WATCH: Why local governments seem more effective than federal counterparts

While national lawmakers are often seen drawing party lines and taking sides, local and regional governments across the nation can typically come to solutions more quickly and easily. A group of former and current municipal leaders came together in a virtual discussion on Nov. 3 to talk about how local governments get things done.

Former chief of staff to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Mitch Weiss, says local government is the ideal place to experiment and innovate ways to solve problems.

“Local government can combine local ingenuity and creativity to try new things at scale,” said Weiss, author of We the Possibility, Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve Our Most Urgent Problems.

Former Nashville mayor Bill Purcell said counties and cities feel somewhat immune to partisan fighting because of the need to handle immediate and practical issues involving things like schools and infrastructure.

“There’s no Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole or sweep the streets,” Purcell said.

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt criticized state and national leaders for treating politics as a game, for pushing partisan agendas on local officials, and for ignoring issues that local governments have to handle.

He called for local leaders to push back and fight for a nonpartisan form of government: “What local officials have got to do is own the system we have and defend why it is so effective.”

The discussion was hosted by the Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy and co-sponsored by the Global Action Platform.


  • Bill Purcell is an adjunct professor of public policy at Vanderbilt. He served as the fifth mayor of Nashville and Davidson County, elected first in 1999 and reelected to a second term in 2003. In 2008 he was named director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He was one of three co-chairs of the Harvard University Allston Work Team and is now in private practice of law in Nashville.
  • Mitch Weiss is the Richard L. Menschel professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, where he created and teaches the school’s course on public entrepreneurship. Weiss was chief of staff and a partner to Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino. Weiss helped shape New Urban Mechanics, Boston’s municipal innovation strategy, and make it a model for peer-produced government and change. He is the author of We the Possibility (HBR Press, 2021).
  • Mayor David Holt is Oklahoma City’s 36th mayor. He was elected Feb. 13, 2018, receiving the largest vote percentage achieved by a non-incumbent candidate for mayor since 1947. He also became the youngest mayor of Oklahoma City since 1923, the first Native American mayor of Oklahoma City and, at the time of his election, the youngest mayor of a U.S. city with more than 500,000 residents.


The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy is a nonpartisan initiative that aims to elevate research and evidence-based reasoning into the national conversation. Drawing on original research, evidence-based papers and crucial conversations from Vanderbilt’s world-class faculty and visionary thought leaders of all political persuasions, the timely endeavor aims to give policymakers and the public the tools needed to combat conspiracy and unfounded ideology with evidence, data and respectful discourse. The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy can make a meaningful contribution to solving society’s most pressing challenges and bridging our deepest differences.

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