We're still some time away from the next Mayoral election here in Richmond, Indiana, but whoever is going to run and win to keep or take office in 2016 will have to begin their initial preparations this year.
(A number of people have kindly suggested that I would be a good candidate for the job. I appreciate this and I'm honored by it. But to be clear: I'm not running for Mayor in the upcoming election.)
Before the candidates announce themselves and the conversation becomes about those individuals and their qualifications, I want to share my own hopes for what Richmond will see in its next Mayor.
The legal requirements for running are pretty basic: "A candidate for the office of mayor...must have resided in the city for at least one year before the election." Hopefully we'll set the bar a little higher than that.
The below list is not meant to be a critique of our current Mayor or of any past person who has held the title, but rather a forward-looking inventory of what I think the city needs most right now:
- A person who has an inspiring, clear and realistic vision for the future of Richmond, who communicates that vision to residents, and who establishes and then makes progress on a plan to make that vision a reality. Whatever their focus, whatever the angle through which they approach community improvement, they believe in it, pour their heart into it, and see it through every day of their term.
- Someone who carefully but actively makes use of the Mayor's "bully pulpit" to get things done in our community; to get people unstuck, to motivate and inspire people through their fears, to encourage and support efforts that need more resources, to hold accountable the people who are not acting in the best interests of the entire community.
- A person who spends more time governing than politicing; someone who places the concerns and needs of the community above the issues that might affect their re-election (or that of their party's candidates) in the future.
- Someone who is willing to practice radical transparency with the press, the residents she or he represents, and with those who want to become more engaged in civic life. Someone who is accessible and follows through on commitments of all kinds, and who apologizes and explains when achieving those commitments isn't possible.
- An individual whose understanding of policy, decision-making and strategic planning is rooted in data about and proven best practices for how cities like Richmond can thrive in today's economy. Someone who may incorporate powerful anecdotes and stories from individuals or organizations into their thinking, but who ultimately is persuaded by long-term definitions of success and sustainability over the appeal of short-term measures that feel good but ultimately don't move us forward.
- Someone who works hard to hire the right people for jobs within the city administration, encouraging and supporting those people's efforts while holding them accountable to a high standard of professionalism and excellence. Someone who is willing to move or replace people who are not demonstrating efficiency and effectiveness in their roles. Someone who doesn't have to be the smartest or most talented person in the room, and can accept guidance and advice from people around them.
- A Mayor who uses modern technology wherever possible to improve government operations, save taxpayer dollars and increase the engagement of residents in city administration.
- An individual who practices authenticity, kindness and respect in all of their dealings, even when they have strong disagreements or personal clashes with others involved in city leadership. Someone with the ability to build consensus and resolve conflicts so that the focus can remain on improving the community and not on satisfying personal agendas or protecting egos.
- Someone who understands and lives out the actual job description for a city executive in Indiana: enforces ordinances, provides updates on city finances, reports on city affairs, recommends legislative actions, calls meetings, hires and supervises city staff, ensures efficient government of the city, approves or vetoes stuff passed by the city council.
- Someone who is willing to take calculated risks and even make mistakes, and then plainly and openly assess the results. Someone who is not afraid to say they were wrong, but who keeps moving forward anyway.
Is this a pretty idealistic list? Yes.
Do people like this exist in the world of local politics? I think so. I hope so.
Will the voters of Richmond care about these kinds of attributes more than they care about individual charisma or partisan divisions? Stay tuned.
I do think that our choice for Richmond's next mayor could represent a significant turning point for life here. This is a wonderful city with some amazing people, organizations, projects and goals, but it's also a city whose future economic viability is not at all a sure thing. Among many other things, we need a city executive fearlessly living out a bold vision for our future, collaborating and consulting widely and effectively to get things done.
What qualities are you looking for in Richmond's next mayor?