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Q&A With Bob Levey
Tuesday, June 6

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Craig Cola/washingtonpost.com

PUBLIC SERVICE In Get-Rich-Quick, Start-A-Dotcom America, where does public service fit in? Or does it? What happened to the idealists who went into politics to change the world? What does it mean today to go into public service? What about “don’t ask what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”? Now, it’s what can my stock broker do for me?

William Hudnut
William Hudnut
Seasoned public serviceman, William Hudnut is here today to discuss the present state and future fate of public service. A former Republican congressman, Hudnut is best known for his 16 years as Mayor of Indianapolis between 1976 and 1991. Since 1991, Hudnut has held posts as the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, the Hudson Institute in Indianapolis and the Civic Federation of Chicago. Today, Hudson is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute and recently won a seat on the Chevy Chase town council in Maryland.
Hudnut is also the recipient of Princeton University’s prestigious alumni award, the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service (1986).

Below is today's transcript.

Laurel MD: Hey! Didn't you steal our other football team?!?!?!?

I'm a federal employee, as was my father, and most of my aunts and uncles worked for some sort of governmental entity because they grew up in the Depression and believed that employment by the government was the best way to guarentee getting a paycheck.

Anyway, you're a Republican politician from a conservative state, and many people fitting that description say, in almost as many words, that goverment employees are by nature less productive than those of the private sector and that government would work better the more of our positions were contracted out.

Could you comment, please, on what can and should be done to improve the reputation of government employees and to counteract the politically-motivated attacks on us?

William Hudnut: Hey man, I didn't steal the Colts, Baltimore lost them!! I negotiated the deal, to be sure, but Irsay was already looking around. So I guess government employees can be productive, right? Some like to bash government; I have a proactive view of its role in society, and feel there are lots of good people in it on both sides of the aisle. But we need more.

Bob Levey: I'm looking at a clipping from the Louisville Courier-Journal, dated 8/22/91. It reports that Indianapolis Mayor William H. Hudnut has decided to get out of politics. What brought you back, and what brought you back to something the scale of the Chevy Chase government?

William Hudnut: I believe in the importance of public service, and when we moved to Chevy Chase, we wanted to get involved again in local government. That's where the rubber hits the road. A chance to serve. And in this instance, to serve the State of Maryland, in some sense, since I have been labelled for years as the guy who stole the Colts. A chance to give back

Washinton, DC: How are the roles changing for elected municipal officials, and for others involved in public service?

William Hudnut: Local govt. officials have been becoming more entreprenurial, willing to take risks. Look at Mayor Murphy of Pittsburgh and his plans to renew several blocks of historic downtown property. Another change: leadership is becoming more inclusive. The new paradigm of leadership is not the top down command and obey type, but that of a facilitator, a coalition builder, somebody who brings people together to make things happen. More collaborative, less authoritarian, than it used to be

Delhi, NY: Good afternoon, gentlemen.

The Washington Post recently reported
that in response to an unexpected rise
in unemployment, the stock market soared.
(I can't remember the exact day, I'm sorry.)

Isn't there something inherently wrong
that when people lose jobs others get rich?

How would you advise Gore and Bush on this issue?

Thank you for your time.

William Hudnut: Tough question. The rich get richer and the poor get children, said Karl Marx. In a capitalist system, there will be winners and losers. That's the way it is. Just ask me how much money I have lost in real estate in the midwest because I couldn't sell my homes when I moved to DC!!

Bob Levey: I happen to know that you still have season's tickets to the Indiana Pacers games. I've checked my calendar, and I am DEFINITELY available for the NBA finals against the Los Angeles Shaquilles. Do I hear any offers?

William Hudnut: Sorry, but my wife and seven year old son are going to use them. They are flying to indy to see one of the games. If you fit in her purse, I'm sure she would be glad to take you. Go Pacers!!! (What a long shot, but hope springs eternal, doesn't it?)

Annapolis, Md:
Re: Kennedy's quote in your intro.

Thanks for taking my question.

I can't help but believe that that was a innocent time for Americans. They actually believed that American government was the solution. NOW, the trend is to believe that American government is a problem. Do you think that this summarizes the past state and current trend?

