The Myth of the Supermayor

The national media have proclaimed a new conventional wisdom for the city formerly known as Nap Town: this is now the Golden Age of Indianapolis, and Stephen Goldsmith is the mayor with the Midas touch. He may not be as well known as Rudy Giuliani of New York, Richard Riordan of Los Angeles, or even Ed Rendell of Philadelphia, but he has become the official prototype for the New Breed of Urban Mayors, those paragons of pragmatism who are reviving America's cities, rolling up their sleeves and reinventing municipal government.

Governing magazine paid the ultimate tribute, naming Goldsmith its 1995 Public Official of the Year. But he has also been canonized by columnists ranging from William Raspberry to David Broder to George Will, by magazines including Time, Newsweek, Forbes, and the New Republic, by newspapers like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and even the Jerusalem Post and Asahi Shimbun of Tokyo. Most of the accolades have been aimed at his innovative efforts to privatize government services, but he is now attracting more general praise for his modestly titled how-to book, The Twenty-First Century City: Resurrecting Urban America.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis is piling up headlines like "Diamond in the Rust" and "Star of the Snowbelt." It was ranked the second-best city for living and working by Employment Weekly, fifth-best for small business by Entrepreneur, seventh-most-improved for all business by Fortune. Nation's Cities Weekly crowed that "Indianapolis has evolved into a growth dynamo, setting new standards of excellence for urban renewal and economic development." The Christian Science Monitor agreed: "This Corn Belt capital is emerging from Midwest anonymity into a vibrant, marquee metropolis."

Amid all the furor over Indianapolis as Paradise City and Goldsmith as Mayor God, it may be surprising to hear the city's truancy court supervisor describe how her caseload has almost quadrupled during the Goldsmith era. "People don't realize how bad things are out there," she says. "The drugs, the abuse, the dysfunctional families. It's awful, and it's getting worse."

It may be even more surprising that the supervisor is Margaret Goldsmith, the mayor's wife. But if any of the national reporters who made their obligatory pilgrimages here to gush about this Republican mayor and his visionary, businesslike approach to government had taken even a cursory look around, they might have noticed the dark side of "Trendy Indy." At a time when crime rates are plunging nationwide, the city has shattered its all-time homicide record three times in four years. At a time when education is finally the top national priority, only 21 percent of sophomores in the Indianapolis public schools (IPS) passed a test of basic math and English skills last fall.

"Oh, we've got plenty of problems," one city official says. "The murder rate is absolutely intolerable. The schools are awful. . . . People just don't want to live around here if they've got kids, and it's hard to blame them."

That city official? Mayor Goldsmith himself.

That's not all he has to say about his city. On a recent drive through some not-so-trendy sections of Indy, the mayor also mentioned that half of its neighborhoods are "falling apart,'' that his housing authority is "totally incompetent,'' that teen pregnancy here is "an epidemic," that taxes in Indianapolis are "much too high," that crack cocaine is "out of control," and that police corruption is "a serious problem." At one point, he stopped to point out a boarded-up supermarket. "This," he said with a sweep of his hand, "was our grandest failure." He had spent $3 million to lure the store to a dangerous ghetto, only to see it fail because he didn't take additional measures to make the ghetto less dangerous. "It was a dumb idea," he concedes now. Then he pauses. "You know, this is the first time in a while that I haven't heard gunshots around here."

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Goldsmith's golden-boy national reputation infuriates plenty of local critics: liberals who consider him a downtown mayor, teachers who resent his advocacy of school choice, Republicans who call him a traitor, Democrats who have dubbed him "ambition in a suit,'' and activists who blame him for all the urban woes of Indianapolis. But the point here is not that Goldsmith is a bad mayor. Yes, he can be brusque and sarcastic. Yes, he probably talks too much. Yes, he's an ambitious smarty-pants; the guy was America's youngest Eagle Scout at age 12. As a manager, though, he has been creative and often courageous, reforming his city's budget and revitalizing his city's infrastructure. The urban woes of Indianapolis are not entirely his fault.

