The Hair that Wags the Dog

13 03 2009

Municipal government being the closest level of government to the people, mayors can sometimes be more powerful agents of change than national leaders, even if their sphere of influence is much smaller. So I thought perhaps it was time for me to have a look at a few notable municipal leaders. But on which criteria would I select from the masses of world mayors? Hair, of course. If age and the political establishment can be characterized by bald or balding men, then the image of the next generation of leaders, those with vigorous and fresh ideas, must naturally have a full head of gorgeous hair.

A google search for “mayor” and “hair” brings up three star candidates, two of whom have already graced these pages: Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, the young playboy with a forcefully slicked ‘do who fights for health care and gay rights; Mayor David Miller of Toronto, the Blackberry-Twittering, wide-smiling liberal who enchants with his wavy golden mane; and Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson, the outspoken Conservative and media darling, whose laissez-faire approach to hair management matches his political record as LM thus far.

Weighting: 50% for hair, 50% for political record.

Slickster Gavin Newsom - photo Justin Sullivan

Slickster Gavin Newsom - photo by Justin Sullivan

Gavin Newsom

Hair – That hair is not going anywhere. There are no signs of recession (impressive, considering the challenges his city and state are facing), and it would take a very strong wind indeed to put a hair out of place. I’m not sure what kind of product he uses to achieve that look, but it must have some serious grip. Ultimately, however, it’s a tad too severe for my tastes.  Score – 35

Record – Newsom’s political record is impressive, having aggressively tackled some very big issues since becoming mayor in 2003: homelessness (Care Not Cash initiative); gay marriage (he legalized it in SF shortly after taking office, and his administration is now fighting the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 referendum, which banned it in November); universal health care (Newsom’s Healthy San Francisco initiative provides health coverage to all SF residents); and the environment (Newsom has committed SF to achieving Kyoto targets). Overall, Newsom seems unafraid to take on big issues and is making progress on a number of fronts that, while locally-focused, have had implications and repercussions much farther afield than the Bay Area. He can be a bit sensitive to media criticism, and has lashed out at reporters in the past, but this seems like a minor criticism in light of his other progressive achievements.  Score – 45

David Miller's flowing locks - photo by Babak

David Miller's flowing locks - photo by Babak

David Miller

Hair – Oh my, what a beautiful wave. This man has a good barber. It suits him, it’s luxuriant, and I’m sure it can’t hurt his re-election chances. There are photographic indications that Miller’s hair health has suffered during his time as Mayor of Toronto, but I would blame that on the stresses of the job and not his personal hygiene.  Score – 45

Record – Recently in the news for his enthusiasm for Twitter, sometimes posting from his Blackberry while in the middle of meetings (!), Mayor Miller has been active on a wide variety of issues, but not necessarily successful on all of them. Public transit improvements are high on his list of priorities, unveiling plans in 2007 to massively expand the light rail network in Toronto. The plan is dependent on significant funding from higher levels of government, however, and already some project priorities have been rejigged for political purposes. Miller has been a vocal supporter of the redevelopment of the Toronto Waterfront and, conversely, an opponent of Toronto Island Airport expansion, areas where he has had success. Reform of Toronto finances resulted in major controversies in 2007 (but eventual approval), with massive operating shortfalls reported and opposition to his proposals on how to solve the problem, a mixture of tax increases and service cuts. Miller has also been active on environmental issues, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city aggressively. Overall, Miller’s record has seen some successes, but also some setbacks, and while the mayor seems charismatic, he has not managed to win the Toronto and Ontario political set over to many of his ideas.  Score – 30

Boris Johnson and his unruly hair - photo Fiona Hanson

Boris Johnson and his unruly hair - photo by Fiona Hanson

Boris Johnson

Hair – Boris Johnson has a unique approach to hair, and it seems to involve basically just letting it run free. Although this image is the best I found, a full google image search reveals that his hair is hardly ever the same twice, and its uniqueness has helped establish him in the public eye in Britain. But what does the laissez-faire approach to hair indicate about his political persona: a perennially fresh perspective, or dangerous unpredictability? Score – depending on the day, 30-40

Record – It is hard to make too many solid judgements on Johnson’s track record as mayor, primarily because he has been in office for less than a year. Policy (or lack of it) on tall buildings has been for many years now a topic of intense debate in London, but it would appear that Johnson has not offered clear leadership on the issue. He has some links to Mayor Miller, co-chairing a world mayor’s group focused on greenhouse gases, the C40, with him. He made the sensible decision to ban the consumption of alcohol on London public transport, but the decision unfortunately resulted in mass public drinking and confrontations with police on the Circle Line the day before the law came into effect. A recent Economist podcast offered the opinion that Johnson has made significant strides over Ken Livingstone, the previous mayor, in terms of governing style (more consensual, less combative) but has done little to put his stamp on the Mayor’s Office, and has not articulated a clear vision. I’ll give him some benefit of the doubt due to his newness in the post, but the signs are not promising.  Score – 20

RESULTS – The winner, by a hair, is San Francisco’s Gavin Newsom with 80 points. His record stood out like a roostertail amongst the three candidates, though he nearly got the shaft for a middling hair performance. Any moves to emancipate his mane would no doubt soften his image. Though to be frank, I just can’t see him succeeding with a Boris Johnson-style approach to hair. Perhaps he should just stay the course and keep focused on the politics.

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