This story was originally published in the November 26 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Sign up here to receive it every weekday morning.
If you want to lead a country, running a city is not a bad start – unless you are in America that is.
French Presidents including François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy all served as mayors. In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte road-tested a ruthless anti-drug purge in Davao City before reaching the Malacanang Palace. Andrés Manuel López Obrador bossed Mexico City before he led Mexico. And as mayor of London, Boris Johnson plotted his rise to Prime Minister.
In America, a spell in the mayor’s office isn’t seen as the way to the White House. While three presidents did serve as mayors in decades past, many more have come from the Senate or the governor’s mansion. And mayors with presidential ambitions have often flamed out on the campaign trail — like New York City’s Rudy Giuliani in 2008.
But we might be at a hinge in history. Five former and current mayors are now battling for the Democratic presidential nomination, including late entrant Michael Bloomberg. Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Julián Castro first made their names as top dog in the city. The current Iowa front-runner, Pete Buttigieg, is still a mayor.
Once demeaned as people who fix potholes and make sure the trash is emptied, mayors now confront issues that also preoccupy presidents: climate change, health and education policy, terrorism, gun violence and even immigration. Plus US cities and their suburbs are increasingly Democratic — a fact the party’s talent pool may reflect.
Mayoral records can backfire nationally: Buttigieg has been blamed for whitening South Bend’s police force and the fatal police shooting of a black man, while Bloomberg has had to apologize for New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy, widely considered racist. But the hands-on experience of actually keeping a city running could also be one way to move past the partisan divides of national politics.
Of course most mayors don’t have foreign policy experience. But neither did Trump.