"Smaller government is better, free enterprise is the best way to produce value, and regulatory burdens and taxes reduce urban opportunity"
Leading from the Grassroots
Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith '68 has earned a national reputation as a city leader and was recently hailed by New Republic magazine as one of "the Pride of the Cities" for his work in reinventing government and reinvigorating his community. But Goldsmith hesitates to speak about leadership. He believes the term is often misunderstood.
"High school and college students occasionally mistake leadership for authority, as if the guy who gets to make the decision is the leader," Goldsmith says. "But if you're looking at it from a Wabash perspective, the ability to stake out a principle, to think analytically and critically about how to accomplish that principle-to motivate people so that they can have victories around accomplishing activities consistent with that principle-that would be more of a Wabash legacy of leadership."
Goldsmith credits Wabash-particularly the political science department and the work of Wabash College Professor of Economics Ben Rogge-for offering the intellectual foundation for his success in public life and giving him a place to practice the skills he would need.
"I took every political science course that was offered," Goldsmith says. "The professors were intellectually rigorous, and to be able to think about public policy and to develop critical thinking skills was highlyimportant." Named editor of The Bachelor after his predecessor "went to see a girlfriend at Purdue and never came back," Goldsmith remembers working with Ron Clark '68 to change the Senior Council into today's more representative Student Senate. He also learned one of his earliest practical lessons in politics while a member of Beta Theta Pi.
"My fraternity was losing money every month, and they didn't want to raise the dues, so they put me in charge of a project to figure out how to run the house without raising dues," Goldsmith recalls. "I gave them 25 suggestions, all of which improved the financial situation in the house, but each suggestion made somebody uncomfortable-the cost of Cokes in the machine would go up by a dime, or free access to something would go down.
"It was my first clue that the public good and individual self-interest often collide," Goldsmith chuckles. "I think of this from time to time, because I was convinced that everything I recommended would be received with great fanfare, I would immediately be elected president of the house, and I would be hailed a great leader. It didn't exactly go that way."
But Goldsmith stuck to his ideas, and he's since built much of his political career by adhering to a set of principles he calls "the Benjamin Rogge ideas: smaller government is better, free enterprise is the best way to produce value, and regulatory burdens and taxes reduce urban opportunity."
He sees commitment to another belief-that "everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed"-as being essential for any leader of a major U.S. city and cites "the rebuilding of many of our urban neighborhoods" as the accomplishment he's most proud of during his tenure as mayor. He discusses how one such neighborhood began to turn around in this excerpt from his first book, The Twenty-First Century City:
"In our desire to push government down to the neighborhood level, we encouraged residents and community organizations to tell us how services should be delivered in their neighborhood. Just as reformers in Washington, D.C. would soon embark on efforts to devolve authority to states and cities, we were trying to devolve power from City Hall to dozens of neighborhood-level organizations. Robert Woodson brought me into contact with some of the remarkable grassroots leaders around the country identified by Jack Kemp. I was determined to allow our neighborhood leaders to have the same opportunities.
"Shortly after returning from a meeting with Woodson, I met a public housing resident named Saundra Bailey, who ran a cleaning service that employed several of her fellow residents of public housing. She offered a few positive comments about conditions in the neighborhood, but complained about the absence of a variety store. Using my best empowerment language, I suggested she consider opening her own. Astonished, she quickly brought me back to earth by asking what I thought she knew about running a variety store.
"To make neighborhood empowerment work, we needed to give new skills to Saundra and leaders like her. We started by creating the Neighborhood Resource Center. The Center, operated by a board of community representatives, serves as a school to promote grassroots activisim and teach the skills necessary to succeed in redevelopment activities. Since 1994, the Neighborhood Resource Center has helped create 80 new neighborhood and homeowner associations. Graduates of the program have made an immediate impact on their respective neighborhoods-from playing an active role in the financial management of their communities to winning zoning cases.
"Some neighborhood associations were active enough to warrant full-time staff. In response, we created the Neighborhood Empowerment Initiatives, funded by the Foundations provided funding so that an advocate could be located in each of our targeted neighborhoods. We did not want to use city funds for the positions in fear that this would co-opt the grassroots activism we were trying to create
"Our advocates assisted with economic development and helped to formulate goals, needs, and strategies. One of these representatives once asked me how I would know when he succeeded. I answered, only half-jokingly, 'When your residents become interested enough to march on City Hall to demand better services, I'll know that we've made it.'
". . . We reached a turning point on the day that Carolyn Hook, a mother from [the Indianapolis neighborhood of] Fountain Square, visited my office with a group of fellow residents. Armed with maps, photographs, and court records, these women presented me with a list of abandoned buildings being used by crack dealers, street corners being used by prostitutes, and a variety of other neighborhood nuisances. In other words, the neighborhood began to have confidence that the city would respond, and produced valuable information to help us make the neighborhood safer.
". . . Carolyn and her neighbors then went back to Fountain Square and took up the fight with us. She organized anti-drug marches in high-crime areas, and staged Friday night picket lines around crack houses. In the six months following our meeting, violent crime in Fountain Square plummeted and 25 drug houses were put out of business . . .
"Fountain Square became a better place to live for one reason-because the neighborhood flexed its muscles and decided that it would not abide the presence of drug dealers . . . But neighborhood leadership is vital to more than just fighting crime. Every aspect of improving community life depends upon a strong community fabric."
Excerpted from The Twenty-First Century City by Stephen Goldsmith, Regnery Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.