Who needs a mayor?
London elected a new mayor in May, a conservative member of Parliament named Boris Johnson. He replaced Ken Livingston, reportedly an old school socialist, who had held the office since 2000. Despite their political differences, Johnson and Livingston are members of possibly the city’s most exclusive club: London mayors.
How many mayors has London elected in its 2,000 year history? Would you believe two? A British journalist credited Tony Blair for creating the position eight years ago, writing that “the one thing politicians will always vote for is more politics.” The journalist claimed that the mayor’s position was invented “without ever really thinking what it was a mayor would do.”
And, therein lies the problem. If the London mayor’s position is not cut out of whole cloth — as it is here — then performance and expectations will be limited. Even when Rabbit Hash, Ky., elected a black lab as mayor, he worked tirelessly throughout his career. Mayor Junior Cochran was the spokesdog for the Northern Kentucky Women’s Crisis Center Protection Program and helped raise money at benefits for the city by manning kissing booths. Make no mistake, Mayor Cochran was a politician who won votes using similar tactics as his two-legged counterparts, shaking paws and licking babies.
The residents of Lajitas, Texas, also found a good reason to elect Clay Henry, a beer-drinking goat, as their mayor in 1986. Mayor Henry was the main tourist attraction for many travelers, who often brought a brew or two to share with their host.
Besides a few dogs and an occasional dud, America’s mayors do not have the luxury of the low-profile job of London’s top executive, whose influence is nominal. But, a public job without public support is dangerous, something Johnson must address because taxpayers are calling for the elimination of his position, claiming that no one would notice any difference in the way the city operates.
The same cannot be said of America’s mayors — even though some face individual problems — because few doubt the viability of the position. Our mayors are leaders locally and nationally in areas such as health care, housing, the environment and education. And, in the face of disaster, the mayor can be the lifeline to survival. For example, when the Navy shuttered its base in Long Beach, Calif., in 2002, Mayor Beverly O’Neill helped transform her city into a thriving tourist destination. Later, O’Neill rescued her community from a projected $102 million budget shortfall.
London’s first mayor was credited with creating a St. Patrick’s Day Parade and grants for local clubs and societies, referred to as “harmless good deeds” by the journalist. However, as any American mayor could tell you, being the city’s top dog is more than shaking a few paws and licking a few babies.