You could say this is the Era of Mayors.
At a time when the future of cities is both uncertain and integral to our country’s recovery, the role of mayor has been thrust into the spotlight.
This week, during an online conversation between Bruce Katz, the director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University, and Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, attendees got a sense of both the burdens today’s mayors bear, and the compassion they must have for their community.
“Cities are on the frontlines of this crisis,” Katz opened by saying.
The event was hosted by The Philadelphia Citizen, in partnership with Fitler Club and the Metro Finance Lab, and drew guests from all across the U.S. (Katz himself was calling in from Virginia where, on top of everything else going on in the world, he was experiencing a power outage due to wild weather.)
As mayor of what is arguably the most inclusive and welcoming city in western Ohio, Whaley has always been focused on economic recovery. Now, in light of the pandemic, the mayor acknowledged that there’s a lot of economic anxiety in Dayton, and that the economic fallout will be one of the most intense in the country.
“We are much more susceptible to economic downturns and recessions,” she said, referring to the fact that the city’s economy is largely dependent upon factories’ production of goods. “We feel them much harder.”
So how does she see her job as a leader during this stressful era?
“I think the job of mayor through this has been multiple, as it normally is,” she said. “One is to communicate to your community what’s going on, to share best practices and model good behavior, and to be blunt about things that your community should or should not be doing.”
Having to tell her community, for example, that it was simply unsafe to play basketball right now was no easy feat. But in the absence of consistent federal communication, Whaley acknowledged that guidance has truly fallen on state and local leaders.
As for modeling good behavior, Whaley showed those in attendance the face masks she’s been proudly donning—including one from a batch of 24 she personally sewed one weekend. The fabric was patterned with the cheeky saying “I whaley love you,” and emblazoned with the image of whales.
Over the course of the conversation, it became more than clear that Whaley really does love her constituents—and will be committed to doing everything she can to champion their economic recovery, safety, and well-being.
She insists that federal funds will be integral to making that happen. “Not helping cities … is a disservice to the public servants who put their lives on the line every day,” she said.
To catch the full event, watch the video above.
This was the first in what will be an ongoing series of chats with Katz and leaders across the country. Be sure to check out The Philadelphia Citizen here for details about our upcoming events (and to watch videos of previous ones).
And to become a Citizen member, sign up here.