New Naperville mayor/era approved by 10% of Naperville adults

Naperville just had an election for the successor to long-time mayor George Pradel but the winning candidate did not receive support from much of the community:



According to the Census, Naperville has over 144,000 residents, of which over 71% are 18 or over. That gives roughly 102,000 potential voters. Yet, under 18,000 people voted for mayor. This is less than a fifth of the adults. The winning candidate, local business owner Steve Chirico, won with 60.5% of the vote. But, those who voted for him only made up a little more than a tenth of the adults in the suburb.

Turnout is a big issue in many elections, particularly local elections that are held separately from major national or statewide races. Theoretically, this frees up more attention for local candidates. Yet, for a suburb like Naperville that has a high quality of life and often claims that it has a strong community spirit, the election that was said by some to be about a new era is really more of a whimper than a resounding suggestion about what direction Naperville is headed.

Mayors leading the charge for tackling infrastructure issues

Who is tackling big infrastructure projects these days?

Governors have long been among the nation’s loudest advocates for pouring concrete. Interstate highways? New bridges? Major development projects? They love it. When a huge pot of federal money opened up as part of the 2009 stimulus package, states were eager to get their share of the cash and push it toward pet projects, shovel-ready or not.

And that’s what makes it interesting to see mayors taking the lead on transportation spending. At an event Monday in Boston, the U.S. Conference of Mayors launched what it says will be the largest coordinated campaign by mayors in some time, pushing Congress to reauthorize the surface-transportation bill and to increase funding for local and state infrastructure projects…

All of that combines to create a situation in which mayors, rather than governors, can take over the dominant role in pushing for transportation spending. Of course, mayors have plenty of concerns of their own, especially in big cities. Major bridges like the one that collapsed in Minnesota in 2007 worry them, as do crumbling urban highway interchanges and failing subway systems. Here in D.C., a major parkway was snarled for much of Tuesday after crumbling masonry fell off a bridge into the roadway. Some of the mayors who are most involved in pushing for more infrastructure money are Democratic mayors in Republican-led states—like Kasim Reed of Atlanta.

The article suggests this is primarily a political Republican vs. Democrat question with Democratic mayors pushing for things that Republicans at the national level don’t support. But, I think this ignores another factor: these mayors are at the level of government that is closest to some of these issues. For them, infrastructure is not an abstract concept but rather more often about specific projects that can enhance life in their city. It is the difference between saying “America’s bridges are in trouble” versus “Boston needs an underground highway in order to free up land, improve traffic, and reduce pollution.” And Americans tend to like local government as they see it as more responsive to immediate needs. Governors can lobby for particular projects but they also have to keep in mind the concerns of multiple actors, which might even up pitting cities against each other for limited funds (i.e., is LA or San Francisco more worthy of a major transportation project). Mayors like the applicable projects that they can point to as real change. (An odd thought to throw in here: dictators often like to memorialize themselves with large-scale planning efforts that will outlive them. When municipal power is concentrated in the hands of a single figure, such as a powerful mayor, is a similar process at work?)

While the mayors may be closer to the infrastructure issues, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can get things done. What kind of clout do mayors have when there are other layers (like governors) to contend with?

Convenient to see the end of Pradel’s career as a new era for Naperville

The Naperville Sun/Chicago Tribune ran a long story about Naperville mayor George Pradel stepping down and what this means for Naperville:

Longtime residents and colleagues say Pradel’s style — which he, himself describes as Naperville’s No. 1 cheerleader — suited the suburb well as about 42,000 new residents brought the need for new schools, fire stations and grocery stores during historic growth.

Naperville faces a new era now, as Pradel, 77, prepares to step down after five terms in office in May. His departure leaves one of four mayoral candidates with a new task of leading the nearly built-out city through its next set of challenges, from filling empty storefronts to countering an unwanted reputation as a party town after several high-profile, alcohol-fueled incidents downtown…

Since 1969, Naperville has operated with a council-manager form of government, which uses a full-time city manager to run the community’s day-to-day operations, while the mayor serves as the city’s public face, available to grand marshal parades and have dinner with girl scouts.

It’s an arrangement that Pradel said he’s been grateful for since he won his first election in 1995, a victory that caught him by such surprise that he didn’t even have an acceptance speech ready.

This is the sort of story that can feed the “big leader” narratives of history. But does it really fit here? Pradel was an outgoing character and a cheerleader. He was very visible. He had a long history in Naperville as a police officer. Yet, the story even reminds us that the mayor was a figurehead with the day-to-day work falling to the city manager. Naperville, like many cities its size, has a large professional staff. The city has a number of business and civic leaders who contribute.