An outbreak of media groupthink spread the myth of the supermayors: reform-minded Republicans like Goldsmith, Giuliani, and Riordan as well as tough-minded Democrats like Rendell, John Norquist of Milwaukee, Dennis Archer of Detroit, Richard Daley of Chicago, and Michael White of Cleveland. President Clinton and GOP congressional leaders kept the myth alive, glad for an excuse to ignore the deep structural problems that still imperil most cities. But Goldsmith's struggles in Indianapolis should explode the myth. After all, he's supposed to be the model supermayor, a boy-faced wunderkind who is chairman of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Civic Innovation; a good-government guru who has given tutorials to scores of visiting politicians; the man whom Newt Gingrich called "the most creative and innovative leader in the country." And Indianapolis is supposed to be the model reborn city. "It shows there's only so much mayors can do," says analyst John Neal of the Polis Center, an Indianapolis think tank. "They look like miracle workers when the economy is great. They look like idiots when the economy goes bad. But a lot of what's happening in urban America is out of their control."

The supermayors make a nice counterintuitive story after so many years of drumbeating about urban decay. They're smart. They prefer action to ideology, pragmatism to partisanship. They even call each other to talk about union negotiations, wastewater treatment, and anti-graffiti sealants. But none of the favorable articles ask the obvious questions: If American cities are enjoying such a renaissance, why are their child poverty, incarceration, and teen pregnancy rates at all-time highs? If Goldsmith can resurrect urban America, why can't he provide safe streets or decent schools in Indianapolis?


Indianapolis is America's twelfth most populous city, anchoring America's thirty-first most populous metropolitan area. If that sounds like a discrepancy, well, it is. Indianapolis statistics are distorted by Unigov, a 1969 annexation deal in which Indianapolis quadrupled in size to include all of Marion County, swallowing 12 of its inner-ring suburbs. Unigov, brokered by then Mayor Richard Lugar, has been renowned ever since as a groundbreaking example of metropolitan government in action, "a national poster child for progressive reform." In fact, however, it's more of a numbers game. Understanding that numbers game goes a long way toward explaining the myth of Indianapolis, as well as the cult of Goldsmith.

Metropolitan government is an attractive concept for people who care about cities, and it has been justly praised in these pages [see Karen Paget's "Can Cities Escape Political Isolation?" January-February 1998]. It can help unify a region. It can connect the overflowing wealth of the suburbs to the desperate needs of the city. It can create efficiencies in government through economies of scale. It can encourage local politicians to take a regional approach to issues like transportation, environmental protection, and economic development. So why didn't this happen under Unigov?

The problem is that Unigov was never a real metropolitan government. The dozen suburban communities that agreed to join the enlarged entity known as Indianapolis all insisted on maintaining control of their own schools, fire departments, police departments, and poor relief. They also levy property taxes on their own residents to pay for those functions, forcing the original city (where a whopping one-third of the property is tax-exempt) to do the same. Four of those suburbs -- Southport, Beech Grove, Lawrence, and Speedway (the home of the Indianapolis 500) -- even retained their own mayors; they essentially "opted out" of Unigov, yet they are still represented on its council and still vote for its mayor. In other words, the suburbs have been tied to the city politically, but except for a small countywide downtown-improvement tax, they have not been tied to the city economically. Today, for example, taxes for poor relief are ten times higher in Center Township, as the original city is known, than in any other area of Indianapolis -- its residents have the greatest need for relief, and, consequently, the least ability to supply it.

