Many new mayors were just elected. Will they bring best practices in management or more attention to racial inequities? Julia Payson finds that mayors’ public service motivation and managerial skills matter more than their backgrounds. Luisa Godinez Puig finds that mayors are divided by partisanship in how they think about racial inequality, but tend to articulate dialog-based solutions rather than structural reforms. They both say local politics are important for real problem solving, even though mayoral elections get less attention.
Guests: Julia Payson, New York University; Luisa Godinez Puig, Boston University
Studies: “What Makes a Good Local Leader?” and “The Pictures in Their Heads”
Matt Grossmann: What makes a skilled and conscious mayor? This week on The Science of Politics. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann. Many new mayors were just elected, bringing new leadership to many of America’s largest and smallest city. Will they bring best practices in management? Will they bring attention to racial inequities in American cities? We’re learning a lot from new surveys and interviews of America’s mayors about their different priorities and strategies, even what might bring success.
This week, I talk to Julia Payson of New York University about her Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy article with Maria Carreri, What Makes a Good Local Leader? She finds that a mayor’s public service motivation and managerial skills matter more than their background, but there are large differences based on city demographics and politics.
I also talk to Luisa Godinez Puig of Boston University about her Urban Affairs Review article with Katherine Einstein and Spencer Piston, The Pictures in their Heads. She finds that mayors are divided by partisanship in how they think about racial inequality, but mayors tend to articulate easier dialogue-based solutions rather than structural reforms. Puig says local politics are keys to problem solving, even though they get less attention.
Luisa Godinez Puig: I am a big believer that local elections are underrated. We get, and by we, I mean those of us that live in urban areas, are affected on a daily basis by the policies of local governments. I am a strong believer that local governments are actually quite powerful, unlike what some skeptics might say.
And so I think that unfortunately, while a lot of local institutions were created with the idea of promoting participation, making the government close to the people, we see a lot of inequities even in participation.
And so I think and I hope that everything that has been happening in the last two years, which has given a prominent role or has highlighted the prominent role of local governments in our daily lives, will spur interest in people to go out and vote and participate in changing these policies. And I really do hope that race will play a more central role in these elections and especially in the coming years after these elections.
Matt Grossmann: Payson and Carreri investigated what makes mayors succeed.
Julia Payson: In this paper, we are trying to think about how can we study and evaluate the traits that make for a good local leader. So in the US, there are thousands of local governments that make these critical decisions every day about housing policy, public safety, public transportation, et cetera. And we wanted to explore the idea of what does it mean for city leaders to be well-qualified for public office. And we wanted to know if different types of cities tend to select better leaders, and if so, does this matter for city governance?
So to answer these questions, we conducted a survey of over 300 mayors and city managers from nine different states to learn about their background characteristics and leadership traits. And we focus in particular on two sort of classic measures of leader quality that economists often rely on, which are educational attainment and prior occupational prestige. And then we introduce these two to new measures of quality that tap into the idea of public service motivation and managerial skill. So how motivated are you to pursue a career in public service, even if it means giving up a lucrative job in the private sector, and how effective are you at actually managing your city government on a day-to-day basis?
So we find a few things. The mayors and city managers in our sample are generally pretty well-educated and come from high prestige careers. They all score very highly on public service motivation, but there is quite a bit of variation in the managerial practices that they use.
We find that well-educated leaders with high occupational scores tend to be selected for office in larger, richer, more left-leaning cities, but our managerial skill variable doesn’t really correlate with city characteristics other than size.
And finally, we also find that when it comes to the policy goals of the leaders in our sample, leaders who score highly on managerial are more likely to mention goals related to socioeconomic justice like racial and economic inequality.
Matt Grossmann: Puig, Einstein and Piston look at how mayors perceive and address racial inequality.
Luisa Godinez Puig: We wanted to find out what mayors think of racial inequalities, and then from those mayors that think that racial inequalities are an issue for their cities, which mayors provide substantive and structural policy solutions to eliminate these racial inequalities.
And so to answer these questions, we interviewed mayors from mid to large cities in the US and we see that a non-trivial proportion of mayors either deny that racial inequalities exist in their cities or minimize what they can do to redress these inequalities.
