Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mayor Harmon: 100 Days and Counting

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mayor Harmon: 100 Days and Counting

Article excerpt

Mayor Clarence Harmon recently passed his 100-day milestone. In typical Harmonesque fashion, he evaluated his performance in office as "fair." Mayor Harmon deserves an A for candor, humility and accuracy. The question is, is "fair" good enough?

During the campaign, Mr. Harmon was something of the gloom-and-doom candidate. He asked St. Louisans to open their eyes to the problems facing the city, especially a declining downtown. Along with the Peirce Report and St. Louis 2004, both of which also sounded alarms about downtown, Mr. Harmon's mayoral victory seemed to contribute to a momentum for change. The excitement and the enthusiasm were palpable. Lately, though, that enthusiasm has been hard to detect.

Mr. Harmon must rekindle that spark - not an easy task given his rather phlegmatic personality. The argument could be made that what our city needs a charismatic political leader to inspire and rally the troops. But charisma isn't enough, of course. What's really required is a leader with a clear vision for the city, the capacity for coalition-building and creative problem-solving and an iron political will to get the job done.

First, a look at Mr. Harmon's accomplishments during the first 100 days.

Regional Hospital - which he described aptly as a "cannonball tied to my leg" - consumed much of the mayor's time and attention. Mr. Harmon has to be praised for his willingness to confront Regional's board head-on and for honoring the city's obligation to provide health care for the poor. The solution he hammered out isn't perfect; it could easily unravel if Congress makes steep cuts in Medicaid and if the cost to provide health care for the uninsured increases more than projected.

The process by which the solution was reached could have benefited from more public input. Airing the issues publicly would also have given the folks who elected Mr. Harmon a chance to see for themselves how effective their man is as a champion of the public welfare when he deals with powerful private institutions - a situation he'll no doubt repeat. But given the inevitable alternative - shutting down a financially unviable hospital and leaving the poor in the breach - Mr. Harmon deserves credit.

Unfortunately, the crisis at Regional got the Harmon administration off to a slow start. He needs to regain momentum and focus his attention on downtown, the symbolic heart of the city. The mayor's biggest shortcoming so far has been his failure to build on the collective aspirations to rejuvenate downtown. He has yet to articulate a clear vision for downtown or to build a coalition to work toward it. The sense of urgency about the future that he communicated so well during the campaign seems to have ebbed.

Mr. Harmon needs to lead a high-profile, high-energy, insistent campaig n to save downtown. …

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