Jul 27, 2022 - News

3 Pennsylvania mayors go back to school with Bloomberg Harvard program

Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk walks at the front of a long line of mayors outside a shaded building.
Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, front right, walks alongside other Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative participants in New York City. Photo courtesy of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative

Three Pennsylvania mayors are going back to school this year.

Driving the news: Mayors Matt Tuerk, of Allentown, Joe Schember, of Erie, and Pittsburgh's Ed Gainey are among 40 mayors from around the world recently selected to participate in the sixth class of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.

  • The trio recently returned from a four-day workshop in New York City, where they met mayors from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The big picture: According to Bloomberg Philanthropies, the private sector invests more than $42 billion per year in executive development for CEOs and business leaders, but there's no equivalent for elected officials, who have to learn on the job.

  • Bloomberg's charitable arm is seeking to close that gap in part through the program, which it's run with Harvard's public policy and business schools since 2017.

The organization says that nearly 90% of the participating mayors "demonstrate measurable improvement in their leadership capabilities as a result of the program."

Yes, but: How do you measure success? David Margalit, executive director of the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University, told Axios that they use a mix of evaluation methods, such as surveying mayors and city staff before, during and after the program.

  • "It's not just 'did the mayors learn?' But also 'what happened in the city as a result of the mayor's leadership?' That's our North Star," Margalit said.

Zoom in: Tuerk, Allentown's first Latino mayor who took office earlier this year, told Axios he was invited to apply to the all-expenses-paid program back in March.

  • This month's first in-person classroom experience consisted of walking through case studies about different leadership challenges, such as how three mayors addressed the legacy of Confederate monuments in their cities.

What's ahead: Tuerk said he now has the opportunity to apply to one of three nine-month tracks, where he can work with Bloomberg's network of experts and Harvard staff and students to problem-solve and identify ways to improve city policies.

The PA intrigue: Since being selected, Tuerk has connected with other mayors who participated in previous cohorts, including Scranton's Paige Cognetti and Lancaster's Danene Sorace.

  • "We're now building this network of mayors in Pennsylvania who've been through this experience," he said, noting that it's opened the door for lesson sharing and collaboration.

Plus: Tuerk is planning a trip to the Dominican Republic in September to meet with Santo Domingo Mayor Carolina Mejía de Garrigó, who participated in the 2021-22 cohort.

  • More than half of Allentown's population identify as Hispanic, per the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, and Dominicans make up the city's second largest Latino population.
  • Tuerk said he hopes to learn "how we can work together now that we have this common bond."

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