Can mayors be exciting?
With a city election in autumn 2017, the political horse-trading is already underway. Aylmer voters will pick three to four councillors, and the next mayor. Aylmer carries a lot of weight in electing a mayor, indicating our more engaged population. Aylmer’s higher education levels, employment and income, and its linguistic cooperativeness play a role. Aylmer is also the only sector with its own newspaper, which raises local issues and introduces candidates best.
For mayor, it’s worth considering what and whom we are (or should be) looking for as the face of our city to the rest of the province, country and world. Clearly charisma is important, although not enough in itself.
Charisma is often criticized as “mere” showmanship. It can be these things and worse, but it is also very helpful if used by a leader to mobilize and inspire his or her constituents. It is charisma which helps a leader galvanize support for major undertakings, and leadership charisma which brings attention to a city within a world of massive cities all clamouring for attention from investors, visitors, employers, and new residents.
Charisma differentiates political leaders from the civil servants and bureaucrats who actually keep the city chugging along. We might wonder if we even need elections – why not leave city management to civil servants, since they are the hands and brains which keep the city moving? That’s not how we see democracy. Besides ability, we want accountability – and vision – which grows from political leadership and a political process which demands debate, transparency, and review. We would not get this from hired-for-life, unionized bureaucrats!
Take Denis Coderre in Montreal (as opposed to the late Rob Ford of Toronto) who has charisma and uses it to advance his city’s vision. Coderre has not been afraid to pick up a sledgehammer and remove offensive graffiti, for example. He speaks his mind, usually, not the platitudes and niceties most politicians lean on to avoid any gaffs in public life. The young mayors of Milan and Barcelona have turned their cities into beacons for future metropolis life.
A mayor is not merely a CEO of a public corporation, nor should he or she be timid in putting forward grand goals as well as solutions to everyday problems. This is what inspires us. The mayor sets out principles and goals; the mayor speaks for the city and for each of us. Will we each vote for someone who can handle this task?
Mayors also face big problems, starting with the nature of municipal governance and funding. Transparency and easing freedom of information – from the city bureaucracy – is another issue every mayor faces, especially in Gatineau.
We can’t just “Go with Blue!” (or red or green). We have to engage, pay attention, and talk to others around us. Think of it this way: you are the one electing our next mayor. How are you going to decide? Under whom will you thrive for the next four years?