So there is also a sizable amount of mayors that do advocate for policy change, but the problem is that many of them only offer symbolic solutions for redressing these racial inequalities, and so not truly structural changes.
And so we observed that a number of factors affect mayors’ views on inequality, including their own specific individual characteristics, but also the characteristics of their own cities. And so for instance, we have Democratic mayors, they are more likely to admit these inequalities, and also non-white mayors and mayors from cities with large racial inequalities are more often aware of these inequities.
Matt Grossmann: Payson found that it’s not just about education or occupational background, but skills.
Julia Payson: As a discipline, we really need to work beyond moving past these simple measures of things like education and occupational prestige as proxies for candidate quality because more and more literature is demonstrating that these traits are really just tapping into socioeconomic status. They don’t seem to matter that much for government outcomes. So we offer two new possibilities in this paper with public service motivation and managerial skill, but really this is just the beginning and we’re hoping to inspire new work in this area.
Matt Grossmann: They’ve shown in other work that these characteristics matter, so they wanted to look at their distribution and determinants.
Julia Payson: In other work together, we focus specifically on identifying the effect of our managerial skill variable on measures of city growth and policy expenditures. And in fact, we find that local leaders that score more highly on this dimension do experience faster city growth in terms of population median, home values and property tax revenues.
But in this particular paper that I’m talking about with you today, we realized we just had this really rich sort of treasure trove of data from these interviews that we conducted and we really just wanted to explore these data descriptively and take this opportunity to paint a portrait about the leaders from these small and mid size cities that so often get overlooked in this research agenda.
Matt Grossmann: Mayors have many high prestige backgrounds, even in small cities.
Julia Payson: We really don’t have much information about the backgrounds, the occupational backgrounds of mayors of smaller sized cities. So we were quite interested to find that the respondents in our sample actually did come from pretty uniformly prestigious previous backgrounds and careers. We had a lot of business people in our sample, a lot of former managers, a lot of lawyers. A lot of mayors had backgrounds in marketing and sales. And in general, the respondents in our sample tended to come from occupations that sort of scored more highly in terms of their prestige than members of the general public, which is interesting because you might think at sort of lower levels of office, we would expect elected officials to sort of resemble more closely their constituents or the public, but if anything, mayors looked more similar to members of Congress.
Matt Grossmann: Payson says they’re also fairly well-educated, but that’s not what matters.
Julia Payson: Both the mayors and the city managers in our sample were more likely than the public to have either a four year college degree or an advanced degree. And there’s sort of a mechanical reason that city managers have these advanced degrees, because in order to pursue that occupation, you typically need that master’s of public administration or master’s of urban planning, but mayors, we were interested to see just how well-educated they were relative to members of the public, relative to members of Congress. It does seem like our political pipeline is leading more educated people to be selected at sort of all levels of office.
And what’s especially interesting is that there’s a growing body of literature showing that actually education doesn’t seem matter that much for governing outcomes. So Nick Carnes and [inaudible 00:09:39] have a nice Journal of Politics piece where they don’t find any effect of leader education on economic growth across countries. There’s no effect in terms of passing more bills, more educated leaders aren’t less corrupt.
So education is becoming sort of increasingly polarized, increasingly associated with partisanship, and something that seems to be true that our leaders are selected on the basis of education, and yet it’s really difficult to nail down the effect of that education on governance outcomes. So there’s I think a little bit of tension here and definitely it’s an area that needs more exploration.
Matt Grossmann: Public service motivation matters a lot.
Julia Payson: The public administration literature has studied this idea of public sector motivation for a long time. We sort of claim that we are introducing this measure, but really we’re just lifting it from a different research agenda and applying it to the case of local politicians.