So what has Unigov accomplished? For one thing, by including upscale suburban voters in city elections, it has assured 30 years of white Republican rule in Indianapolis, even though the original city limits are now predominantly Democratic and almost half minority. But the most important legacy of Unigov is its assurance that when middle-class city dwellers escape to the suburbs, they still count as Indianapolis residents. The result is an array of impressive numbers for the entire "city" (a population that has almost doubled since 1950, low crime rates, above-average public school test scores, 2.5 percent unemployment) that mask serious deterioration within the original city limits (a population that has dropped by half since 1950, soaring crime rates, abysmal test scores, census tracts with double-digit unemployment). The overall strength of Marion County has made Goldsmith a media darling, but his duties are mostly limited to the struggling original city. In effect he gets the best of one world and the worst of another: he gets credit for success he had little to do with, but has had little real success in the place where he's charged with achieving it.

"The out-of-town press sees the Indianapolis numbers and goes wild," says Harrison Ullmann, a veteran Indianapolis Star reporter who is now editor of the alternative weekly NUVO. "But under the shadow of Unigov, we've got all the same problems in the urban areas as everyone else. Believe me, when the bottom drops out of this economy, this city could really go to hell."

In fairness, Unigov has probably contributed somewhat to a revival of downtown Indianapolis, although the booming national economy has been a far more important force. (After all, downtowns are enjoying similar comebacks in Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, and even Detroit without any Unigov-style arrangements.) A new $320 million Circle Center Mall is drawing high-end shoppers back from the suburbs. Convention attendance has jumped 700 percent since 1984. The so-called Mile Square area has a new retrochic ballpark and a new IMAX theater; construction is underway on a $175 million Pacers arena and a $50 million NCAA headquarters. Downtown Indianapolis still feels a bit like Zenith, the boring, boosterish midwestern city in Babbitt, but at least it's no longer safe for the local Jaycees to shoot pigeons in Mile Square on Sunday afternoons.

Mile Square, however, is only one square mile; it just happens to be the one square mile where national reporters stay on their expense accounts before they file stories about the Indianapolis Renaissance. Unfortunately, the city covers 403 square miles, and many of the square miles around downtown are not the kind of areas that attract IMAX theaters. Still, this bad news, like the good news about Mile Square, has much more to do with larger economic forces than with Mayor Goldsmith.

As early as 1849, when railroads were giving the city a reputation as the Crossroads of America, the Indianapolis Journal knew it would never flourish as a mere transportation hub: "If Indianapolis ever arrives to be anything more than a respectable inland town, it must be by becoming a manufacturing city.'' That is exactly what happened. The auto industry took off here early in the century -- symbolized by the city's main claim to fame, the speedway, which was built in 1909 -- and Indianapolis steadily developed a diverse manufacturing base. By World War II, it was known as the "Toolmaker to the Nation."

Indianapolis is still called the Crossroads of America, thanks to a busy airport, bustling cargo hubs, and the nation's most interstate highways, but it is no longer known as America's toolmaker -- or anything-else-maker. In 1960, 41 percent of the city's jobs were in manufacturing; by 1990, the figure was 18 percent. The top three Indianapolis employers are now the city, state, and federal governments, which together provide ten times more jobs than the largest private employer, the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co.

Of course, the decline of manufacturing was not just an Indianapolis phenomenon; it was an American phenomenon, as dozens of cities built around factories lost their economic engines and fell apart [see Kim Phillips-Fein, "The Still-Industrial City"]. It's an oft-told story: jobs, money, and political clout fled to the suburbs. Massive highway projects, urban renewal projects, and public housing projects destroyed vibrant neighborhoods. Racist federal housing policies and bank redlining accelerated white flight and inner-city blight. Crime, squalor, and lousy schools scared away anyone with the money to leave, which led to more crime, worse squalor, and even lousier schools. The only difference in Indianapolis is that, thanks to Unigov, when the moneyed classes fled for the suburbs, they officially stayed in the city. In fact, in elegant suburban Washington Township -- just inside the border separating Indianapolis from Carmel, one of America's richest towns -- sits the home of the mayor of Indianapolis, pleasantly isolated from the city he cannot save.


