidential field believes that all politics is local – and if they want to connect to voters with real-world solutions that are rooted in the reality of regular folk – a smart place to start is with America’s mayors.
Richard Berry is the Mayor of Albuquerque, NM and Chairman of the Community Leaders of America – the national caucus of Republican Mayors and City Council Members.