Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative at 5: A 'lifeline' for mayors

Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative at 5: A 'lifeline' for mayors

Helping equip 158 mayors with critical leadership and management tools to help them do their jobs better

When you’re elected mayor, “no one hands you a playbook on how to do the job,” says Lincoln, Neb., Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, who was elected to office in 2019.

That said, the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative has, since its inception in 2017, helped equip 158 mayors—including Mayor Gaylor Baird—with critical leadership and management tools to help them do their jobs better.    

This week, the initiative welcomed its fifth class—a group of 38 mayors from North America, Latin America, Europe, and Africa—who, together with senior staff, will spend the next year immersed in courses taught by faculty from the Harvard Kennedy and Harvard Business schools and featuring renowned urban policy and innovation experts from across the Bloomberg Philanthropies network.

“We created the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative because cities have always been on the frontlines of the biggest challenges we face—and it’s critical that mayors have the skills, support, and resources they need to confront them,” says Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, and 108th mayor of New York City.

As the program kicked off its fifth year, Bloomberg Cities spoke with a number of alumni to ask how their participation has helped them and their cities.

Mayor Danene Sorace, Lancaster, Pa.: “Because of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, our team is engaging in transformational government, not just transactional government. We’ve taken bigger bites of the apple and as a result have a nationally recognized neighborhood engagement and lead remediation program.  We are building out our first ever data governance system, strategizing ways in which we can preserve affordable drinking water for another half century, and more. The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative upped our game.”

Mayor Tim Keller, Albuquerque, N.M.: “When I first was elected mayor, I quickly realized there is no real training for this type of job—the level of management combined with public service is just something that few are really prepared for.  Furthermore, for many including myself, from day one, you are under a microscope like no other. Into this lack of ‘on-the-job’ training, enters the Bloomberg Harvard Mayors program, a lifeline in a mayor’s time of need.” 

Mayor Miguel Treviño, San Pedro Garza García, Mexico: “The Bloomberg Harvard team has helped me in data and evidence for decision making and innovation coaching . . . the fruits of this program go beyond what you can even imagine. You are changing the lives of many people around the world.”

Mayor Indya Kincannon, Knoxville, Tenn.: “During the pandemic, housing insecurity in Knoxville has gone from a challenge to a crisis. Many families have lost income, are facing eviction, utility cut-offs, and just a tremendous amount of instability. We had federal funds to help alleviate these financial stressors, but didn’t always know how best to reach those in need. Thanks to the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, we knew that up-to-date and actionable data was the answer. Notices of detainer and utility cut-offs have always been done in isolation by the courts and the public utility.  While the information was public, it was all on paper, hard to share, difficult to place on a map, hard to identify neighborhoods that were in particular stress. Through our time working with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, city staff and our partners were able to kickstart a larger data effort around housing needs, particularly in communities where people had not sought help in the past.”

Mayor Melvin Carter, St. Paul, Minn.: “Being mayor can be an isolating experience, so the opportunity to get together with other mayors from around the world, who are navigating the same kind of challenges we are…has been incredibly helpful…. One of the things that, by definition, none of us have in our cities is a colleague, somebody who we can have that transparent conversation with and say, ‘I’m not really sure how to approach this and, I think I may have messed that one up.’ ”

Mayor Lauren McLean, Boise, Idaho: “The mayor’s cohort was incredibly valuable to me, particularly as we navigated the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic . . . There were practical lessons I appreciated throughout the experience: encouraging innovation, leading through crisis, and creating partnerships, among others. I appreciated the focus on community building–connecting through Zoom with other mayors to share our experiences and learn from each other. This created a strong network and helped us quickly develop partnerships and trust from the beginning.”

Mayor Van Johnson, Savannah, Ga.: Johnson remembers how the pandemic hit shortly after he took office in 2020. “There was no playbook, no manual, no best practices, and plenty of criticism looming. Then the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative happened, and I felt like I had a fighting chance.  People just like me, mayors who found themselves in this unexpected position of being all-things-to-all people, were gathered on a Zoom screen, where we lamented, encouraged each other, and learned through case studies, talks, and collaboration how to use innovation, equity, and inclusion to serve as our guiding star through our cities’ most challenging times. I realized that I was not alone.” 

The class of 2022 represents the most diverse class of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative to date: nearly half of the mayors (17) are women; Half of the mayors identify as Black (9) or Hispanic (10); and over 60 percent (24) are from the United States; more than 35 percent (14) are from international cities.

The fifth class of mayors to participate in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative are:

Ginger Nelson (Amarillo, Texas); Brandon Scott (Baltimore, Md.); Claudia Lopez (Bogota, Colombia); Marvin Rees (Bristol, United Kingdom); Trey Mendez (Brownsville, Texas); Raquel Lyra (Caruaru, Brazil); Tim Kelly (Chattanooga, Tenn.; Paulette Guajardo (Corpus Christi, Texas); Jeni Arndt (Fort Collins, Colo.); Lily Mei (Fremont, Calif.); Aleksandra Maria Dulkiewicz (Gdańsk, Poland); Eric Genrich (Green Bay, Wis.); Donnie Tuck (Hampton, Va.); Jay Wagner (High Point, N.C.); Rick Blangiardi (Honolulu, Hawaii); Angie Carpenter (Islip, N.Y.); Quinton Lucas (Kansas City, Mo.); Berry Vrbanovic (Kitchener, Canada); Peter Kurz (Mannheim, Germany); Daniel Quintero Calle (Medellin, Colombia); Dawn Arnold (Moncton, Canada); Carolina Cosse (Montevideo, Uruguay); Shawyn Patterson-Howard (Mount Vernon, N.Y.); John Cooper (Nashville, Tenn.); Tim Sandoval (Pomona, Calif.); Shannon Glover (Portsmouth, Va.); João Campos (Recife, Brazil); Sandra Masters (Regina, Canada); Mārtiņš Staķis (Riga, Latvia); Patricia Dawson (Riverside, Calif.); Erin Mendenhall (Salt Lake City, Utah); Miguel Romero Lugo (San Juan, Puerto Rico); Carolina Mejía de Garrigó (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic); David Ortega (Scottsdale, Ariz.); Paige Cognetti (Scranton, Penn.); Tishaura Jones (St. Louis, Mo.); Corey Woods (Tempe, Ariz.); Randall Williams (Tshwane, South Africa); and Kennedy Stewart (Vancouver, Canada).

Photo: Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaking with mayors in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative

Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative at 5: A 'lifeline' for mayors

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