In Praise of Women Mayors

We seem to be surrounded by poisons. But there are antidotes.

We know the poisons. Puerto Rico counts the mounting dead, another unusually strong hurricane is on the way, the Secretary of State calls Trump an “f-ing moron,” and afterward does not actually deny he did so—and then there it was: the worst mass shooting in the history of United States. Until the next one, that is.

After the—let’s emphasize this—white, older, educated, Christian, relatively wealthy male let loose from his Las Vegas hotel window with machine-gun-level weapons, killing at least 59 people so far, and severely wounding over 500 more at a country music concert—after this non-female, non-immigrant, non-Muslim, non-black, non-Hispanic, non-youthful, non-poor killer chose to be a mass murderer, Donald Trump refused to call this an act of domestic terrorism or to observe that the deed was done specifically through the wide availability of guns in this country, including Trump’s recent deregulation making weapons again available to the seriously mentally ill. Internet trolls spread hoaxes trying to blame anyone who was not white, Christian, older, wealthy, straight, and male. Trump termed it an act of pure “evil”—convenient. Not that he’s ever heard of the banality of evil, which also describes him.

Deja vu. The NRA and their purchased legislators claim that just after such a shooting is no time to “talk politics,” that is, not the time ever to talk about the proliferation of guns that lines their pockets. This is not talking politics. This is in fact precisely the time America glimpses what those guns actually do, and what our appalling lack of restrictions on their accessibility makes possible, even inevitable.

One of the greatest names in country music, Rosanne Cash, in a New York Times Op Ed, wrote, “For the past few decades, the National Rifle Association has increasingly nurtured an alliance with country music artists and their fans. You can see it in “N.R.A. Country,” which promotes the artists who support the philosophical, and perhaps economic, thrall of the N.R.A., with the pernicious tag line “Celebrate the Lifestyle.” That wholesome public relations veneer masks something deeply sinister and profoundly destructive. There is no other way to say this: The N.R.A. funds domestic terrorism. I encourage more artists in country and American roots music to end your silence. It is no longer enough to separate yourself quietly. I know you’ll be bullied for speaking out. This is how they operate. . . . Some people may burn your records or ask for refunds for tickets to your concerts. Whatever. Find the strength of moral conviction, even if it comes with a price tag, which it will. This is a moment in American history that can’t be met with silence.”

Cheers for Rosanne Cash. She’s one antidote to poison.

As for despairing over the lack of political leadership in our country and in much of the world, lately I find the best antidote to be women mayors. Women mayors these days seem to embody the wise if ungrammatical adage, “think global, act local.”

For example, Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who was a long-shot candidate in 2012 and cast herself as a pitirre—a small bird known for fearlessly attacking larger ones. Now 54, she has pulled down the wrath of el Trumpo for daring to criticize the stunning lack of federal response to the disaster that Hurricane Maria visited on the island. With the rage of a woman–that is, with tears in her eyes but fury in her voice—she held a news conference and issued a verbal distress signal: “Mayday. Mayday. We are dying here. I never thought I would I have to beg. But my job is to make life better for my people.” She personally helped evacuate residents of an assisted living facility after a fire broke out there. As emergency workers and troops struggled to restore basic services in a commonwealth with no electricity, limited fuel and water, and almost no internal communications, Trump spent the day at his New Jersey golf club, blasting out tweets attacking Mayor Cruz—the way he apparently feels compelled to attack every Latina he encounters—saying she was a poor leader, was “nasty” (familiar?), and that Puerto Ricans want “everything done for them.” Yet this pitirre rose above his insults, saying she had no time for petty politics when there were lives to save, adding that if Trump were to say he was “going to San Juan to see that nasty mayor I would receive him with open arms because democracy is larger than me.”

That’s a leader. Trump went. The 6-foot-tall coward refused to meet her.

Then there’s wonderful Mayor Karen Weaver of Flint, Michigan: African American and the city’s first woman mayor. It was Karen Weaver who declared a citywide emergency due to the water crisis. She also pushed and pushed for a similar declaration by state and federal authorities, which was finally granted by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder on January 5, and President Obama on January 16, 2016. This declaration meant that the federal government would now be responsible for disaster relief efforts, rather than the state of Michigan, as had been the case previously—crucial since the governor of Michigan brought the catastrophe to Flint in the first place. Weaver has stayed on the case fighting to keep Flint, which is still suffering, on the map of public attention. Because she’s still fighting and because she endorsed Hillary Clinton and spoke at the Democratic Convention, a recall campaign was started by her (Michigan? American? Russian?) adversaries, and although thousands of signatories on the recall petition were contested and found to be fraudulent, a recall vote will be on the ballot this November.

Weaver keeps on fighting. That’s a leader.

And there’s Frenchwoman Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, who is the first woman chair of the C40–a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change. At the C40 Mayors Summit 2016 in Mexico City last December, she announced that supporting and celebrating women leaders in climate action will be a key priority for her term as C40 chair. The Summit brought together the world’s most influential mayors, representing 650 million citizens, to present their common goals for a sustainable future one year after the climate change agreement in Paris–the same one from which Trump dragged the United States, kicking and screaming, away.

Hidalgo declared, “The negotiation of the Paris Agreement was concretely delivered by women leaders, and women will be essential in making it a reality in our cities. There are so many women mayors, deputy mayors, CEO and NGO leaders in cities around the world. I am determined to recognize the unique role they are playing in transforming our cities. Women are more than ever key to the future of our planet.

And she walks the walk, too, launching the Women4Climate initiative to help support and celebrate women leaders who are driving forward climate action, and to mentor younger women. At the inaugural Women4Climate conference in New York City last March, the mayors of Paris, Mexico City, Durban, Cape Town, and Caracas were among those who pledged to mobilize the next generation of women leaders fighting climate change.

All hail women mayors! Those are leaders. Those are antidotes to poison.

Ever think of running for mayor of your city or town? Just sayin’ . . .