This is not intended to downplay the role that figurehead leaders can play. Perceptions matter a lot within and among communities. At the same time, larger-than-life or long-serving leaders can often get the blame or credit for things that they didn’t do. Pradel was mayor over a particular period of time that saw Naperville peak in population (at least at this point without serious efforts to grow up), continue to grow a vibrant downtown, and encounter a few issues including traffic, some crime, and thinking about how to connect disparate parts of the city. Was he responsible for all of this?

This is where a more complex picture of Naperville or other communities can help. Some people indeed have more power and influence. But, communities have more going on than just one person.

New arts centers in cities, like a Lucas museum, don’t bring in all the benefits suggested

Chicago may have landed the George Lucas museum but a new book suggests such arts centers don’t lead to all the benefits suggested:

“In terms of the study, our major hypothesis was that these major facility projects—new museums, new expansions—would have these positive net benefits to the surrounding urban area,” says Woronkowicz, a professor in the school of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University Bloomington. “And that they would have potentially have less positive or even negative effects on surrounding organizations.”

Through case studies, surveys, and construction-cost analyses, the Cultural Policy Center report found that the museum building boom didn’t bring the net benefit to communities predicted by the so-called Bilbao Effect. While poverty rates fell and property values generally rose in communities where new cultural centers or expansions were built—good news!—poorer residents also suffered displacement in those areas. Beyond the standard gentrification effect, the researchers’ evidence shows, supply may have outstripped demand over the course of the U.S. arts center building boom—leaving some cities with the responsibility to maintain or even pay for cultural centers that they don’t entirely need…

“The types of leaders who provide the passion and drive to build structures of this sort [major performing arts centers] are successful men and women who are accustomed to relying on their own experience and judgment,” the book reads. “They depend on what they might describe as ‘inside knowledge’—knowledge gleaned from their own experiences, and those of their collaborators’ experiences.

“What tends to be absent in their thinking, however … is ‘outside knowledge,’ such as what statisticians refer to as ‘the base rate’ regarding the distribution of projects that did not go as planned,” the book continues.

Other traps that civic leaders fall into include hindsight bias and consistency bias: People’s memories about decision-making for projects tends to change over time, and people tend to revise their memory of the past to fit present circumstances.

There are similar findings regarding sports stadiums: they tend to benefit the teams more than the city.

It sounds like arts centers can be explained by growth machine theories. Cities want to promote growth and cultural relevance so bringing in a building dedicated to the arts looks good. It helps a city be more cosmopolitan, connect to famous names, promote tourism, have a new starchitect-designed building (if the city goes that route) or revive an existing structure, and even create jobs. A mayor can look back and say, “I helped bring that institution to the city and further confirm our world-class status.” Yet, such buildings may not do much for the entire city. Who pays for the land, new building, and maintenance? What if the new structure doesn’t draw as many people as planned? What if the institution moves away later? How much tax money does the arts center contribute to the city and where does that money go?

Small city mayors return to normal life

While big city mayors get plenty of attention for trying to get stuff done, what happens to mayors of smaller communities when they leave office? Here are five examples from the Chicago suburbs:

The 57-year-old Birutis now works as the director of finance and administration for St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and school in Winfield. She took the job a few months before stepping down as mayor…

In September, DeWitte was named Kane County’s latest representative to the Regional Transportation Authority…

Mulder is a member of the Metra board, although she’s said she’ll step down when her term ends in June 2014.

She continues to lead the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, a group dedicated to reducing aircraft noise in the neighborhoods surrounding the busy airport…

Since leaving the mayor’s office in Mundelein, the 49-year-old Kessler has continued working as a clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at Roslyn Franklin University in North Chicago.

None of these mayors fought battles this large but for some reason I’m reminded of Cincinnatus and his return to normal life. From what I know of local government, many local officials get into it in the first place because of some issue they want to address or fix in the community in which they live. Such moves are rarely motivated by big party politics as local municipal elections in the US tend to be between local factions or unaffiliated candidates. And being a mayor is often not a full-time job so retaining a job still often matters. Yet, it is interesting to note that three of these five mayors are still involved with regional or intergovernmental boards. Being a mayor of a smaller community can lead to other positions that affect a broader range of residents.

While the article is headlined “Weren’t you the mayor?”, I suspect most residents in their communities wouldn’t know the former mayor if they saw them. Such is the fate of local officials in communities where voting turnout is often low.

Big city mayors discuss why no sitting mayor has ever been elected President

Watch this video of current big city mayors talking about why no one has ever moved from sitting mayor to American President. The most common reason given: mayors have to make decisions, big and small and often pragmatic, all the time and this doesn’t line up with the gotcha politics of today and keeping all the constituents happy. It may be just me reading into the video but it seems like these mayors give this reason with both a sense of pride and regret: “Hey, we make tough decisions all the time and this can make people mad. Unfortunately, we don’t get rewarded at the highest level for such choices.”