William Hudnut: Good observation. The entitlement mentality has taken over. Unfortunately, in this era of get rich quick on Internet stocks, etc., people's attention is directed to what they can get out of society, rather than what they can give. Me first, and the devil take the hindmost. Not universally true, consider the volunteer time many good citizens give to important causes; but the general psychology of victimhood and entitlement seem to be at huge variance with the Kennedy aphorism.

Washington, DC: What more needs to be done to ensure that Washington's urban revitalization continues?

William Hudnut: Better schools. Get wired. Commuter tax for suburbanites like myself who derive their livelihood. Dedicated arts district. Partnerships with the private sector. More efficient government that delivers higher quality of service. Re-elect Mayor Williams. (And I am a Republican!)

Washington, D.C.: What roles do you foresee for cities in the future? Will entertainment be their main draw, or perhaps something more substantive than that?

William Hudnut: Cities may become childless, unless schools improve. The CBD may become the CSD (Central Social District) where people go for entertainment and culture. IT revolution is not going to flatten out the cities by sending everyone out to the countryside to telecommute, in spite of predictions. People need each other, and cities will becxome "crucibles of creativity" for innovation and development. That's why DC is positioned so well.

Bob Levey: When I came to Washington 33 years ago, the president was a Democrat, but many of the best people on the Hill (Dirksen, Javits, Case) were Republicans, and there was a genuine sense of bi-partisanship. Can we ever get it back, or have the snarlers spoiled things?

William Hudnut: I hope we can. When I was in Congress, twenty five years ago, it was "I'm OK, you're OK, even though we disagree. Now, if we disagree, it's in your face with a personal attack, "I'm OK; you're a scumbag" Too bad. Need more civility. TV to blame for a lot of it, unfortunately

Washington, DC: What is Washington doing right to manage its growth and plan for the future? Do you feel it is continuing on the right track?

William Hudnut: Yes. DC is on the right track. Mayor Williams is on the right track, if he can just get his bureaucracy to follow. Neighborhood revitalization. Strategies to attract hi tech businesses. Better schools. The agenda is endless, but a lot of it has to do with perception, and the perception is that Washington is moving again in a positive direction after years of ... well, you know

Alexandria, Virginia: Over the last few years, it seems that scandals and party politics have prohibited progress and generally given government (esp. at the nat'l level) a bad reputation. What advice would you give to a young person with leadership skills, who wants to hold elected office but already has a tainted view of politics?

William Hudnut: Beware of the pretension of a corner of the truth to be the whole. Sure, there's lots of reason for cynicism when you look at the lives and deeds of some of those in public life, beginning at the top, I might add. But we can't give up on America. We need young people with leadership skills and ideals going into public service. Wasn't it Anne Frank who wrote: "I hear the ever approaching thunder....but still believe that people are essentially good at heart"?

Dupont Circle, DC: Are you encouraging the younger generations to get involved with public service?

Also, how do we encourage American youth to see political service as important?

William Hudnut: Yes, I am. Public service needs Young people who understand that political service is where the action is, and that they can truly impact their communities for good through some form of government involvement. That does not mean they have to run for office. But the opportunity to have impact with your life is a turn on, at least for me. Some want to make money, which is OK. Others don't want to have all their linen washed in public, which is OK. But there are some out there who want to serve, and try to solve some of the serious problems we are facing, and that's OK too.

Washington, DC: What does your work involve now? Would you ever consider service as a mayor again?

William Hudnut: I work at the Urban Land Instiute in DC. It is a 15,000 member non profit research and education institution dedicated to promoting responsible leadership in the use of the land in order to enhance the total environment. I am a senior resident fellow for public policy, and write articles and books (Cities on the Rebound) for them, as well as run forums where mayors and private sector leaders are brought together to discuss some aspect of the topic, Bringing Community Back to the Central City

New York, NY: Are you just as frustrated with the path politics have taken in the last few decades as I am? It's a joke- scandal after scandal. Should we blame the politicians or just press who covers them?

