The Tacoma Sun


Tacoma Weekly Op-Ed: Mayoral leadership critical for Tacoma’s success


Yesterday, the Tacoma Weekly published an article I wrote on Mayoral leadership emphasizing the importance of leadership is for the success of a city.  Enjoy.  The article discusses the challenges Mayor Strickland has in relation to former mayor Giuliani of New York and Cory Booker of Newark.

Special thanks to journalist Heather Robinson for her help on the article.





Here is the article:

Cities that undergo positive transformation invariably have great mayors who lead their cities to a brighter future. During the next election, Mayor Marilyn Strickland will be evaluated based on the results she obtains during her four-year term. In order to be effective, she must be willing to advance Tacoma’s priorities without being excessively influenced by entrenched interest groups – even those who supported her.

Cities succeed or fail to the extent they have leadership able and willing to implement the best practices for economic development, crime reduction and in other important areas regardless of the political ideology a particular idea may be associated with.



Former IBM executive Cory Booker is mayor of Newark, N.J., a city that had one of the highest crime rates in the country. In his successful multi-pronged approach in reducing crime by 42 percent, Booker even took the extreme step of moving into one of the most crime-plagued apartment buildings, demonstrating his dedication. Booker helped recruit businesses to Newark, creating 4,000 jobs from 2006 to 2008.



Similarly, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is widely known for his success in reducing crime and revitalizing New York City by implementing the “broken windows” theory. By focusing on reducing smaller crimes such as aggressive panhandling, graffiti, public drinking and what had been considered “petty crime” and largely ignored, Giuliani was able to reduce the overall crime rate by 50 percent over an eight-year period and made the subways safe again.

We also have examples of strong mayoral leadership close to Tacoma. Recently, the state threatened to build an expanded viaduct on Seattle’s waterfront, which would have blighted prime waterfront property for years. In response, former Seattle Mayor Nickels held a press conference exclaiming he would “spend every possible moment” to oppose a new viaduct. Ultimately he succeeded in stopping the state’s harmful plan.

Though a handful of beneficial projects occurred under earlier mayors, their extremely limited view of the mayor’s role in city government hobbled their ability to develop and revitalize Tacoma. Because many of Tacoma’s recent mayors mistakenly believed that the city had a “weak” mayoral system, the belief became a self-imposed limitation and self-fulfilling prophecy. This limited approach to mayoral leadership left Tacoma inept in its ability to effectively compete with other cities, stand up to state government when necessary, or to reach its potential.



Although Tacoma’s mayor has no direct executive authority under Tacoma’s charter, Strickland arguably has far greater effect on legislative issues than mayors in other cities. Tacoma’s mayor, for instance, has the unique ability to directly debate and vote on resolutions and to chair each and every council meeting – not unlike the influential speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Finally, Tacoma’s mayor has an unparalleled access to the media and community members relative to other city leaders.

Tacoma’s future will largely depend on Strickland’s effectiveness in advocating for the city in Olympia and Washington, D.C. She will have to effectively compete against other Washington cities such as Seattle, which has always seized the lion’s share of state and federal benefits, as if it were their entitlement, with rarely a whimper of an objection from Tacoma.

The mayor’s priorities for 2010 must be to rebuild Tacoma and attract people and companies to the city and to modernize the city’s codes when needed. Tacoma still retains a 1960s-era suburban building code in most of the downtown, which has thwarted the city’s growth and recovery and left it pocked with an endless supply of blightful surface-level parking lots. Tacoma’s failure to adopt an urban zoning code, which other cities employ, has unnecessarily added millions onto development costs, forcing development into the county and nearby cities.

The current condition of Tacoma in terms of education, attractiveness and economic vitality is the cumulative result of past decisions of Tacoma’s mayors and council members, yielding results far below the city’s potential. Tacoma’s future will improve, based not on the good intentions of Strickland and other council members, but only to the degree that they are able to learn about and implement the best practices available in and rebuilding and revitalizing the city.

Erik Bjornson is an attorney in downtown Tacoma who is a co-editor of Tacoma Sun and discusses urban issues on his blog Tacoma Urbanist. He currently serves as chair of North End Neighborhood Council.

published February 26th, 2010

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 H. Ellen Robinson // Feb 26, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Sensible, creative, and genuinely bipartisan–qualities Washington D.C. could use a great deal more of!

  • 2 Ana Maria Sierra // Feb 26, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Great editorial! Go Marilyn!

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