That's the phrase that came to mind Saturday night as I listened to John Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver, talk about how he operates.
Nerdy geologist turned cool brewpub owner turned positive-thinking mayor, Hickenlooper is rapidly becoming a political legend. I heard him speak, along with Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, at a dinner in Santa Monica sponsored by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Mayors conference.
Among other things, Hickenlooper has improved the relationship between Denver and its suburban cities – traditionally a situation that could best be described as Iraq minus the militias and most of the checkpoints. The better relationship is one of the reasons the Denver area has approved a sales tax increase to build a 120-mile rail transit system.
Hickenlooper's technique is best described as the "no mayor left behind" approach. He approached to the suburban mayors who historically hated Denver. He talked to them. He asked them if they could support joint initiatives if he let them take all the credit. He discussed with them why a regional rail transit system might help them even if they don't get transit stations because it would get other cars off the road. By the time the transit measure was on the ballot, he said, all the mayors "had a skin in the game." It's hard to imagine Antonio Villaraigosa having these kinds of conversations with the mayors of Pasadena, Huntington Park, and Anaheim.
Hickenlooper said that the restaurant business is the best training for politicians. As a policy wonk who has spent a lot of time hanging around with restaurateur-politicians, I have to agree.
Think about it. Restaurant owners have to be extroverts. They're in the business of making other people happy by giving them food and drink. They get instant feedback from their customers. And they are constantly tweaking everything – their menu, their service, their atmosphere – to make the experience of patronizing their restaurant better. They also know the value of alcohol in reaching consensus.
Maybe it's time more metropolitan political leaders practiced brewpub regionalism. At least on the consumer side.