With political dysfunction and cynicism at historic highs in the U.S., it is reassuring to observe a politician who demonstrates the capacity for effective, unifying leadership. City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez recently accomplished the remarkable feat of capturing 85% of the vote in a campaign that was inclusive, substantive, and tireless. In just his first month as Mayor, Suarez already has established a vision, agenda and approach to leadership that will serve Miami well and, I predict, earn national attention.
A nation frustrated with the rank partisanship and churlish behavior in Washington D.C. is, once again, turning to the mayors of our major cities to represent the best of us and find common ground in solving tough problems. Both major political parties are responsible for the nasty rhetoric and pitchfork battles in Washington. Contributing to this fiasco has been redistricting efforts that have dramatically increased the number of “safe seats”, meaning those elected officials are only accountable to a vocal minority of voters concentrated in one political party.
But a very important point is lost in this depressing, chronic scenario of straight party line votes and partisan nastiness in Congress; and it offers promise that our ailing body politic can be made healthy again.
Public opinion polls, for years now, have shown that a majority of Americans, and in many cases a super-majority of Americans, agree on a surprisingly wide range of critical domestic and foreign policy issues. The significance of this can hardly be overstated. On many so-called hot button issues – including healthcare, taxes, immigration, gun rights and gun safety, the role of faith in society, climate change, education, LGBTQ rights, abortion, foreign policy, poverty reduction, transportation – a majority of Americans are often on common ground, with nuanced positions usually encompassing elements of both major parties. Not all Americans, to be sure, but polls show comfortably more than 50%, and on some issues as many as 2/3rds of voters gravitate to a series of positions, that if combined, could constitute a powerful, effective agenda to strengthen our nation.
This is where the mayors come in. Typically elected in nonpartisan campaigns, they are focused by necessity on crafting solutions to problems that will earn a majority of their residents’ support. For the most part, they neither have the time nor inclination to score rhetorical points. Mayors define success differently. They have services to deliver, quality of life to protect, streets and communities to keep safe, jobs to create, the vulnerable to assist, and infrastructure to build and maintain. Suarez, a Republican who presides over a city whose registered voters are 45% Democratic, 24% Republican and 31% unaffiliated, cannot afford to indulge partisan gamesmanship.
Mayors see the impact of their decisions, their successes and failures, every day. And they are closer to the ground. In his inaugural address, Mayor Suarez shared his cell phone number and invited anybody to call him. This is not a gimmick. As a two-term city commissioner, he has shared his number publicly for years. Suarez evinces a genuine personal connection to an impressive breadth of constituencies including the elderly, low- and moderate-income families, individuals with disabilities, neighborhood advocates, small businesses, technologists and entrepreneurs
Nor are the issues mayors such as Francis Suarez tackle merely “parochial” versus the national agenda of their congressional counterparts. Among the top priorities Suarez addressed in his inaugural remarks are national and international in scope and cross partisan lines – transportation and mobility, public safety, the role of technology, poverty, homelessness and climate change.
Suarez has immersed himself in the necessary ingredients of effective leadership. Born and raised in politics observing his father, former Mayor of Miami and current Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, and with eight successful years as a City Commissioner, Francis began well in advance of his election to meticulously and strategically build a broad coalition to implement his agenda. This bodes well for his resiliency when the inevitable challenges and setbacks arise.
In his fascinating and insightful book Miami: City of the Future, T. D. Allman writes that “every major national transformation the United States is undergoing… has converged on Miami. How Miami solves, or fails to solve, those problems cannot but provide clues as to how the whole country will cope with the massive changes – full of both peril and opportunity – that are transforming the lives of us all.”
That was true in 1987, when the book was first published and Francis Suarez was 10 years of age. It remains true today. The talented and compassionate new Mayor of Miami, who has energized a politically, ethnically, economically and racially diverse City, is among our nation’s best and most hopeful examples of the politics of the future.
Shepard Nevel, born and raised in Miami, is CEO of a 145-year-old human services organization in Denver, former CEO of a technology and education company, and was senior policy advisor to former Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb. Prior to relocating to Denver, he served as an Assistant County Attorney for Miami-Dade County.