(Image by CoreyFord/Thinkstock)
At the end of the wonderful Billy Wilder film “Some Like It Hot,” Tony Curtis rides off into the moonrise in a speedboat alongside Marilyn Monroe. Joe E. Brown is at the wheel and Jack Lemmon beside him trying to continue the deception that he’s a woman. Brown’s character, Osgood, is stone in love with Lemmon, or rather, the she that he’s pretending to be. Watch this. I’ll wait.
“Well, nobody’s perfect!”
I thought of this clip when considering Richmond’s mayoral race and the candidates now on the hustings. I mean, these days, electoral politics seems more and more like the choice presented by those Mounds and Almond Joy commercials.
If you’ll indulge me …
The Richmond electorate — that is, you, if you’re reading this and live within our storied precincts — should want a real full-time mayor (the job pays $125,000 per year), not a minister, not a professor and not a pal. You want that, go join a quilting bee or a book club or a PokémonGO society.
We should demand that our mayor come with serious, impressive bona fides. [WARNING: a little language.]
I contend that voters mostly don’t really know what they should require in a local elected official, but you sure know what you like. But knowing what you like and what you should get aren’t the same thing. And if the last two holders of the city’s highest office are any indication, what you might like may not always be good for you.
Now, a friend of mine, when hearing me tick off the items on my mayoral wish list said, “Harry, what are you looking for? The mayoral unicorn?”
To paraphrase the guy in that HBO commercial, “Why, yes. Yes, I am.”
This election is about an individual possessing the fortitude and clarity of vision and reason to run this city at the most important juncture of its post-1977 history. I might even crank it back to 1947, when the city charter underwent overhaul from the mayor-at-large to the council-manager form.
Herewith, 10 qualifications for mayor. I want you to print and then tape them to your bathroom mirror or your refrigerator to look at every day until November.
What Becomes a Mayor Most?
- The candidate not long ago held elected office and completed the term without scandal, made demonstrable accomplishments and finished to the general approval of the constituents.
- The candidate in prior work history managed a bureaucracy of around 8,000 people. This is the approximate number of Richmond city employees, including the schools and emergency personnel. If not, then the candidate should have the brains and self-knowledge to find a chief administrative officer and chief of staff who can stop the mad carousel of revolving department chiefs who aren’t from here and don’t know anything either about the city or City Hall culture, and worse, don’t really seem to care. These officials might actually be smarter in these matters than the mayor and thus better able to advise amid fluid conditions.
- The candidate ought to either have come from Richmond or lived here for such a time as to know the place well. The candidate, however, should not be wrapped up in past squabbles and tit-for-tat associations.
- The candidate should have the talent for regional diplomacy. We’re surrounded by counties that are wealthier and more populous. You can’t make someone love you. But at least let’s try to be nice and talk with each other more about the issues pressing in on all of us.
- The mayor shouldn’t get chauffeured around like a banana republic generalissimo in a hulking, tinted-glass SUV by members of a mirror-sunglassed security detail. The mayor should be seen walking in the streets. On the bus. Riding a bike (with a helmet and lights). We need less executive display and more “How’m I doin?”
- We shouldn’t see too much of the mayor for about half the term because this individual should drag a cot into the office and not leave until understanding the city’s financial mess well enough to explain the predicament to us in clear and concise language. Having said that, the mayor still needs to run the place. Will he or she practice Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)? So sayeth The Economist (hence the English spelling): “MBWA has been found to be particularly helpful when an organisation is under exceptional stress; for instance, after a significant corporate reorganisation has been announced or when a takeover is about to take place. It is no good practising MBWA for the first time on such occasions, however. It has to have become a regular practice before the stress arises.”
- Will the candidate as mayor possess the fortitude to tackle City Hall’s culture of favoritism, nepotism and opportunism?
- The candidate as mayor should regard the arts and culture as a significant natural resource for encouragement either by getting out of its way or shepherding along its progress. Will the candidate as mayor regard our shared history both as worthy of preservation and examination and regard its dissemination as a moral responsibility?
- Can this candidate as mayor work on getting the left and right hands of the city working together when it comes to startup small and medium-sized businesses seeking their permissions, inspections and assistance with navigating the regulatory rigamarole?
- The candidate as mayor should not be seduced by the siren song of developers, either from here or imported, and their over-inflated financial predictions and attendance possibilities. Let the mayor not be blinded by their shiny shoes or deluded by their PowerPoint presentations. The mayor ought not be as eager to slap the name of a corporation or an out-of-towner on a building or a place, because if you lose the designation that connects to our city's people and history, one more chunk of Richmond's individuality gets brushed away. While you've indulged in our micro-breweries, fine dining, symphony, ballet, museums and theatrical choices, a major reason people live here and move from elsewhere that may have slipped by you is that we aren't like everyplace else. The candidate as mayor needs to hold this quality, nettlesome as it can sometimes be, with a certain civic reverence.
Perhaps my mayoral unicorn won't gallop in from the glade where he or she resides in this electoral cycle. But I keep hoping. One day, we'll get the candidate who gets us and when elected, can start the job, day one, with our confidence. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I really would rather just have it said that I possess realistic expectations. Why must it be so idealistic to desire a mayor who comes to the job with just one agenda: to represent the people and the people's government? That the person isn't seeking the office because it sounds cool, or can further a vested interest, but rather possesses a genuine affection for Richmond and wants to place the city on steady footing. Meanwhile, here's this musical interlude: