Mayors, grounded as they are in the day-to-day workings of the cities they lead, often bring a unique – and refreshingly pragmatic – perspective to national political debates. My recent conversation with two former mayors was no exception. Scott Smith, a Republican from Mesa, Arizona, and Michael Nutter, a Democrat from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I had a far-reaching discussion that touched on some key policy priorities of the next administration, including immigration, trade, and infrastructure, and explored how a federal-local partnership might be improved in the years to come. While our full conversation can be heard on the Brookings Intersections podcast, here are a few statements the two mayors made that stood out:
Mayor Scott Smith: “I think, and this is both the challenge and the reality of the debate on immigration, if Donald Trump or anybody says I’m going to deport X-number of criminals — and when I say “criminals” I mean people who have served prison time — you will get broad-based support on both sides of the aisle, even among Latinos. Nobody who has a criminal record and is here illegally should stay here. Deport them. But if you say ‘I’m going to go out and deport illegals,’ once again, both sides of the aisle, a majority of Republicans in Maricopa County would say, no, you’ve gone too far. So we’re more than mincing words here.”
Mayor Michael Nutter: “What we need is a rational, reformed immigration policy for all 50 states and territories that offers a pathway to citizenship. Folks came here for a particular reason, mostly to become citizens. They work hard, take care of their families, start businesses, employ others in some instances, and are not the problem.”
On Trade and Economic Growth
Mayor Scott Smith: “As a mayor your greatest wish is for safety and prosperity, and there’s no way you obtain prosperity without trade. Whether you like it or not, we’re in an interdependent world economy.”
Mayor Michael Nutter: “We just have to help people reorient themselves. There are a whole bunch of jobs in the United States of America that are unfilled today because the people that we need to fill those jobs don’t necessarily have the skill sets for them. So we still have this mismatch between available jobs and skill sets. We have to have a massive campaign to help people understand you can take some of the skills you have with additional training and get a really good manufacturing job.”
Mayor Michael Nutter: “The next big step for the federal government is to adopt, like every other government in the United States of America, a full capital plan that is five or six years in length. You can’t make long-term plans on short-term money.”
Mayor Scott Smith: “Historically, we looked at infrastructure as a generational investment, a way to a better future, a way to create long-term economic opportunity. Somehow it morphed into a debate over short-term stimulus.”
On the federal-local partnership
Mayor Scott Smith: “If we look for more opportunities to let the cities and local communities decide how best to allocate resources, and challenge them to leverage those resources, you’ll find… cooperation will increase and trust will go up. Trust goes up when there’s success. When people can touch and feel and experience success from government, they soon trust government. Let’s redefine and expand upon that partnership which empowers communities because it’s worked. It’s proven that it works.”
Mayor Michael Nutter: “We need a new partnership between and among cities, metro areas, the federal government, and other political leaders. Two days a year we can be as political as we want, but the other 363, it really should be about getting stuff done, making things happen.”
On how America can move forward after a divisive election
Mayor Michael Nutter: “Could we, as electeds, remember why we came into this business in the first place and what are we trying to get done? We’re trying to improve the lives of people: I think that’s what most electeds want to do. A lot of the partisanship, the debates back and forth, the great oratories at 2 a.m. in the morning — I mean, that’s not doing anything. No kid is going to read as a result of that. No road is going to get paved. No bridge is going to get built. So I think we’ve got to get back to business.”
Mayor Scott Smith: “I didn’t vote for Barack Obama, but he was my president and I wanted him – I needed him to succeed. Donald Trump is everyone’s president. We need him to succeed. Yes, a lot of the burden is on him because, in many ways, he’s poisoned the well, and he has a lot of work to be done to try and undo that. But it can be done. America has had a lot of crazy characters in office. We’ve had more than a few scoundrels as president and somehow we have not only survived, we’ve thrived. So I’m pretty confident we’ll make it through this time, too.”
These mayors hailed from two counties that strongly supported opposing candidates for president. But their post-election reflections demonstrate how ugly campaign politics and rhetoric can – and must – give way to commonsense policies and partnerships in governing. Rather than threaten cities over immigration policy, the next administration must recognize that its ambitious domestic agenda requires an effective partnership with local leaders who share their desire to deliver better opportunities for Americans.
The Hon. Michael Nutter is the former Mayor of Philadelphia and is a Professor of Professional Practice for Urban and Public Affairs at Columbia University. The Hon. Scott Smith is the former Mayor of Mesa, Arizona and former President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Both are also Nonresident Senior Fellows at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.