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Palm Springs has entered an uncommon phase of soul searching this year. The mayor’s integrity is fractured. The infrastructure that surrounds the office is as well. It is in fact, serious.


So what is a mayor? The word ‘mayor’ originates from Latin and means ‘great’. Later on used to signify the greatness or superiority of an individual. A form of corruption. Corrupting a mayor’s identity, a person’s identity, from active citizen into a de facto bad-ass. Superiority is for eugenicists and greatness is for kings. Both of which are fundamentally at odds with democracy. Superior or not, being bad or an ass is not so great. And so our community has its current dilemma. 


Get clear with this. The job of mayor is non-ordinary. As routine as some aspects are, overall it is highly unorthodox, and it should be. A position as administrator and advocate, yet is so much more than that. 


The community selects a member and sends them to the top. A person they identify with and whom they trust. They rely on this person to do many things well and two things perfectly; to act honestly and to listen intently. This is the foundation of viable character. Doing so takes courage and humility. Yet the art of the job, the truly unique aspects, are a bit lost. 


The mayor is the people’s man on the inside. Knocking on and opening all doors. Asking anybody anything at any time. He is the people’s insurance against corruption, complacency, and the kind of comfort that can stifle progress. The mayor is not a career man, where being provocative or divergent can get you fired. The unique reason to have a ‘mayor’ is he’s the one person who is not an employee, not struggling to keep a career, not needing the approval of a single person. The mayor is the free agent, is the anomaly, is the vanguard, is the hero. The integrity of which is protected by the revolutionary power of the people against all elite enterprise and yet is established to benefit both. The highest good is not 1% or 99%, it’s 100%. The power of the office and title are realized by the exclusive fact that the mandate does not come from one single person and that authority is temporary. If an elected official’s power is granted by an individual or small group, and the term is drawn out, then democracy is lost. And we fall into the shallow, lifeless, insincere routine where we often find ourselves today.


Palm Springs is a unique confluence of a wide range of political and social ideas. And its continued prosperity and dominance relies on the success of all these strange bedfellows acting together efficiently. It has a highly capable city staff. It has a focused and dedicated city council. It has a thoughtful and active citizenry. Apple Inc.’s slogan is, “think differently”. Steve Jobs famously said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”. 


Palm Springs is itself a different thinking innovation. Keep innovating Palm Springs.

© 2015 Michael Birnberg for Mayor

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