This past weekend I had the privilege of being a part of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy program retreat in Los Angeles. It coincided with the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in L.A.

The Brookings project is a revolutionary effort to "bubble up" the innovation that is coming from our ever-expanding metropolitan areas — from our mayors and local governments, from our cities, suburbs and exurbs.

At a time when public confidence in Washington, this president and this Congress, is close to an all-time low (together they can't seem to total 50 percent approval), meeting with the mayors was a true breath of fresh air. 

When the question is asked: How do we restore confidence in our politics, our public officials and, indeed, in our system of government, the answer may lie within our metros.

In a recent cover story, Time magazine focused on "The New Action Heroes" — Gov. Schwarzenegger and Mayor Bloomberg. Pointing to their pragmatic approach, the conclusion was that "they're doing big things" — from healthcare to the environment to housing. These two have taken on Washington.

With the mayors, the rubber does hit the road. Graham Richard, the mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind., is a political wonk through and through. He doesn't want a political traveling aide; instead, he's appointed a techno-aide, someone who will help him and other mayors link up to share the very best ideas from their metro areas. He wants to revolutionize technology to communicate and expand "best practices" across the nation.

John Hickenlooper, a local icon as a pub owner and civic activist, ran for mayor of Denver, convinced he would never win. He exhibited the best of our American system; a truly modest man with big dreams, he produced a level of enthusiasm and appreciation for reaching out. He has combined pragmatic politics and a vision for Colorado's fast-growing metro area by breaking down barriers to surrounding cities and counties and collaborating to create a new light rail system that is remarkable.

Greg Nichols told the story of being a young 16-year-old, dragged to his local precinct caucus by his mother and committed to making a difference in his home town of Seattle ever since. As mayor he has opened up the downtown to innovation and development, even creating a 35-unit building for the homeless and chronically drug- and alcohol-dependent. He helped start an effort with a handful of mayors to pledge to meet the Kyoto standards in their cities, despite Washington's rejection of the protocol. There are now 500 mayors who have joined in this effort to meet the emission-reduction standards. Greg Nichols has no desire for higher office — his only desire is to see a better future for the city he loves.

These mayors believe they have the best job in the world; for them, the art of politics is the art of the possible. They, and many other mayors, have proven that the excitement and collaboration of new ideas can achieve real progress and solve the most difficult of problems.

Tip O'Neill said all politics is local — after this weekend I understand it even better.  Keep your eyes out for these mayors, who have truly proved that metros matter. Maybe they hold the secret to getting those of us in Washington to pay attention!