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In three US cities, three longtime mayors prepare exits. What legacies?

Minneapolis' R.T. Rybak, New York's Michael Bloomberg, and Boston's Tom Menino will all have successors after Nov. 5 municipal elections. Each has served at least 12 years as mayor, and all leave an imprint on America's urban landscape.

By Staff writer / October 26, 2013

Three longtime mayors – R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis (left), Michael Bloomberg of New York City (center), and Thomas Menino of Boston – will soon leave office. Each in some way transformed his city, providing lessons for successors and other mayors grappling with how to rebuild the urban landscape.

Photos: AP

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New York

Call them the hipster, the billionaire, and the boss.

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Three mayors of three cities, each having served at least three terms, are now preparing to exit the municipal stage after more than a decade shaping major metropolitan hubs – and perhaps the American urban landscape, too.

There's R.T. Rybak in Minneapolis, the mayor known for crowd-surfing at an alt-rock venue made famous by Prince, and leading 30,000 zombies on a city-sanctioned pub crawl – and hosting its contest to see who could eat the most brains (pork brains in tacos, that is).

There's Michael Bloomberg in New York, the media mogul and world's 13th-richest man, the mayor of the nation's financial central server, ticking off the secrets of his success with a simple Wall Street mantra: Arrive early, leave late, eat lunch at your desk.

Then there's Thomas Menino in Boston, the five-term septuagenarian mayor cut from a sepia-toned era of backroom power brokers, a politician who has shaken so many hands, attended so many ribbon-cuttings, and sat with so many parents at Little League games that today almost half of Boston's residents say they have met him personally.

Come Nov. 5, voters will elect successors to the men who have practically become the public faces of their respective cities. It will mark the first time this century that three mayors who've served at least 12 years in major cities will leave office at the same time.

Their impending exits, given the influence the men were able to wield, offer an opportunity for a retrospective look at the state of the American city and powerful chief executives. Though they have different backgrounds and personalities – not to mention different leadership styles – their goals and priorities were remarkably similar.

Each has sought to transform the rusted cranks of urban capitalism, bringing high-tech businesses and services into revitalized city centers and waterfronts, while at the same time trying to remake their cities into safe, healthy, and pleasant places to live again.

They represent, too, an emerging urban politics, combining a business-friendly ethos, a commitment to public safety, and a quest for more-efficient municipal services. (Each understood that neglected potholes could sink a mayor as much as anything else.)

This included more bicycles and fewer guns (Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor Menino cofounded Mayors Against Illegal Guns in 2006, and Mayor Rybak was one of the original 15 members, who now number more than 1,000); new construction, but with tighter environmental regulations; and improved public transportation, moving cars out of view.

"There are two ways, not mutually exclusive, of understanding a city," says Ken Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College in Manhattan. "One is as an economic engine; the other is as home to millions and millions of people. The trick is to get the two of those things to fit together."

This can be a tough fit in the mosaic of cities, however, which some have called "arenas of contested identities." And these mayors' focus on their cities' fiscal engines – and on luring professional classes – has led at least some poor and minority residents, as well as municipal unions and the working classes, to feel left out, or priced out, of the transformations that have taken place during the past two decades.

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