Winning the job as a big city’s mayor is a significant political achievement, all the more significant if elected to a second term.
Being a mayor is one of the toughest jobs in all of politics. It deals with crimes, broken infrastructure, poverty, homeless and back room politics. Someone who is successful as a mayor probably has the governmental skills to be a decent President though is deprived of perks such as a jumbo jet, Camp David or a bureaucracy larger than the cities that most mayors govern.
A good mayor could be worthy of a respectable post-City Hall life yet the job is rarely a political steppingstone. That’s true not just in New Orleans but nationwide.
For example: of all the 45 U.S. Presidents only one has been mayor of a major city. That was Grover Cleveland, who governed Buffalo for one year from 1882-82, before serving two years as governor of New York state prior to moving to the White House. (Calvin Coolidge and Andrew Jackson were mayors of Northampton, Mass. and Greenville, Tenn. respectively but those were small town gigs. The real measure of a performance is the complex and often volatile big cities.)
Former mayors have usually not performed well at achieving state office; maybe an occasional governorship or senate term, but not much else. A good example is New Orleans’ deLessepps Morrison who – prior to term limitations – was elected four times (’46- ’58) to City Hall. As mayor, he did much to modernize New Orleans structurally and politically; yet he ran for governor three times and lost each race. Why? One problem that mayors have outside the city limits is that the expanding suburbs and rural areas often regard cities as money pits and centers of vice and waste. Earl Long (Huey’s brother), who was the first to beat Morrison for Governor in ‘56, simply characterized Morrison to rural audiences as a “city slicker.”
Where mayors have had the most national success has been by presidential appointments. Morrison resigned during his fourth term to accept John Kennedy’s appointment as Ambassador to The Organization of American States. A natural job for mayors at the presidential Cabinet level is Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Jimmy Carter had the wisdom to appoint Moon Landrieu to that position. And, just this week, former mayor Mitch Landrieu was selected by President Biden to the task of overseeing the management of the $1T Federal Infrastructure Bill. Yet mayors, who are used to having been the boss, sometimes get uneasy sitting in on someone else’s meetings; enforcing someone else’s policies; following someone else’s politics. If a mayor is a lawyer there is always a judgeship possibility. Moon Landrieu ran for the state court of appeals and served eight years before retiring. (Perhaps another psychic adjustment: A former court of appeals judge, not Landrieu, once told that appeals courts, where judges are adjudicating on someone else’s actions are the most boring of all judgeships.)
Marc Morial landed a plumb in the activist world by becoming head of the National Urban League, an executive level job that put him in play nationally. For other former mayors a life of peace and quiet might be welcomed.
Historically, having been a general, senator or a vice-president provides more reliable steps to the presidency than do city halls, but with history there will be deviations:
We do not mean to equate Grover Cleveland with former Argentine bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, but it was once said that a Jesuit will never be elected to the papacy. As Pope Francis, Bergoglio would prove differently.
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