Tucson mayor touts his 'civility accord' as antidote for partisan vitriol

Tucson, Ariz., Mayor Robert Walkup forwards his 'civility accord' at an annual meeting of 230 mayors, saying 'civility must begin with us.'

Office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords/AP/FIle
Tucson Mayor Robert Walkup is pictured here on Dec. 13 with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot on Jan. 8. Walkup introduced a 'civility accord' at a mayors' meeting Wednesday.

More than 230 mayors met in Washington Wednesday with the intention of signing a "civility accord" conceived by Tucson, Ariz., mayor Robert Walkup after the mass shooting in his city Jan. 8.

The shooting touched off a debate about political civility, and Mayor Walkup sought to have mayors take the lead. The accord, to be signed at mayors' annual legislative conference in Washington calls on mayors to “strive to understand differing perspectives” and to “choose words carefully,” among other things.

After the shooting, US Sen. Mark Udall (D) of Colorado proposed having Democrats and Republicans sit together during President Obama’s State of the Union address. And Americans overwhelmingly describe the tone of political discourse as negative, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

But in some respects, a civility movement could find more traction at the local level than in Congress, says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey.

“Most mayors have to deal with rather practical issues – garbage removal, snow removal – and it’s not the stuff that makes for great traumatic rhetoric," he says. “Republican mayors can’t always be staunch conservatives, because they have to deal with Democrats to get stuff done."

"At the local level you might have a little more civility but not because of the accord and the movement, but because of the nature of the job," he adds.

Brownsville, Texas, Mayor Pat Ahumada, a fisherman for 25 years, says being brash helped him become mayor “because you deal with some crazies along the way.” But the civility accord has "caused me to pause and try to tone it down a little,” he says.

It's a start, he adds, but the mayors' behavior won't change overnight. “I’m very blunt. And that’s not going to change."

For his part, Tucson's Walkup thinks mayorships are the place to start.

“We believe that because mayors are the elected leaders closest to the people, restoration of civility must begin with us,” Walkup said Wednesday after observing a moment of silence for the victims of the Arizona shooting. “We are in a unique position to have a positive impact on behavior – individual and collective – and to lead by example."

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