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Leveraging the resources of the private sector, local non-profits and universities was the focus of discussion Friday morning during the final day of the 16th biennial Seminar on Transition and Leadership for Newly Elected Mayors held at the Kennedy School.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino encouraged the new mayors to reach out early to business leaders in their communities, to solicit their help in solving public problems.
Ninety-nine percent of the corporations out there have a social conscience,” Menino said. “They want to be involved and they want to be asked. They’ll respond to a call from the mayor.”
Menino noted the success of several Boston programs — including the Main Streets Initiative and After School for All — which have received both public and private support.
“The business community wants to be a partner,” he said. “The university community wants to be a partner. You need to reach out to those folks and they’ll help you.”
Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson discussed the importance of collaboration in building community support for a controversial $700 million airport expansion project in his city. “We couldn’t have done it without the private sector’s financial support,” he said.
Abramson also pointed to the successful $100 million waterfront development project in Louisville as an example of the good things that can happen when the city partners with local businesses. “We reached out to the private sector and said, ‘We can accept mediocrity like we have in the past or we can push the envelope and do something really special.’” The end result, he said, was a significant “quality of life enhancement” for the city.
Citizens Financial Group Executive Vice President Heather Campion told the new mayors that they and business leaders operate in “mutually dependent worlds.”
“Look at [the private sector] as a resource that you reach out to and communicate with on a regular basis,” Campion said. “And I would do it as quickly as possible because it sets a tone.”
Banking, Campion emphasized, has “changed dramatically over the past 25 years” and is now much more “community-based.” She explained that banks today play a central role in community development by lending in low-income communities, making investments in the city, and providing services to citizens. “There’s great opportunity there,” she said, because “they know the community.”
The discussion was moderated by Christine Letts, associate dean for executive programs at the Kennedy School. Approximately 20 new mayors attended the three-day seminar which was co-sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.
Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Harvard News Office