046_G19_Arena

Global

Arena Politics solutions for global problems. One of those coming up with solutions is the mayor of Bangui in the Central African Republic. Catherine Samba-Pamza took over as interim President of the war-torn country. She called on the international community to save the former French colony from further violence. And it’s likely she will be listened to and allowed to govern, because as a former mayor she showed she could govern without discrimination. She is leading a city, not a clan or sect or a faith, and is applying those city leadership skills to a country. The new occupant of New York City Hall on Manhattan’s Broadway, Bill de Blasio will have more money to spend than a small country – and a population to match. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when the identity of New York’s new mayor was revealed it made news around the world. He could accurately be described as the most powerful mayor on the planet because the job comes with unique executive powers – hiring and firing the people heading the city’s key agencies, like schools and the police, while also setting the budget. The California governor doesn’t even have that power. And the mayor controls the education of one million children. Education around the world is usually a national responsibility and not a city governor responsibility. It’s power that has Boris Johnson, Mayor of London come incrementally, ever since the British drove the Dutch out and gave the city control of its waterfront in the 17th century. But today it’s a job that doesn’t hog the international Current mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford stage on its own. The ever-quotable London Mayor Boris Johnson appears on primetime US television and his predecessor Ken Livingstone struck a controversial oil deal in Venezuela with Hugo Chávez. Mayors, without question, are consistent with the spirit of the age – visible, urban leaders, figureheads who are a much better fit in a world of 24-hour news and the need for celebrity visibility. The forays of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg into public health – the bans on smoking and trans-fats, and attempts to limit fizzy drink sizes – have inspired mayors the world over to intervene in health policy without fear of being accused of nannying. Mayors who act as state governors are more powerful than Bloomberg, but few have his influence, says Tann vom Hove, a senior fellow at the City Mayors Foundation, an international think tank. “The previous mayor of Mexico City Marcelo Ebrard legalised abortion and introduced gay marriage – things the mayor of New York can’t do. And the Berlin mayor can block federal legislation.” But the more colourful mayors also bring controversy and notoriety: ■■ San Diego mayor Bob Filner was accused of sexual harassment by 13 women ■■ Toronto mayor Rob Ford denied allegations that he was filmed smoking crack cocaine ■■ Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum resigned after his arrest on 14 fraud charges ■■ Anthony Weiner’s mayoral campaign in New York was dealt a blow by two sexting scandals Many mayors operating on smaller budgets have left their mark on history for better reasons. Teddy Kollek, who served as Jerusalem mayor for nearly 30 years, was described as the most influential Jewish builder of the city since Herod the Great in Biblical times. He took office in 1965 and advocated Arab-Jewish co-existence. I interviewed him once in his Jerusalem office, where he was told me that Jerusalem was a better city united than divided. And Pasqual Maragall was one of a succession of mayors in Barcelona who transformed the city in the post-dictatorship era. Think too of Willy Brandt, who led West Berlin through the city’s dark days and later © West Annex News Creative Commons by - SA 2.0 © Financial Times Creative Commons by 2.0 became Chancellor. Mayors can be more effective than national politicians because there is less posturing. If you govern a city of ten million people, you have to make sure everything is working and the police are on the streets. They’re not highly political acts, they’re done by conservatives, labour, republicans, democrats and socialists in the same way. Political theorist Benjamin Barber takes this argument a step further in his book, If Mayors Ruled The World. He says mayors are far better at addressing global issues than heads of nation states. Countries are dysfunctional in global relations, he argues, because they’re walled states with borders strengthened by sovereignty and national culture. 61st Mayor of Houston Annise Parker “National political figures adhere to great historical norms and political ideologies, but mayors have to fix things – they have to pick up the garbage and fix the sewer. They’re problem solvers and that’s what makes them pragmatic.” four 46 l www.global -br ief ing.org th quar ter 2014 global 


Global
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