Dem mayors pursue 2020 runs as solution to Washington paralysis

A slate of mayors considering presidential bids are hopeful of their 2020 prospects, as they look to leverage themselves as outsiders and effective negotiators at a time when Washington has just emerged from a record-long government shutdown.

Mayors have had little luck ascending to the highest office in the nation, with no sitting mayor ever elected to the White House.


But the new crop of potential 2020 contenders believe that their executive experience as mayors could differentiate them from the quickly growing pack of candidates running for the Democratic nomination.

“What usually happens in the U.S. is everyone declares ‘well that can’t happen, that’s never happened before,’” said Bruce Katz, who co-authored the book “The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism.”

“I think what’s going to happen in the next year, mayors are going to come forward and reverse-engineer federal policy. This is not abstract policy thinking. This is real world policy thinking that gets scaled up.”

The more than half a dozen current and former mayors considering 2020 campaigns include Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (D), New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who was mayor of Denver.

And some have already thrown their hats into the ring including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro (D), who most recently served as Housing and Urban Development secretary under the Obama administration.

There have only been three presidents who have previously served as mayors, and only one sitting mayor who was nominated by a major political party, back in 1812.

But some of the potential 2020 candidates believe voters will turn to mayors who can show they have made local governments work and shown an ability to work across the aisle at a time of sharp divisions in Washington.

On Friday, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE announced a deal to end the longest shutdown in U.S. history, with a three-week continuing resolution to open the government while negotiations continue with congressional Democrats over border wall funding.

At the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, Buttigieg, who announced his long-shot bid and exploratory committee on Wednesday, said that his constituents in South Bend would not tolerate a shutdown that would close public services and furlough workers.

“If we ever shut down the government over a policy dispute, we’d be run out of town on a rail,” Buttigieg told reporters after a speech on Thursday at the conference.

Buttigieg, who’s one of the youngest Democrats in the field at age 37, has been arguing that he has more government and military experience than Trump and Vice President Pence combined.

While he’s still relatively unknown nationally, Buttigieg is a Navy Reserve veteran who’s been deployed to Afghanistan, has been a Rhodes Scholar and has served two terms as South Bend mayor.

In his nascent campaign, Buttigieg has characterized himself as a fresh face and the only candidate currently in the race who lives in and knows the industrial Midwest, which helped deliver the White House to Trump in 2016.

Buttigieg said he plans to visit Iowa in the coming days to spend a large amount of time in the first-in-the-nation caucus state given the similarities between Iowa and Indiana.

As Democrats look to regain their footing in the Rust Belt, Buttigieg believes he’s the right candidate to help the party make those strides among working-class voters who gravitated to the Republican Party.

Garcetti, 47, has also been considering running for president in 2020, but his decision was temporarily sidelined by the six-day Los Angeles strike by teachers demanding higher wages and smaller classes sizes.

He helped broker an agreement this week that ended the strike, and teachers and students went back to schools on Wednesday.

Garcetti, who has been mayor of Los Angeles since 2013, said to “stay tuned” for his 2020 decision and told reporters Thursday that he had no specific timeline.

He said the teachers strike paused his thinking on a White House bid, but hasn’t changed his feelings on the matter.

Garcetti has been emphasizing his experience in the teachers strike negotiations as a lesson to the federal government on how to get opposing sides to “find common ground” and find a resolution.

He, too, dismissed doubts that mayors lack experience, adding that he runs one of the largest cities in the country.

“Even if I don’t run, I hope that a lot of mayors do. Mayors know how to run things,” Garcetti told reporters on Thursday. “I don’t think it’s a résumé anymore that fits into people’s preconceived notions.”

“I’d love to see someone coming in as president and bring a Cabinet full of mayors.”


Still, mayors face serious hurdles like fundraising and name recognition at the national level. They’ll also have difficulty competing for airtime with a slew of high-profile Democrats who have already jumped in, or are seriously considering the race.

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-N.Y.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.) are among half a dozen announced candidates, while other big names like former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) continue to mull over a White House run.

But Jon Reinish, a veteran Democratic strategist, noted that Garcetti has a large national network that he can tap into as mayor of a major metropolis, while Buttigieg helped raise his national profile when running for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship in 2017.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg, a New York billionaire, wouldn’t have any problems when it comes to money or even name recognition.

He said that if he runs, he would likely spend more than $100 million of his own personal fortune and not accept any money from outside groups. And he gained national attention for spending heavily in 2018 to help Democrats take back the House.

Even politicians with a larger national footprint are drawing on their past experiences when they served as mayors.

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-N.J.), who still hasn’t decided on 2020, spoke about his time as mayor of Newark while at the conference in Washington. Booker has been in the Senate since 2013, but gained national prominence as a mayor, especially one who is social media savvy and active on Twitter.

And in the first few days of his presidential campaign, Castro heavily touted his work as San Antonio mayor when voters in 2012 approved “Pre-K for [San Antonio],” which was covered by a sales tax increase.

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He’s now running on a platform that includes a push for universal prekindergarten and free tuition at public universities, colleges and apprenticeships.

At a time when politics has become increasingly polarized, mayors have continued to strike a bipartisan tone — even as some Democrats take heat for warmer relations with Republicans.

Some presidential candidates have endured scrutiny from within the Democratic Party for past political positions that were more conservative.

Biden, for example, recently faced criticism from some Democrats for praising a GOP lawmaker, who faced a competitive House race in 2018.

“Mayors I think are able to rise above the purist culture,” Reinish said. “Mayors are able to dodge those partisan-driven liabilities.”

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