The basic idea here is that some people are intrinsically motivated by careers in the public sector, and they simply, they like having a public sector job. They don’t care for a super high salary or advancements for promotion that might come from the private sector. And the folks who have tried to operationalize this and study it in the context of public administration typically focus on-
The context of public administration typically focus on bureaucrats. So why are some bureaucrats super high-performing and seem to enjoy their jobs, even despite the fact that the public sector might sort of draw from a lower pool of applicants? And Perry is really the scholar who sort of spearheaded this research agenda and created this index to measure this idea of public sector motivation. So the index is named after him, the Perry Public Service Motivation Index, and the types of questions that get asked to measure this concept are things like “I consider public service to be my civic duty. How much do you agree or disagree with this statement on a scale from one to five?” Another example of a question would be something like “I would prefer seeing public officials do what is best for the whole community, even if it harmed my interests.”
Again, you pose these statements to public officials, allow them to answer how much they agree or disagree. Then you take the average across all these questions and come up with this index, this measure of their public service motivation.
In fact, all the respondents in our sample did score pretty highly. So we restricted our score to range between one and five, and the average score for our respondents was 4.2. The vast majority of the samples scored either four or five. So people, overall, really do seem to be motivated by a career in public sector, which makes perfect sense, given that they’re serving in public office.
I guess one interesting finding would be the leaders who tended to score the most highly on this dimension, so the thing that really differentiated the fives from the fours, were that these leaders tended to emerge in slightly higher poverty municipalities. So in poorer places, it seems like maybe this dimension of public service is especially important because it makes people emerge who want to serve despite potential obstacles in the community in terms of government capacity, for example.
Speaker 1: Payton and [inaudible 00:13:18] also assess managerial skills.
Julia Payson: The areas that we ask about include target setting, performance monitoring, operations and incentives. So basically how do you set goals for your government? How do you assess whether you are on track to meet those goals? Do you actually understand how your government is working, and can you incentivize your staff and department heads to actually move policy in the direction that you want?
The very first question that we always ask is what types of goals or objectives have you set for your city and what are the practical targets related to these goals? Then we ask, how are these goals assigned or delegated down to the individual members of the government and staff?
Then we had a rubric that allowed us to evaluate the answers to these questions. I’ll use an example of homelessness to sort of illustrate how we thought about responses. A lot of respondents in our sample indicated that homelessness was a major policy priority for them and for their city.
Someone who got a lower score on this dimension of goal-setting might just say, “Oh, yeah, we want to address homelessness,” but they don’t have any practical targets. They don’t define what they mean when they say they want to do this. There’s no way to assess if they are on track to actually make a difference.
The folks who scored really highly on this type of question might say something like, “Okay, we want to address homelessness. We’re going to do this through two practical targets. We want to increase our teaching of financial literacy to people who are connected with homeless services, and we want to increase the rate of placing folks into entry-level work when they come to interface with our various clinics.” This person also had sort of specific goals for the numbers of each of these targets and discussed the various sort of one-on-one meetings that they were having with department leaders and different staff in the government to address this issue.
So for each question we would go through, we would sort of ask the respondent to tell us a little bit about how they were approaching the task of governing. Then we would assign scores sort of based on how detailed the answers were and how much they reflect the best practices of organizational management. These best practices are those that are established by the public administration and organizational theory literature.
Speaker 1: They found that managerial skill mattered for awareness of racial inequities.
Julia Payson: Our managerial skill measure correlated with mentioning racial justice as an important city goal, and we think this is sort of an interesting and non-obvious finding that we’re not entirely sure what to make of.
Going back to the text of the interviews, I pulled out one example of a high-scoring mayor who had to say this about her goals for her time in office, “As we talk about equity and what that means as a city, it’s being able to use data to measure progress. We measure, for example, our own hiring, not just what is the ethnic and racial makeup of our workforce, but what is the racial and ethnic makeup of our payroll.” This person that we interviewed was both very concerned with making sure that her government ran efficiently, and she scored very highly on all of our dimensions of managerial competence, but she really was also very concerned about racial justice. We think that one of the key components of our managerial skill dimension is the ability to communicate with different departments, different staff members and different stakeholders in the community.
So I think it’s sort of still an open empirical question which traits of local leaders are going to matter the most for addressing racial inequality and social justice. Someone like Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana is a mayor that would have likely scored very highly on our managerial competent scale, but he received a lot of criticism from his time as mayor from the African American community in terms of his efforts to sort of desegregate South Bend and address poverty.