When he became mayor in 1991, Goldsmith figured that if there was any problem he could dent, it was crime. He had 12 years of experience as the prosecutor for Marion County, and he had a plan: Indianapolis would become the national model for community policing. As a criminal justice fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Goldsmith had occupied the office next door to community policing expert George Kelling, and he had become a true believer. So in his first week in office -- after two arson investigators were shot and killed by gangbangers in a Center Township housing project -- he called the city's police captains into a meeting.

"I told them I wanted to implement community policing faster than any other city in America," he recalls. "I knew how to do it. I was determined to do it. And they just said . . . no." No? "I mean, they nodded their heads and said they'd get right on it, but they just didn't want to do it. And they made it perfectly clear there was no way I could make them do it.''

So much for the supermayor. Goldsmith and his police brass have banged away at the reactive culture of the Indianapolis Police Department (IPD) ever since. They tried cracking down on quality-of-life crimes like public drunkenness and speeding, the "Broken Windows" strategy devised by Kelling and James Q. Wilson. They tried copying New York City's vaunted crime-mapping program and Boston's model gun-tracing program. They expanded bike patrols, foot patrols, canine patrols. They moved officers from desks to streets. They launched a seemingly endless array of community policing initiatives: IMPACT. Safe Streets. Directed Patrols. SCAT. The Violent Offenders Program. Project Saturation. Graffiti Busters. Zero Tolerance. Metro Homicide Reponse Teams.

Despite all their efforts, violent crime has skyrocketed. The immediate cause of the chaos comes down to two words: crack cocaine. It is a smokable neighborhood wrecking ball, too powerful and too lucrative to control. There were only 41 murders on IPD turf in 1989. But out-of-town gangs brought crack here in 1992, and an epidemic of crack-related killings soon followed, breaking city records in 1994, 1996, and 1997, when there were 121 murders in IPD territory. Major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Washington, and Boston experienced the same phenomenon, but several years earlier; midsized cities like Nashville, Louisville, and Milwaukee are experiencing it now.

The good news is that in the major cities, murder rates subsided once crack use burned itself out, and that seems to be happening in Indianapolis. In early 1992, one-fourth of arrested criminals here tested positive for cocaine. That leapt to one-half by late 1994. Now it is back down to one-fourth, and gangs are turning to less potent merchandise like heroin and crank. "We expect the murder rate to start dropping soon," Goldsmith says, and then grins. "It might not be entirely attributable to the brilliance of the mayor.''

The nationwide correlation between crack and violence is a reminder that law enforcement is not the only factor in reducing crime, a point that mayors and police chiefs tend to forget when it suits them. Still, everyone agrees that good police work has helped in some cities, especially New York and Boston, and the IPD in the Goldsmith era has not covered itself in glory. IPD Chief Michael Zunk says the force was totally unprepared for crack, and it still seems ill equipped. For example, Latin gangs just entered the local drug wars, and the IPD does not have one Spanish-speaking homicide detective. Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating allegations of rampant corruption on the force; one officer was charged with murdering a dealer to protect his own drug ring, and Zunk has been announcing new indictments and suspensions almost weekly.

Goldsmith, who ran for governor and lost in 1996, points out that the state, not the city, is responsible for the overloaded courts, overcrowded jails, and underfunded drug treatment programs in Indianapolis. It's true that the real roots of urban crime reach deeper than most mayors can dig on their own with limited time and limited resources. It has become unfashionable to say, because it sounds like a squishy excuse for misbehavior, but crime and drug abuse are endemic in poor areas with high rates of single motherhood and low rates of education. This has been starkest in black ghettos; in Indianapolis, blacks are now one-fourth of the population and three-fourths of the murder suspects.

"Come here," Margaret Goldsmith tells me, "You need to see this.'' She pulls out a crime-scene photo of a sparsely furnished living room that has been ransacked and set on fire. A popular local minister lies facedown on the floor with his hands tied behind his back. A large hatchet is embedded in his head, right where a 15-year-old boy left it. "Tell me, is that my husband's fault?'' she demands. "Come on, I'd like to know. What should Steve Goldsmith have done to prevent this?''


