13 Secrets Mayors Won’t Tell You

We talked to your local mayors to get the insider juice on the inner workings of politics, taxes, and the best and worst parts of their job.

mayors
Serge Bloch for Reader’s Digest

1. You really can change our minds. A well-informed citizen who gets up and speaks at a meeting on an issue can be very compelling. But you have to be well-informed. And you have to do it in a respectful manner. Don’t get up and start calling us a bunch of bozos or berate us.

2. In small cities, residents are always telling us they want certain stores and restaurants to come to town. Well, so do I. But I can’t wave a magic wand and suddenly make an Olive Garden appear. It’s a free country, and retailers get to choose where they want to locate.

3. The politics can be very petty and sometimes mean-spirited. The council wasn’t happy when I got elected, so the first vote they took was to take the reserved parking space away from me. It was the height of immaturity.

4. It’s easier to pass a $20 million water-treatment project than it is to spend a few thousand dollars on new laptop computers for the police squad cars. People’s eyes tend to glaze over when you review the details of a big project. But small costs are a lot easier to grasp, so people jump all over them and the money.

5. In most cities, whether you elect a Republican or Democrat makes very little difference. Most of our responsibilities—ensuring the streets are plowed, the parks are in good condition, and the library stays open—are nuts-and-bolts issues, and there’s no partisanship in them. 6 I’m not as powerful as you think. If your town has a council-manager form of government, I don’t actually run your city—the city manager does. And most policy decisions come down to a vote from the full council. All I can do is lead them in the right direction.

6. I’m not as powerful as you think. If your town has a council-manager form of government, I don’t actually run your city; the city manager does. And most policy decisions come down to a vote from the full council. All I can do is lead them in the right direction.

7. People are always surprised when they see me out grocery shopping. They’ll say, “Oh, you do your own shopping?” Well, what do you think? I’m just a regular guy who cares about the community.

8. One of my favorite moments was when we had a shelter open because we had houses without power and heat. One family was really worrying about the dog they’d left at home, but the public works department wasn’t letting any cars on the road. So I said, “Hop in,” and I drove them up to their house. They were able to take their dog back to the shelter, and they were so appreciative.

9. If you have an idea, bring it to me. The cool thing about being mayor is that, unlike at the state and national levels, you can make a decision and often see concrete results.

10. When it comes down to it, most people fear change. Many projects that people hate at first—the ones they complain loudest about—end up being much loved after they’re built. Some of our most controversial projects are now icons that everyone in the city is proud of.

11. We never tell residents that the mayor is on vacation. Even when I really am on vacation, my staff will shut my office door and simply say the mayor is unavailable.

12. Taxes are always too high. No matter where I go or whom I talk to, that’s the first thing people say. The second thing they do is list all the things we need. But those things cost money.

13. In some states, we can legally marry people. That’s a lot of fun, one of the best perks of the job.
Sources: Andy Berke, mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee; Alex Morse, mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts; Alex Torpey, mayor of South Orange, New Jersey; Don Ness, mayor of Duluth, Minnesota; Richard Martin, former mayor of Sarasota, Florida; Gary C. Smith, former mayor of Galesburg, Illinois; Maria Harkey, former mayor of West Milford, New Jersey

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