Governors have long been among the nation's loudest advocates for pouring concrete. Interstate highways? New bridges? Major development projects? They love it. When a huge pot of federal money opened up as part of the 2009 stimulus package, states were eager to get their share of the cash and push it toward pet projects, shovel-ready or not.
And that's what makes it interesting to see mayors taking the lead on transportation spending. At an event Monday in Boston, the U.S. Conference of Mayors launched what it says will be the largest coordinated campaign by mayors in some time, pushing Congress to reauthorize the surface-transportation bill and to increase funding for local and state infrastructure projects.
Some of the mayors at the event are the usual suspects—marquee names from liberal states in liberal cities, like Boston's Marty Walsh or New York's Bill de Blasio, who said, "The failure to invest in transportation, the failure to invest in infrastructure, is holding us back." But the push also includes mayors from places like Memphis—blue cities in the middle of solidly red states.
Though it's typical to think of states as either Republican red or Democratic blue, that division overlooks the role of cities, and the massive transformation of rural and urban life in recent years. The rural-urban political divide has never been so stark, as Democrats sort into denser areas and Republicans dominate sparsely populated counties. That's a thorn in Democrats' electoral side—even when more Americans cast votes for Democratic members of Congress, Republicans can still take a majority because so many liberal voters are clustered in cities.