So, it’s a little unclear whether managerial skill is enough to translate from dialogue to action. Certainly someone who only engages in easy dialogue or someone who only is sort of descriptively representative of a community isn’t necessarily going to improve things. I think there’s a sense that we also need to take this hard action and make a real sustained investment in communities of color.
Speaker 1: [inaudible 00:18:00] and Spencer Piston took a deep dive into perceptions of racial inequality.
Luisa Godinez Puig: So we asked them a series of questions that tackle these general sort of theoretical ideas that we have, and one of them is whether they think there is racial discrimination in their cities. We also want to know whether they receive equal access to public and economic goods across different groups. Then we also want to know whether mayors think that the quality of public services is equal across different groups. Finally, we want to know a little bit more about the types of solutions that mayors propose to these inequities that they observe.
Speaker 1: But they found that mayors mostly offered symbolic dialogue.
Luisa Godinez Puig: When we were doing this study, we asked mayors who acknowledged discrimination or unequal treatment between white people and people of color to tell us what the single best thing they had done or were planning to do to tackle these inequalities was, right? And so we coded these open-ended answers in two different ways. First, we wanted to divide these answers on whether mayors offered a specific policy program to address inequalities or not. And then we wanted to further code these answers on whether the solutions offered were dialogue-based or structural. These dialogue solutions are those that are intended to spur conversation about race and do nothing more. So this tells us whether mayors are actually providing soft policies or policies that require substantial structural changes.
So let me give you an example. A mayor told us that they started implementing dialogue on race in their department. So while this policy is not meaningless, it is far from a real solution to the deep inequalities that exist in cities today, right?
So let me, grosso modo, tell you what we found when coding these answers in that way. We found that around 80% of mayors who believed that there was racial discrimination in their cities offered a policy solution. Similarly, around 70% of mayors who believe that there was racial inequality in access and quality of services offered a policy solution. This, of course, sounds great, right? But, unfortunately, from those answers around 50% of mayors only offered dialogue-based solutions and not structural sound solutions.
So, for instance, we had a mayor telling us that they had a Muslim police officer that they took everywhere and that was [inaudible 00:20:40] solution. Another mayor told us that they had an inclusivity statement that they reaffirmed every year. Another example is a mayor who told us that they had a sign at the entrance of their city that said “Welcome, everybody. We are an inclusive community.” So remember, this is what mayors are saying is the single best thing they have done to address these deep inequities. So mayors were actually more likely to offer dialogue-based solutions for black people relative to Latinx people. So we have, for instance, a mayor who told us that they were doing all sorts of policies bridging language barriers for Hispanics and other immigrants, but that there was less they could do about old-fashioned racial attitudes towards blacks.
Then we also had another set of mayors who did not even identify a policy solution at all because they said that racial bias and inequality was completely outside of their control. And, again, we did have some mayors that proposed solutions that involved meaningful steps and structural sound ways to addressing these inequalities, but also more than 50% that didn’t. We did observe that they provided more structural solutions when talking about other groups, such as for instance, high school dropouts.
Matt Grossmann: [Pooch 00:22:06] thinks mayors could address racial inequality if they perceived it.
Luisa Godinez Puig: We think that mayors have the power to influence racial inequalities in their cities. And too, we think that they are influenced by their own perceptions.
And so the different characteristics that they have as individuals, as well as the different characteristics of their cities that they govern will influence these perceptions. So on the one hand, when we think about the characteristics of the cities that they live in, we know that racial inequalities in cities are important and big. And so we think that when these racial inequalities will be bigger, we expect mayors to be more aware of them, especially those mayors that are aware of the socioeconomic and political situation of the cities that they govern. We also expect, for instance, that the diversity of the population of the city that they govern will affect how they view inequalities with perhaps…
And the reason why we think this is because there is research suggesting that black people and white people have different views of racial inequality and racial discrimination. They have large budgets that they can spend every year. They do influence a wide range of public goods, and especially who has access to those public goods. And that can be parks, it can be roads, public spaces, the collection of garbage.
