The New York Times called John Fetterman of Braddock, Pennsylvania the “Mayor of Rust.” To his credit, the mayor accepts the moniker as a compliment.
To be sure, there are many accomplishments for which Mayor Fetterman can be proud. He has embraced land banks, urban agriculture, and green roofing as initiatives to revitalize his community. Moreover, he has used some of his own money to buy up vacant properties, launch a nonprofit and subsidize artists, all in the name of renewal.
These are all good ideas that are compatible with key aspects of leadership that include vision, energy, and a personal investment of time and talent. However, there is another key element of leadership, the talent for bringing people together and building a coalition. Alas, Mayor John, as he is often called, seems instead to model a top-down style of leadership.
To get a clearer picture of collaborative leadership, one must travel east from Braddock over to Camden, New Jersey. In Camden during a difficult economic period fraught with many unpopular choices, Mayor Dana L. Redd also is grasping for ideas, taking risks, cutting costs, embracing change, repurposing old structures and generally doing everything she can to make a difference. In the case of Camden however, Mayor Redd is working with and through the multi-tiered, multi-faceted community organization known as The Greater Camden Partnership. In this case, success has served to reinforce a unity of purpose across much of the community.
Ideas matter. This country was founded on an idea about individual liberty and popular self-government. Ideas, creativity, and adaptation are genetically encoded in the American psyche. But something else too; an idea is only as good as the other people with whom it is shared. Very seldom does one individual ever see all the pieces of the puzzle in one bright explosion of realization. We need and depend upon others to refine, reframe, and at times reinvigorate our ideas.
Of course, cities won’t grow or thrive on ideas alone. What’s required is the collaborative team of diverse talents that brings ideas to tangible and achievable actions. As any mayor, councilmember or manager knows, it’s the collaboration with and through peers, colleagues and citizens that leads to long-lasting solutions that can be embraced by the entire community. Abraham Lincoln had his “team of rivals.” Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell had Mission Control. And just like the U.S. Marines, local officials have each other.