American Mayors, Few big names run big cities now
His predecessor's Lincoln Town Car and entourage are gone. Denver's new mayor tools around in a Toyota Prius, a hybrid gas-electric car. His security detail is so small it can ride along. He visits public schools every week even though the city doesn't run them. He's attacking a $70 million deficit by eliminating automatic pay raises for city workers and making them take five days off without pay. The millionaire pub-owner-turned-mayor is shaking things up here. But John Hickenlooper is almost unknown outside Colorado.
He's quite a contrast with Wellington Webb, the three-term mayor who ran Denver in the 1990s. Webb was a big name in the Democratic Party and one of the first black mayors in a mostly white city. He was mayor when such gleaming projects as Denver International Airport and the Coors Field baseball stadium opened. Webb and many other big-city mayors achieved national recognition in the 1990s, when "urban" stopped being a synonym for crime, grime and decline. Mayors were hailed as saviors on the covers of national news magazines.
Today's mayors face the unglamorous task of running cities when budgets are tight, unemployment is stubbornly high and crime rates are rising after near-record lows. They toil in relative obscurity — from Greg Nickels in Seattle and Shirley Franklin in Atlanta to C. Ray Nagin in New Orleans, James Hahn in Los Angeles, Jane Campbell in Cleveland, Bart Peterson in Indianapolis and Kwame Kilpatrick in Detroit. "All these mayors are being so squeezed, they don't have time for anything except to make ends meet," says William Hudnut, former mayor of Indianapolis and senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute, a research and education group that promotes innovative development. "Their noses are so close to the grindstone that nobody can see their faces."