In his book, Goldsmith tells a nice success story about crime, recounting how police runs to a housing project called Clearstream Gardens dropped 74 percent after a dedicated cop took the beat. I saw Clearstream in March, and I can report that crime in the project is now down to zero. It's vacant.

A few days before I visited, though, a horrible crime did take place in the elementary school next door to the project: a seven-year-old boy pointed a .25 caliber handgun at his friend and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, the gun jammed. Not surprisingly, the gunslinger had stolen the weapon from his gangster older brother after his mother had left him home alone. "This is what we're up against," says Sally McMahan, a social worker at the school. "The social problems in the schools reflect the social problems in the city."

The Indianapolis public schools, like most center-city school districts, are a shameful mess. IPS spends $9,000 per pupil, yet 82 percent of their sixth graders still fail basic skills tests. In the Speedway schools, only 28 percent fail; the overall rate for Indianapolis is 50 percent. This is why the Goldsmiths, like most rational Indianapolis families with money, send their four kids to private schools and suburban-township public schools. "There's no way in hell I'd send my kids to IPS," Margaret Goldsmith says. Can you blame her? The basic-skills scores in Washington Township are more than three times higher than in IPS.

As for the mayor, he has basically given up on IPS. Oh, he tried to fix it; in fact, he takes a kind of perverse pride in his failed attempts. He failed to persuade the board to cut costs. He failed to persuade the teachers union to relax its work rules. Supposedly the paragon of a popular conservative mayor, he was even unable to generate enough support for those old conservative standbys, vouchers and for-profit schools. Even his small victories -- getting two new candidates elected to the school board on a reform slate, persuading the board to select his choice for superintendent, persuading the state legislature to give superintendents more power to hold schools accountable for poor performance -- have yielded few real results. This year, the board got rid of his handpicked superintendent. Yet Goldsmith didn't even bother to endorse anyone in this year's school board races.

Today, his only ongoing work to improve education in Indianapolis is as chairman of a committee for the local archdiocese, raising money for Catholic schools. After a series of public forums where parents screamed at him for IPS-bashing, he doesn't even bother to criticize the system anymore. Now he hosts media events spotlighting "IPS success stories," like the Stephen Foster Collins Elementary School, where a whopping 48 percent of the students actually pass basic tests.

"I don't mind tilting at windmills, but I like to win every now and then," he says. "It's funny: the best thing for my career is to be Polyannish. The more I agitate for change at IPS, the more I get blamed for the problems."

It will be interesting to watch what happens in Chicago, where Mayor Daley seized control of the schools, and in Philadelphia, where Mayor Rendell persuaded the board to hire a take-no-prisoners superintendent to shake up a dysfunctional system, but few mayors, no matter how super, wield much power over education.

Urban schools are a brutal challenge, for many of the same social reasons that safe streets are a brutal challenge. It's hard for children to learn when they're homeless, when their mothers smoke crack, when their mothers' boyfriends beat them, when their second-grade classmates try to shoot them. A recent study found that more than 20 percent of IPS students have lead poisoning, and more than 20 percent have asthma. Three-fourths are poor enough for subsidized lunches, and more than half live with a single parent. McMahan, the social worker, says 90 percent of her students know someone who was killed. These are not the kind of social problems that get fixed cheaply, or overnight. "This is a terrible atmosphere for learning," says Shirley Sheeks, who has taught first grade at the school next to Clearstream Gardens for 27 years. "I used to be able to control 36 kids, no problem; now I can't control 20. They won't stay on task; they constantly hit each other. They just get no supervision whatsoever at home. I ask them what they talk about at the dinner table, and they look at me like I'm crazy."

The cult of Goldsmith ignores these problems, or at least implies that Goldsmith was working some of his mayoral magic on them. Alas, no -- the magic is in the Unigov numbers: the suburban school systems raise Indianapolis's overall test scores.

