Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
If mayors don’t like being interrupted on their jogs, they may want to invest in a treadmill.
On Tuesday, the Mayor of Warren, Michigan, announced that he’s running…well, actually, jogging—for 45 minutes, twice a day, and oh, he DOES NOT like to be interrupted during his run.
this is quite the Facebook statement from the mayor of Warren, Mich., who apparently doesn't want to talk to you while he's jogging: pic.twitter.com/sm3e0ndX2I— Colin Campbell (@colincampbell) June 26, 2018
Now, as some replies to this tweet have pointed out, Mayor James Fouts’ lengthy statement leaves the reader with a lot of unanswered questions: How come he calls running “jogging”? How is he available 24/7 but also *not* available for the 1.5 hours he’s out there “jogging”? What kind of person “jogs” 45 minutes twice a day, anyway?
But at the core of it all is are this question: Is it or is it not OK to interrupt mayors on their runs?
As a misanthrope allergic to social exercise, my first reaction was well, mayors are people, too! Why shouldn’t they expect a little bit of space when they’re running an errand or exercising in their city? Then I remembered: Oh yes, because they’re public officials beholden to their constituents. And when they’re out in public space, they don’t really have a reasonable expectation of privacy, or—for that matter—“civility.”
In the last couple of weeks, a number of Trump administration officials have been accosted in public—raising questions about the right way to interact with public officials and alarms about what the so-called death of civility means for the country. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was shouted out of a Mexican restaurant in D.C. after she defended her administration’s policy of separating children. Then the president’s advisor, and the architect of that policy, Stephen Miller, ended up at a Mexican restaurant, too. He was called a “fascist.” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders (thankfully) didn’t go to a Mexican restaurant, but was turned away from the Red Hen, in Virginia. (Sanders and the president later criticized the restaurant on Twitter, and the owner had to resign from a Virginia business group amid protests and death threats.) And on Tuesday, protesters confronted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, eliciting some angry finger-wagging from the latter.
The significance of these cases have been turned over and over in the media. But as Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times demonstrates in a recent op-ed, the arguments criticizing them make false equivalencies between criticizing a public official in public and eliciting a fear of violence in, say, a provider of abortions. At the end of the day, she writes,“If they don’t want to hear from the angry citizens they’re supposed to serve, let them eat at Trump Grill.” That maxim applies even more to mayors, who are much more entrenched in their communities.
Now, it’s not clear what the woman who interrupted Mayor Fouts the other day was concerned about. But it’s clear he has given his constituents reason to complain. According to the Detroit Free Press, recordings surfaced last year in which Fouts appeared to be saying some pretty dehumanizing things about black people, women, and disabled people. (He denied he was the voice in the recordings.) He’s also accused of flouting rules to get his assistant lifetime job protection.
The point is: In a democracy, his constituents have the right to come up to him and complain about these or a host of other issues. Of course, he’s not obligated to respond. But if he doesn’t want to hear from angry citizens he’s supposed to serve at all on his run, he may want to invest in a treadmill.