Leaders at the local level, in contrast to their Washington, D.C., counterparts, have the freedom to innovate in order to help prepare their cities for the future. "Unlike Congress, there's no fiddling over the fiscal cliff or divisions into angry, ideological, debating societies," reads an article in Newsweek that presents a list of America's most innovative mayors, each noted for leadership in specific policy areas.
Education: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
While city hall typically has limited influence over local schools, Landrieu has championed charter schools, and supported reform candidates for the local school board. He spearheaded efforts to secure millions in nonprofit monies and $1.8 billion from FEMA for school rebuilding efforts, post-Katrina. Charter school enrollment has skyrocketed, along with test scores, while the dropout rate is half of what it used to be.
Public Safety: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
A symbiotic relationship between Bloomberg and longtime Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is credited for the Big Apple's unusually low crime rate, which was expected to rise in the post-Giuliani era. A reduced police force is imprisoning fewer people, and a 1,000 officer strong counterterrorism unit has blocked 14 serious acts of terror before they could be carried out. 2012 is on pace to register New York City's lowest homicide rate in its recorded history.
Digital Government: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Noted for his bold style, Emanuel has made great strides in advancing the cause of digital government. The city's three new data officers have published hundreds of data sets, resulting in innovative app development, greater transparency and a more engaged citizenry. Chicago's use of predictive analytics will likely afford more opportunities to serve the public proactively, with ramifications in several areas, including public safety and city planning.
Entrepreneurial Infrastructure: Kansas City Mayor Sly James
Google's choice of Kansas City for its ultra high-speed fiber network was no accident. Silicon Prairie advocate James continues to support policies that ensure Kansas City sees maximum benefit from this unprecedented gigabit connectivity. A champion of local tech startups, James continues to pursue programs to lure the best minds in tech to Kansas City. The plan is already reaping dividends for the local tax base.
Quality of Life: Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett
Targeted taxes and other innovative funding strategies are helping Cornett realize his vision in Oklahoma City. A push to revitalize an underpopulated downtown core is coming to fruition, resulting in a lively entertainment district, featuring sports and arts venues. Plans for additional infrastructure, including a 70-acre downtown park, are paid for with voter-approved sales tax increases, keeping the city from incurring related taxpayer debt.
New Orleans photo from Shutterstock.