The problem with cities in 1998 is that so many of their independent and productive residents are gone, and their dependent and destructive residents have nowhere else to go. (Buzz Bissinger plays up this theme in Prayer for the City, his depressing tale of Rendell's heroic -- and doomed -- efforts to save Philadelphia.) The problem for mayors in 1998 is that the factors that drove away the middle class -- economic shifts, rising crime, crack cocaine, decaying schools, skyrocketing taxes -- are so often beyond their control.

Yes, even taxes; they're a case study in mayoral impotence. When Goldsmith took office, a nearby suburb was advertising on a billboard in northwest Indianapolis: "Buy a New Home in Anderson. Save Thousands in Taxes." From 1983 to 1991, Indianapolis property taxes had increased 25 percent, and income taxes had tripled. So as a good Republican mayor, he has flatly refused to raise taxes. He has even cut the property tax rate a bit.

Yet taxes are even higher now than when he took office. That is because the city, thanks to the fragmented Unigov structure, is not the only taxing authority in Indianapolis; there are dozens, and few share Goldsmith's interest in tax relief. The biggest taxer, incidentally, is the school board, which has raised its rate an additional 33 percent since 1990.


Goldsmith may have failed to cut taxes, fix schools, and reduce crime, but there is good news, too, and not just downtown. The gritty neighborhood of Haughville is slowly coming back; as neighborhood leader Olgen Williams says, you can tell by all the prostitutes walking the streets. "I know it sounds crazy, but when people were getting killed here all the time, no john would ever come to Haughville," he says. "I'm not saying hookers are a good thing, but it proves we've made this place a lot safer."

If the overall troubles of Indianapolis suggest what mayors can't do, the mini-revival in Haughville may suggest what they can do. Goldsmith visited the neighborhood after his election to propose a sweat-equity program, offering infrastructure dollars if residents would add their labor. Williams, the director of a local social services agency, stood up and said: No. Haughville had been shafted too often by City Hall, and there was no way he was going to put his neighbors to work until Goldsmith proved he was serious. "Face up to your responsibilities, and then we will respond," he said.

Since then, Goldsmith and Haughville have forged a true partnership. They worked together to attract four small manufacturing companies to an abandoned rail switchyard. A new health clinic opened in April, on a site chosen by the community and purchased by the city. Police and community leaders have met constantly to set up crime watches and relieve tensions; homicides have dropped by half. A feisty 67-year-old named Ermil Thompson has spent seven years transforming an abandoned building she says was selected by God into a community center for local kids; the city has provided furniture, computers, and grants. The Front Porch Alliance, a clergy-led coalition put together by Goldsmith, has become a dominant presence in Haughville. It is fitting that the alliance's leader in Haughville is an ex-addict named Reverend Roosevelt Sanders, the son of a rabble-rousing activist who battled City Hall until his death. "My father did what he thought was best, but we've found that working together works," says Sanders, who runs job training and drug treatment programs at his father's old church.

"Empowerment" is a cliché, but activists all over Indianapolis say the same thing: they don't need a supermayor, just a partner, someone who will listen, someone whose actions persuade residents that getting involved is no longer a waste of time. And during Goldsmith's tenure, the number of community groups in Indianapolis has doubled; touchy-feely as it sounds, that may be his most lasting achievement. Police solve more crimes when residents will tell them what's going on. Kids learn more when their parents get involved in their schools. Neighborhoods improve when people stop sitting around and do something about them. "A lot of us used to sit around the barber shop all day and complain," says Williams, whose latest idea is to launch an antilitter campaign in Haughville. "The mayor helped us get up and build the maturity we needed to get things done ourselves. Because he can't do it, you know. We gotta do it."

