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Republished by The Malaysian Insider

by Jennie S. Bev, Singapore

Top world-class mayors are New York City’s Michael Bloomberg, Newark’s Cory Booker, and now Jakarta’s dynamic duo of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. City-level rulers are not actually “ruling”, they are managing, solving problems, making cities better without any ideological labels. 

Cities are habitats, not seats of ideologies, according to Benjamin Barber. Thus, mayors are problem solvers, not ideologues like presidents or legislators.

I am using “mayor” and “mayoral” as an example for simplicity purposes in this short article. It can be any local government official, not necessarily mayoral.

The role of a mayor is ensuring a good habitat for people, institutions and animals to live in. The role of a president is ensuring citizens are safe with fair and just laws and their enforcement, so that the people are empowered to work hard and unite under the fundamentals of a country. In Indonesia, the ultimate role of a president is to make sure that the government, the government officials and the people adhere to the state ideology of Pancasila and to the constitution.

NYC’s Bloomberg was a Democrat, then a Republican, and now is an independent. He said that parties have been restricting him in making decisions. Jokowi and Ahok both belong to political parties, for in Indonesia it is inconceivable to go into politics without strong political affiliations. Yet, parties are actually limiting.

Mayors earn special places in people’s hearts. Presidents are a bit further away from the people, for they must work on national-level public policies, which may or may not result in people’s prosperity. Yet, policies are under his influence, thus a slight mistake would prevent the people from achieving the safety and security of a prosperous nation.

Bill Clinton, for instance, made one mistake in 1999, which was repealing the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which separated commercial banks from investment banks. 

The result came almost 10 years later with the 2008 Great Recession, which is still being experienced by Americans nationwide with high unemployment of 7.6 percent as of May 2013 and 45.6 million people living in poverty as of mid-September 2013.

When a president fails, the whole social and economic structure collapses and his successor would need to work within political limitations in order to fix the inherited state of the economy. George W. Bush did not experience the economic downturn for long, for he soon passed the country to Barack Obama, who is now working hard to fix the economy with new policies to support the population, which is generally poorer than its parents, like Obamacare and various welfare benefits.

Presidents work on national and international levels. His or her policies must not create new burdens for the people, but alleviate inconveniences and provide a feeling of safety in general. Whatever it takes, he or she must be able to stop daily terrors, like ongoing public sexual assaults and violent crimes involving the use of weapons — both gun and non-gun related crimes.

Mayors fix things every single day, for they work from the bottom up. Yet mayors have limitations because their jurisdiction is citywide. They cannot make policies involving inter-city and nationwide scopes. For instance, Jokowi and Ahok might have the power to ensure the safety of Tanah Abang market, but they don’t have jurisdiction over markets in other neighboring cities, not even Depok or Bogor. This would create discrepancies in people’s feeling of safety. People would feel they were being treated unfairly.

Presidents work from top to bottom. It is a president’s job to create the overall feeling of safety throughout the nation by providing services to all mayors and their cities (and other local officials). It is also the president’s job to create an ambiance of a safe country because the central government in Jakarta is ready to lend a hand whenever regional governments need assistance.

Presidents work as if they were chief event organizers, while mayors are executors who ensure that the event works according to plan. The event must go on happily and merrily in a safe and secure environment, which is the chief event organizer’s main duty. Simplify things, don’t make things more complicated than they already are.[]


The Jakarta Post, October 5, 2013

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