Freakonomics Radio has a great episode on the dynamics of mayors and their ability (compared to governors and presidents) to directly and immediately impact the lives of citizens, primarily because they deal with tactical issues with relatively less political obstacles.
The segment, “If Mayors Ruled the World,” features mayors Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles), Toni Harp (New Haven), Richard Berry (Albuquerque) and Marty Walsh (Boston), and riffs off a new book by the same name, “If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities” by Benjamin Barber.
One interesting anecdote is that a significant number of mayors start out as legislators, and very few (only three) have gone on to become presidents, the theory being that the mindset for a successful national political campaign takes bigger-picture vision, whereas being the executive of a city is entails mostly operations, tactical thinking and execution.
DUBNER: You’d think that the traits make someone successful as a mayor would be incredibly valuable, however, at a state or federal level. Being an executive getting things done, understanding that you are going to tick off certain constituencies in order to serve the greater good. And yet, it seems like when we look at this moment in time at least in the U.S. at state and federal governance we see on one hand people who love to shout at their enemies across the aisle, but it’s not like they are shouting in service of great accomplishment, are they? It seems like if you had to measure what’s getting done on a daily basis I’d think that most mayors are getting a whole lot more done than most governors and federal officials, yeah?
SMITH: Yeah, but this is probably another reason why mayors, particularly in New York City, haven’t gone on to higher office historically, is that the conditions that allow them to be autocratic here don’t exist at the national level. It is very much more at the national level about building some, you hope, sense of compromise. You know you’ve got to work with the Senate and the House in a way that doesn’t exist at the local level. And so to Obama’s frustration, obviously, he’d like to operate more like a mayor, more sort of unilaterally. And so maybe that’s the quality that does not transfer very well.