Against the Traveling Mayor.

Riffing off of the news that longtime Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is retiring, Matthew Yglesias briefly reflects "on the slight oddness of the American idea that the next Mayor of Chicago should be some other politician who happens to be from Chicago rather than some other mayor who’s done a good job." As far as he sees it, it makes more sense to shop successful mayors around to different cities in need of improvement, rather than the alternative, which is hoping that the city produces a politician with the skills to repair or improve the area. Dave Weigel agrees and adds that this fits the model for police commissioners, where a "successful commissioner in a smaller city is rewarded by getting to the big show in New York and Los Angeles."

The problem, of course, is that mayors aren't unelected bureaucrats chosen for their technocratic skills; they are politicians elected to represent the concerns of their constituents. Even mayors with a technocrat's flair for public policy must understand the symbolic and political elements of their job, which requires a firm grasp of community dynamics. Indeed, the most successful mayors are good politicians; they are intimately familiar with the local political landscape, they understand their constituents, and they know how and when to balance competing interests. In a major city like Chicago, with countless factions and multiple power centers, the political learning curve for an outsider mayor is so high as to be virtually insurmountable

There's a lot a traveling mayor could do, but I don't think she could represent the area and its residents in any meaningful sense, which is actually really important to the job of running a city.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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