CHARLOTTE--Why are mayors taking the lead at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte? Because they've been taking the lead for a while now, says Minneapolis Mayor and Democratic National Committee Vice Chair R.T. Rybak.
"At a time when I think people looking at state and national government as being increasingly polarized, mayors have to solve a lot of issues downstream," he says. "It's given us a lot of credibility as problem solvers."
Rybak, who will be speaking at this week's convention, spoke with U.S. News about the major role that local leaders are playing on the national stage leading up to election day. Aside from Rybak, the convention is featuring other mayors in high-profile roles. Newark Mayor Cory Booker already addressed Iowa delegates at a Tuesday breakfast. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the chairman of the convention. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will give the keynote speech on Tuesday night.
Then again, there may be more of an explanation here than a politically talented pool of city leaders.
As Politico's Alexander Burns noted in an article this week, Democrats' "reliance on city-level politicians is also a reflection of the party's limited options at the congressional and gubernatorial levels," after the 2010 election cut Democrats' ranks on Capitol Hill and in governors' mansions.
They may be popular with national party leadership, but some of these mayors have had to make unpopular decisions on the local level. Facing strapped budgets and declining revenues, state and local governments nationwide have been facing job losses. Rybak says that local government in Minneapolis employs roughly 3,700 people, down from around 4,100 11 years ago, just before he took office.
Job cuts have become a common story since the financial crisis, and they give Republican nominee Mitt Romney ammunition in his fight against President Obama. In his latest line of attack, Romney is asking Americans if they are better off now than they were four years ago. While he acknowledges that Americans are still hurting, Rybak brushes off the strategy as ineffective.
"If the captain of the Titanic ran into an iceberg, and some valiant leader put us all in the lifeboats, would you complain that he hadn't gotten us to shore yet, or would you want to go back to the old guy who hit the iceberg?" he says.