Barack Obama at NYU Wagner
Bohnett Fellows huddle with 200-plus mayors in DC
Bohnett Fellows from NYU Wagner joined with their counterparts from UCLA and the University of Michigan in attending the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. on January 19-21, 2011, with Professor Rogan Kersh. After sharing information, insights, and ideas with more than 200 of the nation's mayors and many other public service leaders, the Wagner students offered these reports:
"It was by far one of the best networking opportunities of my life. Most of the Conference participants were mayors, and between sessions there was ample time for me to walk up to people and introduce myself. I was amazed at how engaged many of the mayors were. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter must have talked to us for half an hour one evening: He was really interested in what we had to say and fielded all of our questions, including some pretty tough ones, with aplomb.
"I was incredibly impressed with the mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan. The conference included many speakers from the national stage, including Nancy Pelosi, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Trade Representative Ron Kirk, House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica, and Alaska Senator Mark Begich. These folks usually spoke for awhile and then took questions from the mayors. Almost without fail, Mayor Quan's hand would slowly rise, she'd be called on, and then, with perfect posture and composure, she asked the most pointed and well-informed question imaginable. It made me happy for the people of Oakland. They've got a real policy wonk running the place.
"More broadly, it was great to be around Republican and Democratic politicians talking about actual issues - from handgun violence to job creation - without reverting to demagoguery It was the sort of situation that might restore a person's faith in the American political system."
"When elected officials are talking about economic development, I expect to hear more about financial incentives than about public services. But the economic-development drivers the mayors were discussing included developing exports, attracting foreign investment, and producing a highly skilled labor force through education and workforce training. Mayors and federal officials echoed that cities must cooperate across other governments and sectors to succeed in these areas. It's not surprising that President Obama articulated some of the Conference's major themes in his State of the Union address of Jan. 25, 2011. Getting to speak personally to some of the mayors completely changed my perspective on urban government, and my work this semester is going to reflect it.
"The Conference was also the first time the Bohnett Fellows at all three schools were able to come together. I really connected with a Fellow from the University of Michigan over our work in Northern industrial cities. She lives and works in Detroit, and I came to NYU from Pittsburgh. I found that we could swap war stories about managing decline, but at the end of the day we were talking about common points of growth and battling inequality."
Elizabeth H. Guernsey:
"The trip to the Conference of Mayors winter meeting was definitely one of the highlights - if not the highlight - of my Wagner career so far. The access to and conversations with so many mayors was great. I came back from the Conference inspired to know that so many smart people are working in local government and really focused on making our cities great places to work and live. I was also struck by the mayors' signing of the Civility Accord in reaction to the Tucson tragedy. It was refreshing to hear the mayors talking about their cities in a nonpartisan way.
"A highlight of the trip was meeting with the Fellows from the other schools and hearing about the work they are doing in other cities. Another highlight was attending the Mayors Against Illegal Guns meeting, and hearing mayors talk openly about what they think needs to be done to protect public safety in our cities. The mayors were able to talk honestly and openly without worry that they might upset their constituencies."
The David Bohnett Public Service Fellowship for incoming Wagner students offers "...a great opportunity for students to directly engage in the challenges of governing our vibrant and diverse city," according to David Bohnett, Chairman and Founder of the David Bohnett Foundation. The Fellowship provides full tuition support and summer stipends for three Bohnett Fellows per year. These students must be enrolled in either the Master of Public Administration (MPA) or Master of Urban Planning (MUP) program and express an explicit interest in working for municipal governments to solve our most urgent social issues. The David Bohnett Public Service Fellowship also allows two fellows a terrific opportunity to intern at the highest level of NYC government. The third fellow gets to take on exciting work with the current President of the US Conference of Mayors, which has an ongoing partnership with Wagner.