They also appoint public servants to local government. So they have access to who will work in that local government. They also have, for instance, a say in who receives social welfare. Recently we can think about the fact that they oversaw the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination structure, they also had a say on where free COVID testing sites were located in their cities. They have a say in police hiring and structure, and they influence a lot the small and medium size businesses in their cities, and whether they have government contracts or other aid at their disposal.
Matt Grossmann: She says partisanship was the biggest determinant mayor’s views.
Luisa Godinez Puig: We found that partisanship is a powerful predictor of mayor’s attitudes concerning discrimination. So Democrats were significantly more likely to perceive discrimination against Blacks and Muslims in their own cities, and significantly less likely to see discrimination against White people.
We did not find a significant relationship between mayoral race and their perceptions, which was counterintuitive to what we expected. However, I think we need to take these results with a pinch of salt because our sample only had a small percentage of non-white mayors.
And when it came to the circumstances of the cities that they work in, mayors did appear to be somewhat responsive to the context of their communities. When the Black median household income, for instance, was closer to that of White, mayors perceived less discrimination against Black folks.
And mayors of cities with greater income equality between Blacks and Whites were less likely to report discrimination too. So we can probably expect that rising inequality may correlate with mayors’ perceptions of racial inequality. Surprisingly, and again, against our initial intuitions, we did not find a relationship between the diversity of the city’s population and the perceptions of mayors on discrimination against Black people, or immigrants.
Matt Grossmann: Payson found something similar; liberal mayors were more educated and skilled.
Julia Payson: We found that the left leaning individuals in our sample were more highly educated, more motivated by public service, and came from more prestigious previous occupations, and have higher managerial scores. So across all four dimensions of leadership that we were studying, we found a positive association between those values and identifying with the political left.
And we think in part that this reflects sort of just a strong and growing trend, both in the US and other countries, for highly-educated adults to adopt more liberal or left leading views. So higher education often tends to advance liberal ideas of tolerance and gender and racial equality.
And we also sort of have this emerging educated class of scientists, and managers, and economists who tend to value expert knowledge and who prefer appeals to science rather than to a traditional authority. And that sort of goes along with believing that if government is administered effectively, it can address social ills.
And this stands in contrast to less-educated individuals who are more likely to distrust and be suspicious of government elites in Washington, or in city hall. And that can lead them to embrace sort of a small government outlook, more traditionally espoused by conservatives.
Matt Grossmann: Pooch sees complementarity in the two efforts.
Luisa Godinez Puig: I think knowing more about mayor’s public service motivation and general skill sounds fantastic. Of course, the main issue with that is that measuring this type of information is a little harder. We specifically have to create a survey investigating these specific characteristics.
That said, I do think that the more we know about which types of mayors perceive racial inequalities, and which types of mayors offer specific solutions that will last long and actually have an impact, the more we will understand why or why not these inequalities are perpetrated in different areas.
Again, it is hard to know exactly how much background matters compared to skill in our specific project and in abstract, because I think Julia Payson’s great study focuses on small to midsize cities.
And so our focuses on mid to large size cities. So perhaps what we really need to do as a continuation to this project is to join efforts with Julia and Maria [Carrari 00:28:33] and test this together because I definitely think there is something there that might uncover more about how these racial inequities are sustained over time.
Matt Grossmann: The Menino survey is part of a broader effort to understand mayor’s views with more discussion of racial issues in subsequent surveys.
Luisa Godinez Puig: The Menino Survey of Mayors is a survey that is implemented by The Initiative On Cities at Boston University, and that has existed since 2014 in a yearly way. Every summer, the team at the IOC interviews mayors in person or over the phone to talk about the most pressing challenges, and priorities, and expectation for the future of an American cities during that specific year.
And so while some questions and modules are repeated over time, most questions are specific to that year. And so for this specific project that we worked on, we used data from the 2016 and 2017 years. And in terms of how the questions are we used for this project relate to the general Menino Survey, I found most interesting the results from the 2020 Menino Survey Of Mayors, the questions that they had on racial disparities and police use of force, because they were very reminiscent of what we observed for this project in 2016 and 2017.
