In the past year, the spotlight has been trained on the nation’s mayors. American towns and cities faced unprecedented challenges brought by the medical, financial, and educational fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, a national reckoning on equity and race, political unrest, and natural disasters connected to climate change.
To offer additional support to municipal leaders, Harvard and Bloomberg Philanthropies have announced a new Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University, made possible by a $150 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies, led by former New York City Mayor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, M.B.A. ’66. The new effort builds on the work of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a collaboration between Bloomberg Philanthropies, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Business School, which has been bringing together mayors from across the nation and the world to learn, strengthen skills, share ideas, and create a community of city leaders since 2017.
The new center will be a hub that will draw on expertise and scholarship from across disciplines and all of Harvard’s Schools. It will be led by Director Jorrit de Jong of the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). De Jong and Rawi Abdelal of Harvard Business School (HBS) will continue as the faculty co-chairs of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, which will be part of the new center.
Plans include the creation of resources to help newly elected mayors build teams, custom programming for additional city hall leaders, research on city governance, and City Hall Fellowships for Harvard graduate students. In addition, 10 endowed faculty positions focused on municipal problem-solving will be named for Emma Bloomberg (M.B.A. ’07, M.P.A. ’07), a graduate of both HKS and HBS.
The Gazette recently spoke to Kathy Sheehan, mayor of Albany, N.Y., and Randall Woodfin, mayor of Birmingham, Ala., and asked them to share how their experience at Harvard as part of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative — the connections they made and the continued support from the program — prepared them to face the toughest year of their careers.
Kathy Sheehan and Randall Woodfin
GAZETTE: How are things going back home?
SHEEHAN: It certainly is challenging on many fronts, from the personal — people who’ve lost their jobs or are struggling to keep their businesses open — to health concerns, to the desire to move forward with much-needed changes to address structural racism. This is hard work, and I think it’s made harder by the fact that we can’t be in a room together looking at one another, that we can’t be creating those connections and cues that that happen when you’re in a room together as opposed to on Zoom.
WOODFIN: We’ve been in crisis mode for a year from March. And we’ve tried to manage as best we can. I had a pretty bad bout of COVID myself and actually ended up hospitalized. But overall, my team is better [for it]. We’ve learned a lot. I’m glad it’s the fourth quarter of COVID.