I suspect there is more to this story, particularly if we asked the mayors of the biggest cities, and it would be worth hearing more.

Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s problems include living in a “American-style suburban McMansion”?

The mayor of Toronto is getting all kinds of attention – and at least one person thinks one of his problems is “American-style suburban McMansion”:

Also from the Gawkerverse: this Ken Layne piece about Rob Ford’s essential un-Canadianness, which wrongly asserts that “when he sits around his American-style suburban McMansion, he literally sits around his American-style suburban McMansion.” Rob Ford’s house is suburban, but it’s actually a pretty modest place.

Americans are known for their big houses. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this is something Canadians pick up on since most Canadians live quite close to the U.S.-Canada border. Indeed, there are plenty of stories regarding McMansions in the Chicago metropolitan region and Chicago and Toronto are often compared to each other. But, which part of the insinuation is worse:

1. That a Canadian acts like an American?

2. That owning a McMansion is a bad thing anyway (whether one lives in Canada, the United States, Australia, and other places with McMansions)?

3. That sprawl/suburbs are bad?

This also reminds me of the documentary Radiant City that involves Canadian suburbanites outside of Calgary but utilizes a number of American opponents to McMansions and seems to be most interested in tackling American-style sprawl. A side note: it is a film that includes a mock musical about mowing lawns.

Bill de Blasio the first ever New York City mayor to send his kids to public schools?

A look at how the new mayor of New York City identifies with the working class and forgotten elements of the city includes this interesting piece of information about where de Blasio’s kids go to school:

The Brooklyn resident says he would become the first mayor in the city’s history with children enrolled in public schools. “He knows our issues because he has children in the trenches with us,” said Freddie Sneed Jr., 55, a truck driver.

I know different parts of the political spectrum might interpret this information differently but it struck me as quite surprising. Not one mayor in NYC history would have their children attend public schools? Here is more on de Blasio’s claim as he used it on the campaign trail:

This week, at a televised debate between the 2013 Democratic mayoral candidates, the issue of parental school choices came up again. But this time the topic was brought up voluntarily, by Public Advocate and public-school parent Bill de Blasio.

De Blasio pointed out that if he wins, he will become the first mayor in the city’s history with children in public school.

It’s not a claim I could substantiate. I can say with certainly, however, that he would be the first mayor with a child in public school at the time he was mayor in at least 50 years…

None of the other leading candidates from either party who have children made the decision to send them to public school: Bill Thompson sent his daughter to private school and his step-children are in boarding school, while Republicans Joe Lhota and John Catsimatidis sent their children to private schools.

Read on for more history of NYC mayors and their choices of where their kids went to school. Did de Blasio’s claim make a difference in the election?

It’s hard to tell just how much it will matter when it comes time for people to vote, though, since there’s so little precedent for becoming mayor on the strength of being a public-school parent.

Since he won, I suspect more people will claim this choice mattered more.

Rahm Emanuel: Chicago the model for pro-growth policies

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had an op-ed in the Washington Post on Friday where he explained how his city could show America the way toward growth:

While infrastructure improvements have been neglected on a federal level for decades, Chicago is making one of the nation’s largest coordinated investments, putting 30,000 residents to work over the next three years improving our roads, rails and runways; repairing our aged water system; and increasing access to gigabit-speed broadband. We are paying for these critical improvements through a combination of reforms, efficiencies and direct user fees, as well as creating the nation’s first city-level public-private infrastructure bank. Democrats should champion these kinds of innovative financing tools at a national level.

If we want to build a future in which the middle class can succeed, we must continue the push for reform that the president began with Race to the Top, bringing responsibility and accountability to our teachers and principals.

Chicago has adopted its own Race to the Top for early childhood education, allowing public schools, Head Start, charters and parochial schools to compete for dollars by improving the quality of their pre-kindergarten programs. In addition, this year Chicago Public Schools put into effect a 30 percent increase in class time, which means that when today’s kindergartners graduate high school, they will have benefited from 2½ more years’ worth of education.

In partnership with leading private-sector companies, we reengineered our six community colleges to focus each on skills training for jobs in one of Chicago’s six key growth fields. Democrats can be the party that closes the nation’s skills gap by making our community colleges a vital link between people looking for jobs and companies looking for skilled workers.

The strength of these investments is proven in the number of people we’re putting back to work: Chicago is first in the nation in terms of increase in employed residents, and for several months we have led the nation in year-over-year employment increases. We added 42,500 residents to the workforce in the past year alone — 8,000 more than the next highest U.S. city…

If Democrats develop innovative policies that help Americans compete in a global economy, we will outperform Republicans on Election Day. It’s that simple.