And so I observed similar dynamics with respect to mayoral partisanship, for instance, and similar dynamics when it came to the types of solutions that mayors offered to tackle police use of violence.
And so in 2020, they found that mayors did see deep racial disparities in local policing practices, but they were mixed in saying whether it translated into mistrust of the police.
We saw that a majority of mayors believed that protests against police violence during summer of 2020 were forces of positive change, but Republicans were more likely than Democrats to view these negatively.
Almost 40% of mayors surveyed in 2020 did not believe that police violence was a problem in their communities. And again, with Republicans more likely to have this view. On the other hand, very few mayors supported shrinking their police budget. And the majority of them offered smaller reforms to their police department rather than endorsing broader restructuring to tackle these main issues.
Matt Grossmann: Payson directly compared the surveys on one measure, finding that mayors were mostly concerned with quality of life goals.
Julia Payson: We tried to classify their goals according to this typology established by the Menino Survey. So there’s eight goal categories that the Menino Survey established, the first is financial management. So these have to do with issues of budgeting, or state and federal funding.
The second is economic development, so attracting business and managing growth.
The third is education.
Fourth is governance.
Fifth is socioeconomic issues, so issues related to things like poverty, housing affordability, or racial and income inequality.
And then the last categories are infrastructure, quality of life, and relationships with other levels of government.
So we went through and had both an RA and one of us code each of the goals that the leaders in our sample mentioned. And it turns out that quality of life goals were by far the most common thing that leaders mentioned in their interviews, followed by governance, and then financial management.
And we were a little surprised that most of our measures of leader quality didn’t actually correlate with the stated goals. So we think this probably reflects constraints on the types of issues that are facing specific cities. But one really interesting correlation that did stand out is that respondents who scored more highly on our managerial skill index were more likely to mention a goal related to socioeconomic justice or socioeconomic issues. So this is something that we are definitely planning to follow up with on a future paper.
Interestingly in the Menino survey, mayors were much more likely to mention economic development. They were also very likely to mention quality of life, which again is what the folks in our survey stressed. But economic development tended to be more important for the mayors of large cities compared to the mayors and managers in our sample, which again, reflect smaller and more midsize cities.
Matt Grossmann: This year, Payson sees some signs that mayoral candidates are more focused on competence.
Julia Payson: It does seem like mayoral candidates have been trying their best, especially in recent years, to signal their competence by invoking things like their prior expertise in the business sector, or by talking about their background in community organizing or in management. And I think there’s a growing recognition of how important overseeing and running local government can be.
Mayor Pete was able to generate a pretty serious presidential run based on his time serving as mayor of South Bend. And there has been a growing push in recent decades to using more data and using performance tracking to assess how local governments are operating. And you see this across city hall in general. Everything from apps that allow residents to request services or bring attention to potholes that need filling via apps on their phones, to police departments being more transparent in the public data that they post to data on public pensions being made available to the public.
So I think across all these indicators, there is an interest by the public in learning about how their cities are doing. I think in the absence of the more partisan battles that play out in all but the largest cities, this is a pretty promising avenue for voters to look towards as they’re trying to make their decisions. And I think there’s recognition on behalf of candidates and incumbents that there is this growing public demand. So I suspect that this move towards valuing managerial skill, towards valuing performance monitoring, is going to continue to increase. It will be interesting to see how these trends disperse across cities.
Matt Grossmann: [Pooch 00:35:31] is focused on important issues of segregation in this year’s mayoral elections.
Luisa Godinez Puig: So I think this is a very unique year for mayoral elections in that we are facing many pressing and urgent challenges at the local level, right? So we have issues such as the pandemic, police use of violence, racial wealth gap, the recovery of small businesses, housing and gentrification, homelessness, and I could just go on and on, right?