But no matter who does it, it can't be done without money. Goldsmith claims his savings from privatization have helped him to pour an extra $800 million over seven years into neighborhood infrastructure -- restoring sidewalks, parks, sewers, and trust. The Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc., America's richest philanthropic fund as of the end of 1997, has contributed money as well. Nonetheless, it is not surprising that the two most expensive items in the Haughville revival have been funded by federal programs. HOPE VI, America's largest urban renewal effort since the 1960s, provided $30 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds to raze Concord Village -- the hellhole housing project where the arson investigators were killed in 1992 -- and replace it with attractive single-family townhouses. The Weed and Seed initiative out of the U.S. Department of Justice has pumped in another $500,000 a year for a neighborhood-wide community policing effort.

Overall, though, federal aid to cities plunged from $44.2 billion to $23.4 billion per year during the Reagan and Bush years, and Clinton has not restored the cuts. This may explain some of Goldsmith's problems, but he can hardly use it as an excuse. Back in 1993, Goldsmith testified before Congress on a U.S. Conference of Mayors proposal for a multibillion-dollar Marshall Plan for cities, an economic stimulus package for urban areas like the one that helped resurrect bombed-out Western Europe after World War II. Goldsmith promptly ditched the conference's talking points. We don't need more federal money, he told the committee. We need less onerous federal regulations. Relax the rules -- environmental laws, prevailing wage laws, even the Americans with Disabilities Act -- and we can get by with even less money. His testimony was a throwback to postwar Indianapolis, when the city stagnated into Nap Town under the control of a Babbitt-style Chamber of Commerce that equated federal assistance with communism. Conservatives on the committee, needless to say, were delighted.

Goldsmith believes cities have relied too heavily on a tin cup strategy, begging the federal government for handouts while ignoring their core problems. Maybe he's right. But he cannot argue with a straight face that he could not use more money. The IPD has fewer officers today than it had in 1968. The IPS can afford summer school for fewer than one-fourth of its students who need it. Indianapolis has hundreds of abandoned homes that need to be demolished and almost as many polluted industrial sites that need to be cleaned up. There is a desperate lack of treatment programs for addicts. There are virtually no parenting programs for teenage mothers. And Margaret Goldsmith's truancy court is so understaffed that she can only hear the most egregious cases; most chronic absentees face no consequences whatsoever. More money, by itself, won't fix anything. But more money is necessary to establish the basis of the virtuous cycles -- community policing, micro-banks, and so forth -- that will allow Indianapolis residents to reclaim their city.

This may be the least fashionable idea for our time: that federal largesse could actually help turn around troubled cities. But for decades, the federal government has subsidized the explosive growth of suburban America: through generous FHA loans, mortgage interest deductions, and sprawl-inducing highway projects, to name a few measures.

The danger is that Goldsmith's illusory success will lend credibility to the socially damaging practice of fiscal neglect.

In a post-cold war era of huge surpluses, the federal government should be helping subsidize the resurrection of urban America. Perhaps this could have been achieved through metropolitan government, using suburban dollars to attack urban problems, but Unigov has simply allowed suburban voters to control urban dollars: it's representation without taxation. The danger is that the illusory success of Mayor Goldsmith will lend political credibility to the socially damaging practice of fiscal neglect.


In fact, that's just what Clinton and the Republicans have tried to do with the Myth of the Supermayor. As it says right on The Twenty-First Century City's book jacket, "America's decaying urban areas are being held responsible for solving their own problems." The reality, though, is that Indianapolis has failed to solve its problems, and the same is true in other cities run by supermayors. Violent crime is still escalating in Norquist's Milwaukee. Unemployment in Giuliani's New York is still twice the national average. More residents have fled Rendell's Philadelphia than any other American city since he took office. Vast expanses of Archer's Detroit still look like they've been carpetbombed. Without restored federal aid, broader political coalitions, or genuine metropolitan governance, a mayor can only do so much. Just ask the ultimate supermayor. "A mayor can make a difference, but the expectations of what we can achieve are just ludicrous," Goldsmith says. "Oh well. We ask for it, right?"

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