I’ve made this argument before (see here): Rahm Emanuel is more of a pro-business Democrat. As he notes in this article, he is in the mold of Bill Clinton who was willing to do what it takes to add jobs and fuel growth (illustrated by his recent push for digital billboards on city property alongside busy highways). And thus far, Emanuel has been able to push through his agenda in Chicago.

However, two things might hold back his arguments on the national level:

1. How much do Democrats and other Americans want government  to work closely private firms and corporations? Emanuel is a fan of public-private partnerships but people on both sides may not like this idea much.

2. Critics will charge that Chicago is hardly a model for others to emulate. Crime? Residential segregation? Massive budget issues? Battles with local unions? Underperforming schools?

I imagine some other big-city mayors might argue their cities could provide better models for the whole country. It would be fascinating to see a number of them respond with different visions.

(One last question: how much of this argument is simply boosterism from the mayor of the city’s third largest city?)

When one suburban mayor gets upset with a neighboring suburban mayor

Interactions between suburbs can get interesting, particularly if a business opens with which two suburbs would like to be associated:

All that having been said, some things still stick in your craw. Some things keep happening again and again, and every single time they make you see red, and the sense of frustration just lingers. I was chatting with David Harding at the rededication of Kiwanis Park by the Warrenville Park District when he mentioned that he got an invitation to the grand opening of a new business on Weaver Parkway in Cantera, and the special guest of honor to cut the ribbon was George Pradel, the Mayor of Naperville. David was annoyed by this, as he knew I would be, and he was kind enough to email to me the information later. Sure enough, the Mayor of Naperville was welcoming a new business to Warrenville and the Mayor of  Warrenville had not even been invited to the event!

As you might imagine, as your Mayor, this kind of stuff really bugs me. It seems to be localized, and principally affects businesses in Cantera on our border with Naperville. Warrenville’s Cantera development is first class, so naturally businesses find it attractive and locate there. But, for marketing purposes, the Naperville name carries more weight, so people do their best to play up the Naperville connection and minimize the Warrenville address. I have seen hotel shuttle busses for Warrenville hotels with “Naperville/Warrenville” featured prominently on their sides. Of course, I think that should be “Warrenville/Naperville”, and it sets me off every time I see one, but I get it.  Business is about positioning for maximum success. You can’t blame a business, especially given current conditions, for trying to leverage, what is to them, every marketing advantage. And, bottom line, what is most important to the community is that our businesses prosper and stay around for a long time. If they find it necessary to fudge things a little to appear to be in what they see as a more lucrative market, I suppose that is a small price to pay.

But this new business still got a letter from me. I can assure you it was a respectful and polite statement that we were disappointed that they apparently didn’t feel it was inappropriate to invite the Mayor of another community to cut their ribbon as they opened their new business here in Warrenville, and a reminder that Warrenville is proud of who we are and we hope they are as happy to be here as we are to have them here. Thankfully, each time I have to write one of these letters, Ana talks me back from the edge, and proves to be a most prudent editor.

I won’t tell you the name of this latest new business. I’m sure they meant no disrespect, and that they are good folks. Also, I don’t think it would be a good idea if a couple hundred angry Warrenville citizens arrived at their front door some evening with blazing torches held high, bearing buckets of hot tar and sacks of feathers, loudly inviting them to relocate to the community that they apparently prefer with an offer of help to do so, although I must confess, this image is appealing. No, Warrenville will take the high road, as we always try to do. That’s who we are. Besides, what goes around comes around. Just the other day, I passed a shuttle belonging to a Naperville hotel that had “Chicago/Naperville” prominently featured on its sides.

I found this amusing. But, there are some deeper issues here:

1. Naperville is the big, successful suburb. Not only does it have lots of people, a vibrant downtown, and good schools,it has done so in large part because of a thriving business community that has provided a lot of good jobs. Warrenville, on the other hand, is a smaller community of over 13,000 people that has less wealth and prestige.

2. Warrenville finally incorporated in the 1960s to be able to control some nearby land and not have it all fall into the hands of Naperville.

3. It does seem a bit odd for the business to invite the mayor of Naperville and not the suburb in which it actually located. If they wanted to be attached to the idea of Naperville, why not actually locate in Naperville? There has to be a good reason they located in Warrenville.

4. I’m not sure what the mayor of Warrenville achieved in this statement to the public. That he is willing to stick up for Warrenville? That Warrenville deserves some attention as well? Warrenville is not going to become Naperville and would probably say it doesn’t want to…so what purpose does this serve?