Looking for a “good news” story during a bad news time? How about two Mayors, from two Parties, united by one mission, one cause, one fight?
As much as the courage of health care workers deserves our praise, COVID-afflicted families our empathy, and the nation’s Governors our appreciation, many of America’s Mayors are showing the kind of tenacity that generates more headway if fewer headlines.
It is in the cities where politics gives way to purpose, posturing concedes to principle, and solutions are crafted by leaders who trade on trust and invoke a pronoun too often neglected in public discourse today: “we.”
Among the more than 1400 Mayors representing towns and cities today with more than 30,000 residents, two of the best hail from Florida — one a Republican, one a Democrat. Yet when it comes to defending their cities against the peril of a pandemic these two Mayors quickly eschew party and ideology in urgent pursuit of hope and help. This may seem like a “tale of two cities,” yet in the era of COVID-19, they begin to feel like one.
Tampa’s Democrat Mayor, Jane Castor, is the city’s straight-talking, reality-dealing, heart-wielding former police chief who didn’t wait for instructions from the state — or even her own emergency planning board — before she moved to prevent the virus from becoming a calamitous contagion.
Yet this was anything but a one-person show.
Castor called on local and state health experts seeking their advice, consulted academic and business leaders to hear theirs, then reached out to mayors across the nation (she knew many of them from a Harvard mayoral program she attended before she took office) who are right in the middle of the fight.
To Jane Castor, New York City’s Bill De Blasio’s words became the most hallowing: “We’ve never seen anything like this. Ever.”
As a first responder for more than 30 years in the Tampa Police Department, the final five as Chief, Castor didn’t need an instruction manual to know she needed to move fast to stay ahead of the curve (COVID and otherwise). In fact, when one public official suggested Castor “needed to slow down,” she parried, “no, you need to keep up.”
Today, every day, you’ll see Jane Castor inspiring and innovating, using creative social media to connect and timely statements (always in front of the City Seal) to inform, while conveying one clear message: “it’s going to take all of us.” Castor, real and genuine, intuitive and instinctual, means every word of it.
Across the state, Jacksonville’s Republican Mayor, Lenny Curry, from a wholly different background but in a totally similar fashion, is leading much the same way. This CPA, business owner, and former Florida Republican Party chair was, like Castor, not patiently waiting for a sign from above but a feeling from within, that failure to act swiftly would prove deadly.
Curry, a compassionate conservative who’s fond of rap music, motivational messaging and bottom-line results that add up (CPAs kinda dig that stuff, you know) wasted no time mandating closures and social distancing before it was in full play across the state. In fact, to ensure compliance, Curry took it a step further by saying that any business violating his order to shut down would have their power cut off. No one opted to test his resolve.
As a leader in an area that weathered three hurricanes on his watch, and after studying the horror that transformed Italy from pictures of tranquillity into scenes right out of MASH, Curry prepared to meet COVID-19 with brute human force (call it “Curry’s fury”). He now fills much of his day reaching out to hospital CEOs, business owners, neighborhood leaders, and law enforcement as well as America’s armed forces (Jacksonville has a heavy-duty military presence).
Curry calls the coronavirus a “generational test,” that this “is our moment” just as the greatest generation had theirs the better part of a century ago. Castor would certainly agree, while adding that while nobody’s been through this before, “we will get through this together.”
In America, local government feels the most personal.
It is where mayors are responsible for everything from security and schools to parks and planning, from programs that nourish the young to services that care for the old. Mayors are also by nature the chief visionaries of the cities they lead, constantly looking for where their residents want to go before finding a road that will take them there.
Given the life-or-death stakes of the crisis at hand, thank heavens for Jane Castor, Lenny Curry and every leader like them. Beyond social distancing, washing our hands and otherwise being careful, these leaders are among the best remedies we’ve got.
That’s because when duty calls, they’ll answer that call, with everything they’ve got.
Adam Goodman, a national Republican media strategist and columnist, is a partner with Ballard Partners in Washington, DC. He is also the first Edward R. Murrow Senior Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.