While Steven Reed was making history as the first African American mayor of Montgomery, Alabama, Simon Borumand MPP 2021 was experiencing how the history of this community in the Deep South was being transformed. “Throughout the trip I was struck by how palpable the history of Montgomery is, and how it seeps into the everyday lives of the residents,” Borumand said. “There are lessons in how Montgomery is now coming to terms with its history and dealing with the legacies of years of racial animosity.”
Borumand was among the 21 HKS students participating in Transition Term 2020, a January program pairing student teams with the transition teams of newly elected mayors and governors. This year, seven mayors welcomed the students into their busy offices. The students were dispatched as teams of three to areas that could use their strengths, reporting to a variety of supervisors overseeing each HKS team. Borumand and teammates Andrew Bentley MC/MPA 2020 and Katie Shultz MPA/MBA (Tuck) 2022 reported to Reed’s transition advisor. “Our responsibilities during Transition Team were meaningful and sometimes crucial to the team’s success,” says Shultz. “We built a guide for the mayor's staff to craft the mission, values and priorities statement that could guide his new administration's work.”
Another team deployed to New Haven, Connecticut, reported directly to the newly elected mayor, Justin Elicker. Peggy Moriarty MPP/MBA (Wharton) 2022, Lauren Lombardo MPP 2021, and Ian Cutler MPP 2020 carried out duties including administrative and policy work, technology audits, even constituent communication. All agreed Mayor Elicker valued their involvement and input. Says Lombardo, “The mayor made an effort to invite us to sit in on all of his important meetings so that we could learn about day-to-day operations.”
Rafael Carbonell, executive director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, which runs the Transition Term program, added that in this second year of embedding students in transition teams, the learning experience expanded beyond the multi-week field work. “HKS added a new fall module with [Senior Lecturer in Public Policy] David King who taught on state and local transitions, so there was also a class complement. We collaborated with the Harvard Institute of Politics as they run the biennial Seminar on Transition for Newly Elected Mayors at HKS. We also worked with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative to get input on the new mayors we should engage to have them be part of Transition Term.”
While the experience has given the students valuable, practical experience with city governments, the Taubman Center received extremely positive reactions from the mayors as well. Mayor Indya Kincannon, of Knoxville, Tennessee, worked with Sarah Slater MPA/MBA (Tuck) 2021, Becky Mer MPP 2021, and Karim Farishta MPP 2020. When Mayor Kincannon learned the students were lodged two houses down from her home, she escorted them around her neighborhood, added them to her gym as guests, and took great pride in showing them what it meant to be a new mayor, behind the scenes. “The best part of the Transition Term was to share opportunities to learn from the mayor and shadow her day-to-day activities,” says Farishta.
It is clear Transition Term will have a long-lasting effect on both the students and the mayoral teams. Reflecting on the transformations he witnessed in Montgomery, Borumand is eager to apply these lessons: “I am excited to take these experiences and dive deeper into the history of my hometown, Seattle, and think through how it could undergo a similar reflection on its own past.”
Banner image: HKS Transition Term team supporting newly elected Mayor Reed. Left to right, Ms. Irva Reed, Simon Borumand, Mayor Steven Reed, Andrew Bentley, and Katie Shultz in City Hall in Montgomery, AL.
Photo by Simon Borumand