The Magazine

It Takes a Mayor

Is there a conservative formula for city government?

Oct 17, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 05 • By JENNIFER A. MARSHALL
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As a politician, Baker clearly delighted in the challenge of governing—a far less pristine enterprise than the theoretical politics in which many of us engage—and particularly relished governing at the local level, the often-mundane, complicated, unpredictable, messy business of dealing directly with people. One day, during a cab ride, it dawned on him that taxi drivers are a city’s first ambassadors. He instituted a series of coffees for cabbies so that they could learn more about local events and get flyers from the city visitors bureau for customers. Baker also made a point of meeting each driver who attended. Recalling the shaping influence of his own childhood handshake with a congressman, he decided to visit every school in St. Petersburg and shake each student’s hand—“after reminding them to look into my eyes when they speak and tell me their name clearly.”

Baker wrote this book for a target audience of would-be conservative mayors and city leaders. But ambitious as that may be, his kind of rallying call may well be what is needed to revive local leadership: From Detroit to Lowell, Massachusetts, hundreds of American cities burst with immense needs and opportunities to test and reestablish conservative templates. Baker’s response:

During the mornings when I was mayor .  .  . I could not wait to get out of bed and drive to City Hall to begin the day. Each day had its share of struggles, but there were also great opportunities and exciting challenges. I can think of few better jobs.

 Jennifer A. Marshall is director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation and author of Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century.