President Obama had the rhetorical luxury to talk grandly in his State of the Union address, reminding Americans, “we do big things” and letting our imaginations take care of the rest.
But America’s mayors, in their annual state of the village speeches at local libraries, chambers of commerce and community centers, are compelled to keep it real—which makes their speeches a truer test of the state of the nation as it is, rather than as we hope it may someday be.
Two years ago, the economy looked like a bottomless pothole. “Nothing,” said Bolingbrook, Ill. Mayor Roger Claar in January of 2009, “is trending in a positive manner.” He had that right, and so last year even New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dared to declare only little plans. “Can we centralize some of our human resource functions? And information technology resources? And payment and billing systems? I think the answer is yes.”
And this January, with Wall Street looking up but Main Street still boarded up, what on earth were the mayors going to say this year? To find out, I read every state of the village address I could get my hands on.
Most of them started the same way—by taking credit where credit was due. (Wherever it was due.)