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Maybe a Democratic mayor should be president

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The bloom has come off the gubernatorial rose in presidential politics and that might be good news for Democrats.

Four out of five presidents before Barack Obama were governors. George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, all governors. However, in the past four presidential campaigns, governors didn’t make it far, not Howard Dean, Bill Richardson, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, John Kasich nor Chris Christie. Governors running for president have gotten a collective “meh.”

{mosads}After the 2010 midterms “shellacking,” the party of FDR, Carter and Clinton doesn’t have many governors left. Sixteen by last count.


Yet, Democrats still run cities and mayors are picking up the slack. New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, immediate past president of the African American Mayors Association, made increasing racial and gender diversity among asset managers a priority. The District of Columbia’s Muriel Bowser is pushing development into the usually overlooked wards east of the Anacostia River.

Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin is the new president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. I caught him on the phone before boarding a flight to Houston. He was on a roll talking about the importance of cities, good governance and issues important to constituents.

Russia only came up once. “New York City’s GDP is larger,” he said.

Innovation was a bigger issue. Benjamin recently led a passel of his peers from the National League of Cities to Northern California to meet with tech leaders. Topics at the Tech4America meeting included drones, augmented and virtual reality, cybersecurity and blockchain.

“All across the country, innovative mayors are using big data to build modern metropolises,” Benjamin said. “The world is changing rapidly and we need to adjust to meet the future head on. … The informed policymaker who embraces smart cities will see her city advance rapidly.”

Infrastructure is what concerns Mayor Benjamin most. He invested $700 million in Columbia over the past six years. However, Benjamin sees trillions of dollars in investment needed across the country and the federal government is a lagging partner.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is hanging his hat on infrastructure investment. The 47-year-old leader of America’s second-largest city has been spending time in the political precincts of Iowa and New Hampshire where presidential ambitions go to grow. He recently got approval from the city council to spend $4.9 billion on an elevated train at the Los Angeles International Airport, and his 2019 budget will invest over $100 million in sidewalks and street reconstruction.

D.C. politicians can’t agree on a national infrastructure bill, and tax cuts threaten America’s long-term economic health. Garcetti led voters in the other direction. He helped secure approval from 70 percent of Los Angeles County voters for the Measure M sales tax increase to fund $120 billion in transportation modernization over the next three decades.

Americans might not have confidence in Capitol Hill but they are giving city halls room to run.

Then there’s Mitch Landrieu. The former New Orleans mayor became a national sensation when he took down several Confederate monuments, followed by one of the most thoughtful speeches on race relations since Barack Obama’s response to the Reverend Wright controversy in 2008. In his new book, “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History,” Landrieu acknowledges he had much to learn about race, despite growing up in one of the most progressive white families in the South. He discovered the only way forward on this topic is to deal with it head-on. We can’t go around it. Faulty history lessons and our divergent personal views make that impossible.

Donald Trump is waging a culture war and a candidate who avoids our evolving racial dynamics is not the answer. We need someone who can wade into our collective unease and point the way to a better path. No other white politician has as direct a voice on this topic as Landrieu. The only black politician in his league is Sen. Cory Booker from New Jersey. Everyone else on the national political stage treats race like a stinky diaper they know has to be dealt with but, boy, it would be great if someone else took care of it.

Getting from city hall to the White House is tough, but things might be changing. America is more urban than it was; more than 80 percent of us live in cities, and our past two presidents came from Chicago and New York City.

Why not a mayor for president? Issues such as infrastructure, diversity and innovation are paramount and, unlike senators, mayors don’t have to run with any Washington stink. Besides, if Trump can win, who can’t?

Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist who has worked for the Clinton White House, Congress and the Clinton, Gore and Obama presidential campaigns. He is a liberal host for The Hill’s new Hill.TV video division.

Tags Barack Obama Bill Clinton Cory Booker Democratic Party Donald Trump Eric Garcetti Government Mitt Romney United States Conference of Mayors

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