I think there is one issue that I am particularly interested in following right now that is playing a big role in the mayoral election in Atlanta. And something that is at stake in that election is related to a succession movement that is being pushed by a predominantly white and affluent neighborhood of the city that wants to separate and create its own government. And so by doing that, they would truly devastate the city of Atlanta in a number of ways. I know that this is a key determinant of this election, and I am very interested in knowing a little bit more about how that will play because I have another part of my work that looks at the politics behind city formation and how it relates to race. I find that cities are often founded in racial terms, right? So I’m very curious to know what this election will look like and then whoever gets elected will influence what happens with this movement.
Matt Grossmann: She’s hoping that increasing diversity may change these politics.
Luisa Godinez Puig: But I do think the politics of race in mayoral elections are changing with, hopefully and as we’re seeing, more racial representation among candidates on the one hand, but also on the other hand, I think a heightened role to the importance of bridging racial inequalities in the others. I guess we have to wait and see how it will play out in the next coming days and even years. But I do hope that this will change some of the dynamics that we observe in our paper and certainly I think it might.
Matt Grossmann: But she sees some dangers of racial backlash, even in the smallest steps to address inequality.
Luisa Godinez Puig: Racism is still, unfortunately, very prevalent and because of it, an increase in protests and certain small, modest efforts to implement policy to address inequalities also implies a danger of racial backlash. And based on some of the answers from the 2020 Menino survey that I was talking about, it would seem that mayors and potentially citizens are still very reticent to admit some of these inequalities. So the survey of last year was done in the midst of these protests that erupted in cities after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin. Still then, we observed that mayors were especially reticent to acknowledge racial inequalities and to provide solutions for addressing these very enduring injustices with structural policy solutions. And so this year Menino survey also included a few question on addressing the racial wealth gap. And I’m very interested to looking at the results by the end of the year, to know a little bit more about these trends. But I am not very optimistic in the sense that I do think that racism is very latent, unfortunately.
Matt Grossmann: Payson says there does not have to be a trade off between addressing issues through representation and skills.
Julia Payson: Historically, there has definitely been this trade off where there’s a perception that the most technocratic, managerial, skilled mayors are going to favor the interest of business elites. The idea of putting local government in the hands of experts goes back to the progressive era. Historically there has been a lot of tension between more democratic, descriptively representative elected officials, versus those who do know how to effectively administer the bureaucracy and who are good at overseeing economic growth.
I guess part of the way that this tension might be resolved is if we view the idea of managerial skill as being a trait that can be fostered, it’s not some innate or fixed trait. Then we have the possibility for descriptive representation, lots of good local democracy, getting communities and stakeholders involved, but also reaping the benefits of good organization.
And in fact, a few of the highest scoring mayors and managers, in our sample, in terms of their managerial skill were also very progressive. They were very committed to social justice and progressive economic policies. They viewed the effective management of government as a way to achieve that. I don’t think there has to be a monopoly on technocratic skill by elected leaders on the right. I think that the ability to set goals and effectively get things done can be used by folks of all ideological stripes. And in fact, it seems like there’s a growing recognition by Progressives that this can be effective.
Matt Grossmann: Pooch is now going back to the beginning, looking at race in the formation of governments.
Luisa Godinez Puig: An issue that I’m extremely interested about right now is the role that race plays in the incorporation of municipal governments. And so now I’m thinking a lot about how, from its inception, cities are built on racial grounds. In this new project that I’m working on, I interview various mayors council members, state legislators, and other actors of these municipal incorporation movements to know more about the politics behind the formation of new government. And to also know more about how the creation of new cities can have consequences on certainly the new communities, but also those communities that are left behind, which are often communities predominantly with black population or high populations of other minorities.
Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The Science of Politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen Center and part of the Democracy Group Network. I’m your host, Matt Grossman.
If you like this discussion, you should check out our previous episode, Multiracial Electoral Coalitions for Minority Candidates: How Not in My Backyard Politics Keeps Housing Costs High, How Rich White Residents and Interest Groups Rule Local Politics, How Public Policy Intentionally Segregated American Homeowners and How to Change American’s Views of Inequality.
Thanks to Julia Payson and Luisa Cardenas Pooch for joining me. Please check out, What Makes a Good Local Leader and The Pictures in Their Heads, and then listen in next time.
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