William Hudnut: Blame both. Politicians are not saints. Neither are pious platitudinous right wingers who coopt the name "Christian." All have sinned and fallen short, and when you are under the microscope of public scrutiny, your shortcomings can easily become public. Sometimes the press overreaches. I think often, reporters are conclusions in search of facts. So I would say, politicians, shape up; reporters, back off....a little!

Bob Levey: What's hot on the Chevy Chase griddle these days?

William Hudnut: Try historic preservation. Dog litter. Tree ordinance. Bike trails and light rail system to connect Silver Spring and Bethesda.

Arlington, VA: You're a rare breed, a thoughtful Republican, lionized at Harvard, similar to Al Simpson. Would you have gotten where you've gotten if you had turned Democrat? Did you consider it?

William Hudnut: I often have thought about it, but never "converted," because it was the Republican party that brought me to the dance floor, and I want to be loyal to the friends who helped me get started. But I must confess I feel bereft and forlorn. Trite to say, but I feel as though the GOP has left me, moved way to the right on social issues. They refused to slate me in Indpls for a run at my old Congressional seat. The rap on me was I was too moderate. So the conservative who beat me in the endorsement process lost in the primary to someone who lost in the general. I long for a return to social moderation in the Republican party. As for compassionate conservatism, don't be fooled by the words. I know some of those people around W., and they don't have a compassionate bone in their body.

Arlington, VA: re: public service
Please! Don't listen to the politicians and media types. Many of us believe that public service is honorable and want our "best and brightest" to serve the people. I don't work for the government, but I am shocked at the poor image that government work has. Michael Kinsley's column from this morning's Post is wonderful.

Keep up the good work; we appreciate it, even though we don't always agree. As for those who hate the government: Quit whining and participate!

William Hudnut: Thank you.

Bob Levey: Let's say I gave you the job of "selling" public service to the next generation of young Americans. What would you do first? Increase salaries of public positions? Offer free SUVs to all officeholders? McDonalds Happy Meals? Or could you make the case for the "nice warm feeling" of being a public servant?

William Hudnut: How about Green stamps for voting? In Australia, everyoine has to vote or they get docked on their tax bill. The pitch I would make, in all seriousness, to young peopel is: the country needs you. The future is yours to shape. Don't abdicate. There's more to life than getting rich.

Bob Levey: Hang on just a second--reporters should back off politicians? Then the world would never have known about Watergate or Clinton's Libido-gate. You can't seriously mean that reporters should become passive pussycats around politicians?

William Hudnut:
Right, that's not what I mean. I am talking about snooping into private corners, witch hunting, going after someone just to see what you can find out about him or her. The fourth estate has an honorable and important role to play, but it also, in my opinion, is sometimes guilty of making the news, not printing it. All the news that fits our print!

Chevy Chase MD: Who are you for, Bush or Gore?

William Hudnut: I think Gore is good on the issues, but Bush is coming across as a better leader. I won't commit publicly at this point to whom I am for

Washington, DC: I once believed that public service was a very nobel occupation--that a person could contribute to society by holding public office, and in exchange receive a very rewarding and sometimes lucrative career. Is this still true today for the majority of public servants? Does the media primarily focus on those politicians that can generate scandelous news, in turn given other public servants a bad rap? Does all the negative publicity keep public officials from concentration on more important issues that can better our community?

William Hudnut: Publicity is an inhibiting factor. Prevents a lot of folks from going into politics too. Why should I expose my private life and resources to public scrutiny? The pitch today must be to "the better angels of our nature"--we need people in public life who are motivated by a desire to serve, altruistic, not for reasons of self-aggrandizement. That may not sell, but that's what I believe.

Dupont Circle, DC: Hi Bill. First, I want to say I'm very impressed with your work as both a politician and an academic. In any case, I was wondering if it's kind of a downer to be involved in town government after you've been mayor. How do you compare the two? And then how do you compare those two positions with being a Congressman?

William Hudnut: I love local govt. Much more of a chance for impact than being one out of 435 in congress. I prefer the executive branch for that reason, but am glad to be serving in Chevy Chase. Trying to help out where I am. Besides, having been mayor of a large city and serving on the boards of the Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities, I will have a chance to re-enter that national arena in behalf of the concerns of local government. Like, for example, taxation on the internet! How's that for a segue?

