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Thursday, July 31, 2014
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Published: Friday, 1/3/2014 - Updated: 6 months ago

COMMENTARY

New mayor’s road is steep, but his duty to city is clear

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

D. Michael Collins took the oath of office Thursday night at Government Center. The snow drifted and the winds blew and the cynics narrowed their eyes and licked their lips.

Mr. Collins’ way will not be easy. There are people who want him to fail for no good reason — because he is who he is; or because they lost and Mr. Collins and his team won; or just because it’s not enough for some people to do well — they also want to see others fail.

But Mr. Collins will not fail if he simply does his duty.

That sounds very simplistic and Pollyannaish.

What I mean is this: All sorts of forces pull at a mayor, a governor, or a president. They are forces not very different from those which pull on the experienced legislator. But they can undo a chief executive.

What are these forces? They are the forces of distraction: Ego; payoff for political friends; payback for political enemies; the desire to retain popularity; the desire for re-election.

If Mr. Collins puts all that aside, if he can restrain his own ego; tell his friends “no” when he thinks they are wrong; and resist political pettiness and vengeance, he will be well on his way to being a good mayor.

All of this is hard — a lot easier to say than do.

Mr. Collins is not an egoistic man. But we all have our vanities. He must guard against always wanting to be right and also wanting people to know it. And he must guard against wanting to do it all himself. He must learn to delegate and to trust.

Mr. Collins knows all that, which is half the battle.

If he can also forget about running for re-election and focus on the now — this term — he will be a fine mayor, whether he is recognized as such in the present or not.

I guess I think being a good mayor comes down to two things:

The first is character.

Issues and alliances matter, of course. And every mayor has an agenda. This mayor has a heavy one. He wants to improve government while streamlining it. He wants to tackle urban blight and homelessness and restore neighborhoods. That’s ambitious.

But what people remember are the tests of character. Public executives must respond to events they cannot control. When an unexpected crisis came up, how did the mayor respond? When his own or his allies interests were in opposition to the public’s what did he do?

Character. Think Nelson Mandela, not George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.

Second, in retrospect what history asks of a mayor is: Did he defend the community; did he protect the town?

Over Christmas, I visited the little Ohio town where I grew up — a town I loved and that my father and grandfather did much to improve. What I saw was a town where the political leadership, over time, failed. They let public assets be destroyed. Not because they were corrupt like past leaders in Detroit, or Hartford, but because of a failure of imagination or the triumph of pettiness.

Don’t let smallness triumph, Mayor Collins. Defend the community; protect the town. Do that and you cannot fail.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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