As the nation’s mayors gathered in Washington, D.C., for their annual winter meeting earlier this year, I was able to connect with friends and colleagues on both sides of the political aisle. Having had time to reflect after completing three terms as mayor of Columbia, S.C., at the end of 2021, I can faithfully say the role of a mayor has never been more important in addressing the most pressing economic, health, public safety and climate priorities facing our nation’s communities.
Whether leading big cities with large populations and bigger budgets than some states or managing small municipalities in rural areas, mayors are on the front lines of nearly every challenge facing our communities today. They are tackling a wide range of issues including combating the COVID-19 pandemic, promoting broadband adoption, addressing opioid addiction, responding to extreme weather emergencies, and working with employers to create jobs with fair wages.
It is not a surprise to me that President Biden recruited several current and past mayors to serve in critical leadership positions in his administration. These include former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary; former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as secretary of labor; former Warrensville Heights, Ohio, Mayor Marcia Fudge as secretary of housing and urban development; and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as ambassador to India. I am particularly excited that President Biden selected my friend and former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to lead implementation of the historic infrastructure package that will improve the lives of American families. As a former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Landrieu knows how to get the job done. Each of these leaders made measurable, positive impacts on the lives of their constituents and are serving the president and the nation with distinction.
Mayors are also leading our communities as they navigate some of the most pressing economic, health, public safety and climate priorities facing our nation. We have made much progress over the past several decades, but great challenges still lie ahead. While I am no longer an elected official, I will continue to devote my energy and skills to help address the problems that vex our society. Work titles are fleeting. However, I carry with me every single day the knowledge that the opportunities I have had are because of the labors and sacrifices of so many who were voiceless and powerless before me. They gave everything so that I would be able to serve and strive to make the world a better place.
And like those before me, I feel a responsibility to provide my shoulders to help pull up younger generations and show them what is possible when we dream big and work together. The fight against racial and social injustice must continue even when it is not easy or convenient. While encouraging future leaders, I also intend to work with today’s business leaders to help them engage with pressing health, infrastructure and social justice issues to help make measurable differences in the lives of their employees, their customers, and the next generation of Americans.
Leading with compassion, CEOs can take ownership of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and intentionally drive change at all levels. By making an inclusive culture a top priority and engaging with community leaders, starting with mayors across the nation, corporate America can “do well by doing good.”
Steve Benjamin served three terms as mayor of Columbia, S.C., from 2010 to 2021. He was president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors from 2018-2019 and president of the African American Mayors Association from 2015-2016. He is the founder of the Benjamin Firm and Co-Chair of BGR Group’s Advisory Board. In October 2021, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo named Steve Benjamin the FirstNet Authority’s board chairman.