Connecting state and local government leaders
St. Paul, Minnesota’s first black mayor shared his biggest takeaways from the program opener.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter is one of three mayors serving as their city’s first black top executive to be inducted into the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative’s second class.
The yearlong educational and professional development program, which just began this summer, includes 40 international mayors—half in their first year. It’s a diverse group, with 11 women and 10 black mayors. Six of the leaders are millennials.
Bloomberg Philanthropies, which runs the initiative in conjunction with the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, views the program as the answer to the private sector spending $42 billion a year on executive development. Except in this case, mayors learn from Harvard faculty and management experts about how to advance innovative policies.
“It was really incredible to me the diversity of opinions that existed,” Carter said of the initiative's three-day kickoff in late July.
Mayors came from as far a way as São Paulo, Brazil; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Freetown, Sierra Leone to discuss shared challenges in the form of case studies. One conversation that resonated with Carter concerned a South African mayor working to build constituents’ confidence in services that hadn’t historically benefitted them much—some had stopped paying taxes.
The Twin Cities, too, face ingrained disparities primarily in the workforce, where racial and ethnic minorities comprise 19 percent of the employed, according to a 2017 disparity study of the Minnesota marketplace. But in the construction business, for example, the report found that almost all workers in most trades were white, while minority workers had less opportunity for advancement.
“We are trying to eliminate those disparities and build a government that works for all of us,” Carter said.
Another case study dealt with mapping Mexico City bus routes in more efficient, accessible ways, forcing mayors to think critically about “how we push innovation in our community,” he added.
The case studies served as a vehicle to hear and learn from a variety of mayors, with Bloomberg aiming to include 240 cities globally within four years’ time.
“Around the world, cities are growing in size and importance, and mayors are leading the charge in addressing the most pressing issues we face, from creating jobs to fighting climate change,” said former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, in a statement. “This program is aimed at helping them succeed.”
The initiative is convenient for mayors like Carter, who have their hands full with the day-to-day management of cities, but still want to learn more about how to improve management.
Periodic classroom, online and field exercises the program offers are important for building more inclusive cities, Carter said.
“One of our major focuses is on public engagement,” he said. “Having people know—when they weigh in on city policy, when they weigh in on the budget—it means something.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.