Four Mayors Pushing the Envelope of Economic Justice in Their Cities

The magnificent power of four mayors caring deeply about creating prosperity in their hometowns was on full display at the Prosperity Summit’s Thursday morning plenary, “Bending Towards Justice: Perspectives on the Long Game”. They are shining examples of what it looks like when local elected officials define a bold vision of creating opportunity in the cities they love.

Although the mayors had different experiences, they shared common themes, First, comprehensive solutions are necessary. Second, center the voices of those you are trying to support. Finally, partner, partner and partner more in crafting and implementing ideas that bring value to people’s lives and give them real agency in their decisions.

Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland, CA, underscored the importance of doing all the things—the days of picking and choosing single issues are over. Her administration’s signature Oakland Promise is working to strengthen cradle-to-career supports that ensure every child in Oakland graduates high school with the expectations, resources and skills to complete college and have a successful career. Improving educational outcomes is one of several of the Mayor’s initiatives to create a more equitable and prosperous Oakland through workforce development, homelessness prevention and public safety efforts.

Mayor Michael Tubbs dreams big in Stockton, CA, because, as he relayed, he can’t risk not doing something in his hometown. Many have heard of the guaranteed income pilot that kicks off in 2019, but he’s also creating more access to credit unions and helping students get to and through college with Stockton Scholars. The guaranteed income pilot is undergirded by a belief that people with low-incomes deserve self-determination, agency and trust to make sound decisions. As he put it, “it’s hard to tell if people can manage money if they don’t have money.”

This spirit of empowerment shines through the initiatives championed by Mayor Victoria Woodards of Tacoma, WA. She and nonprofits across the city are building cohorts of financial navigators to help residents get the information and advice they need, from people they know and trust. At the center is the importance of having those most impacted developing and leading implementation of the solution.

Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul, MN, drew out themes of collaboration, partnership and co-creation. His budget proposes investments in equity, innovation and resilience through increasing the minimum wage; producing, protecting and preserving thousands of housing units; and eliminating library fees to help keep money in residents’ pockets and allow them to re-engage with new programming at St. Paul’s libraries. He reminded us that, “if a budget doesn’t reflect your values, they aren’t your values.” As an example of this, he prioritized creating an immigration legal defense fund while forgoing an expensive fireworks display.

Mayor Carter expressed that the purpose of public policy and budget decisions is not to achieve abstract performance goals, but to create real value in residents’ lives—something that each of the mayors are doing in different ways. Their passion and conviction remind us that we can go big and go home. When we remember what’s at stake with inaction, we can be compelled to take big risks for the people we love and the places we call home.

Want to learn more about how you can take effective action at the local level? Explore our Municipal Policy Blueprint, a framework for starting conversations on building wealth equity where you live.    

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