Much has been made of Jack Dorsey’s admission on 60 Minutes that he intends to run for mayor of New York someday, an interesting choice for a non-native who lacks prior political experience, but not entirely unheard-of among billionaires. However, if Dorsey is truly looking to make his mark in the political arena, he’s overlooking an outstanding opportunity that hits a bit closer to home: running for mayor of his old hometown, St. Louis, Mo.
The advantages are many for a young, aspiring politician to begin in a smaller, regional city, but in Dorsey’s case, St. Louis seems particularly ideal. As a teen, Dorsey was entranced by the functioning of cities; to wit, one of the first major programs he wrote was an open-source code that allowed coordination of dispatch routes throughout St. Louis. A product of local schools and a Missouri resident until he transferred to NYU to complete his undergraduate education, Dorsey has decades of experience on which to call should he seek office there.
Additionally, current mayor Francis Slay will likely win a fourth consecutive term as mayor this year, and he may not seek to return to office for a fifth term in 2017. This leaves plenty of time (but not too much) for Dorsey to re-establish himself as a viable candidate in a city hungry for innovative leadership.
As a bonus, the issues facing St. Louis would likely play to Dorsey’s strengths as a technology maven, urbanophile, and adept communicator. St. Louis is trying to foster its nascent tech sector, one that has been recognized as the fastest-growing in the nation as start-ups are taking advantage of incentives such as the low cost of living and a motivated cohort of young talent from local universities. As far as policy goes, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit; from uniting the entrepreneurial hubs scattered throughout the city (Washington Avenue and Cherokee Street come to mind) to continuing the revitalization of St. Louis’ historic downtown, to overhauling antiquated management of city utilities, opportunities abound for creative new ideas.
One of the most exciting developments in municipalities is the movement toward open data, and there are fewer people more qualified to take advantage of this trend than Dorsey. With trendsetting experiences in social media and commerce, and a penchant for working out the hidden dynamics of city systems, his qualifications truly set him apart from the pack of career politicians and pretenders. Dorsey could use the wealth of data already available to the city to make sorely needed improvements to public transit and gains in crime reduction, or to redefine the city as a shipping hub. By expanding the availability of public data, he can both foster the further development of the tech sector and provide the kind of transparency essential to responsible government.
Though running New York is an attractive proposition for a person as ambitious as Dorsey, it might not be so crazy to think that one of the nation’s foremost entrepreneurs could strike gold in St. Louis. In the first half of this century, St. Louis was one of the largest and most important cities in the country; by leveraging the right resources and having the right leadership in place, there is no reason it can’t rise to prominence once more. In so doing, it might just make Jack Dorsey a politician to watch on a much larger stage.