Time for new mayors to use lessons they learned from dad
Written by Michael Lewis on November 14, 2017
Miami-Dade’s iconic cities have just elected new mayors who got head starts learning the job: each attorney is son of a mayor of his city and has gained valued lessons about municipal leadership from a mayor-attorney father.
In a profile in this issue Francis Suarez talks of his respect for former Miami mayor and now County Commissioner Xavier Suarez. Doubtless Dan Gelber has similar feelings about former judge and Miami Beach Mayor Seymour Gelber.
Still, both new mayors are their own men and will rise or fall on their own performance. Neither will be a copy of dad.
They also govern in different times from their father’s, grappling with altered challenges.
Each new mayor must handle specific irritants as well as pervasive challenges of leadership in a government setting at a time that national leadership falters. How they undertake their roles locally in this new federal era of invective will be vital.
Specifically, both new mayors need to lead on climate change, as well as on mobility within their own community and between communities. These challenges pervade this region, but both transportation and sea level rise are particularly pressing in these two cities.
Miami Beach under Philip Levine and Miami under Tomás Regalado both prioritized sea level rise, but neither predecessor mayor came close to finishing the job. Mayors Gelber and Suarez can be expected to get out in front. We would hope their steps would be not more studies but more action. This issue is not going to either go away or be “solved” – it’s a long-term battle.
As for transportation, Mayor Gelber must decide whether to follow Mr. Levine’s model of going it alone or to get fully involved with linking the county in better mobility. Miami Beach’s traffic is more congested than ever. A trolley system just completed is a very good step, but a small one. Mr. Gelber should think bigger, and more collegially with the mainland.
Mr. Suarez as city commissioner and on the county’s Transportation Planning Organization has actively sought county-wide mobility. As mayor he will need to get in front of his city and seek concrete, broad-range actions on several fronts at once.
Both mayors should also take on massive development. Local government seems to judge each project as though it was the only building about to rise.
In the core of Miami, new tower after new tower dumps cars onto congested streets in ever-growing streams. What if developments were approved only as transportation and parking improvements or changes in transit use, carpooling and lifestyle were removing cars from the roads, so that the total remains about finite? Mayors are the people who can produce such radical change.
Each new mayor also will confront unique challenges.
In Mayor Gelber’s case, one is to get his city off of square one in creating hotel rooms for an upgrading city convention center. A large adjoining hotel would lure prime conventions. A small hotel might reduce traffic and wouldn’t compete with existing hotels. Yet a size compromise would fail both sides, neither luring conventions nor appeasing competitors. The mayor will have to lead.
Mayor Suarez has his own challenges. Will he promote or roadblock a “signature” bridge downtown? Will he push to lease city-owned waterfront, conserve patrimony or let nature take its course? Will he promote or pull back on efforts to develop a city office building and pull cash out of the present site on the Miami River, or let the city commission take the lead? Will he lead on a true park in Bicentennial Park? The challenges go on.
Each issue comes back to a single attribute: leadership. Each city is structured so that a professional manager runs day-to-day operations, leaving to the mayor the vital job of leading.
The mayor gets the bully pulpit, the right to address government, the voters, the residents and the world in the name of an iconic city.
The whole world knows of Miami and Miami Beach. The mayor of each can play on a stage as broad as he likes, as Philip Levine is showing right now in a gubernatorial run based on having run Miami Beach.
By contrast, Carlos Giménez is mayor of the far more powerful Miami-Dade County, but outside of Florida both Miami and Miami Beach dwarf the county’s image. The cities are the icons, and their mayors hold bully pulpits.
From such a pulpit should issue calls for actions, large and small, and the even larger visualization in words of what a Miami or a Miami Beach should stand for. All cities aren’t the same, and other than a few platitudes their aims shouldn’t be the same, either.
Is Miami Beach a party town? A business hub? A vacation getaway? A magnet for the globe? A wonderful hometown? A retirement site for the rich? A new tech or finance center? Something else?
You could ask similar questions about Miami.
One thing is certain: if we choose all the attributes as correct answers, we become nothing to anybody.
Everyone can play in deciding what we are or want to be. But the mayor gets to lead the band – and he should lead it. In everything from economic development to quality of life, the mayor is responsible to not only voice an opinion but then lead to achieve measurable gains.
Mayors Gelber and Suarez learned lessons of true leadership long ago at home. Now it’s their turn to call on their lessons to the benefit of their cities. The voters who chose them should demand nothing less.