While candidate Obama might have chosen to emphasize his mother from Kansas rather than his own urban pedigree (Honolulu, Jakarta, Los Angeles, Manhattan, Chicago and Cambridge often went unmentioned in his speeches), President Obama is signaling that he intends to take urban issues seriously. One of his closest advisers from Chicago, Valerie Jarrett, told a group of African-American columnists on Monday that Obama will create an office of urban policy in the White House.
“Because he began as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, he understands at the local level is really where you can impact change and that local government can play a vital role as we try to jump start our economy,” she said.
Pretty soon, I’m sure, names of good candidates for the position will be floated. Off the top of my head I can think of several attractive potential candidates. (There a plenty of qualified candidates, so the names I’m about to throw, in bold, should not be taken as a snub to all those I fail to mention.)
After a long, notorious history of corruption and incompetence in the local government, D.C. has begun to see some improvements under the leadership of its last mayor, Anthony Williams, and its current one, Adrian Fenty. Given that D.C. has no governor, congressmen or senators, these guys have nowhere to go up other than a federal appointment. But while transit-oriented development and other good things have happened in D.C. in recent years, they still can’t seem to get my street plowed when it snows, so maybe Williams and Fenty aren’t the best beacons of competence. Maybe that’s just because of the budget constraints D.C. suffers under the hand of federal misrule. Certainly a former mayor of D.C. could be an advocate for giving D.C. more fair treatment – maybe even a vote in Congress! – in this position.
But if it’s managerial competence you want, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York has it in spades. There’s no question New York has thrived under some trying circumstances. Giving him a major appointment would burnish Obama’s bi-partisan credentials, since Bloomberg is an independent former Republican. And it would give Bloomberg something to do other than run for a third term and spend his opponent under the table.
Paris Glendenning, the former governor of Maryland, is a leading smart growth advocate with plenty of executive experience. Recently, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has begun to speak out on transportation policy, and he comes from an urban, crime-fighting, background, having been a popular Philadelphia mayor and district attorney.
But, if the massive of influx of Chicagoans, led by David Axelrod, Jarrett and Rahm Emmanuel is any guide, Obama will just go ahead and offer the job to Richard Daley.
Ben Adler is a journalist in New York. He is a former reporter for Grist, The Nation, Newsweek and Politico, and he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The New Republic.