Bob Levey: I'm very afraid that the Clinton-Lewinsky mess will not only turn young people away from public service, but will turn young people away from voting at all. Comments?

William Hudnut: Probably. So many young people see politics as irrelevant to their daily lives. Why bother? Well, you bother because it's important to participate in the process that decides what taxes you will pay, what social services you will receive, what defense against crime and fire you will receive, and on and on. As Edmund Burke said, the best way to assure the triumph of an evil cause is for good people to do nothing.

Alexandria, VA: What, if any, do you believe are the prerequisite one should considering for a career in public office?

William Hudnut: I used to say to young people, don't go into politics unles you can stand the two P's: one is very great, the other very small. To wit, the pressure, and the pay. You need to be able to withstand the criticism, and take it seriously but not personally. And you need to be motivated by a strong desire to serve.

DC: You said "Cities may become childless, unless schools improve." The schools always get the rap, but isn't a big part of the problem urban children who don't come to school equipped to learn? That is equipped with a supportive home life and neighborhood? Isn't the education problem a lot larger than just "improving the schools?"

William Hudnut: Good point. You're absolutely right, and your comment goes to the heart of an issue that vexes us all--deterioration of the nuclear family, and erosion of traditional values that are not being inculcated in homes, religious institutions, civic organizations, etc. As the old saying has it, garbage in, garbage out.

Bob Levey: Your first career was in the clergy. Do you see a correspondence between that life and the life of public service? Are the rewards similar?

William Hudnut: sure do. Reward is the satisfaction of helping make things better. In your spare time, if you need to be put to sleep at night, read my book (1987) Minister Mayor: Reflections on a dual career in politics and religion.

Just left DC for Arlington: I'm glad to see that you support a commuter tax for Washington. Now that I've moved to Arlington, I would like to advocate issues such as that for DC from a (relatively) better position - seeing as I now have a voice in Congress. What is the best way for me to support these issues for DC from the suburbs?

William Hudnut: I'm not sure. Have to talk with Tom Davis or Jim Moran, as well as your state legislators. Problem is: a commuter tax would take money away from VA and MD. But fair is fair. Why shouldn't the commuters in any community (I had 100,000 a day coming into Indpls when i was mayor) pay for the toilets they flush, the fires that are put out, the streets that are paved, the police protection they receive, etc? Writing letters, and getting opinion leaders like this newspaper to put the issue on the front burner, will help also.

DC: How do you think Steve Goldsmith has done as Mayor of Indy? I have heard some good things about his privatization initiatives.

William Hudnut: Ask these questions about privatization: Does it destory or increase accountability in the delivery of services? Does it discriminate against people on the lower end of the economic ladder? Does it feather the nest of those who receive contracts and in return make contributions to campaiugns of those who hand out the contracts? Does it increase jobs? I think it has its place, but its not the be all and end all of governance

Bob Levey: Any comment on that wayward Indianan, Bob Knight?

William Hudnut: Some of my friends are for him, some against, and I'm for my friends

Bob Levey: Any comment on that wayward Indianan, Bob Knight?

William Hudnut: Some of my friends are for him, some against, and I'm for my friends

Alexandria, VA: The Washington Post reported a few weeks ago on the academic records of Gore, Bush, and McCain. Gore and McCain both went to local, elite prep schools in the D.C. area and then went on to underachieve in college. Being a Yale undergrad right now, I find it very alarming that Bush averaged 'C's and only received one or two B's while in school. This tells me he either couldn't do the work (which is bad) or didn't try hard enough (which is even worse). What's more Gore did not score much better and McCain was at the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy. Coming from elite backgrounds, do these men represent the U.S., and are they qualified to do so with their academic records?

William Hudnut: There's more to school than book learning. Your education is what you remember after you have forgotten what you were taught. Leadership is a job, not a position. And then there's a little bit of luck, too. Let's see now, who were these guy's fathers?

Bob Levey: Many thanks to the very eloquent Bill Hudnut. Don't forget that the Friday version of this show, "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," will appear on THURSDAY this week and this week only. That's June 8, at the usual time of 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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