After the newly seated City Council decided to install rookie Councilor Keith King as presiding officer and two-year incumbent Merv Bennett as deputy assistant presiding officer ( I know, I know, those aren’t the official titles), it seemed appropriate to utter the G-word.
Asked whether the city ought to be led by a trio of Social Security recipients (Steve Bach is 70, King and Bennett 65), King gave a gracious reply. He pointed out that age shouldn’t be and was not a factor, that he assumed that his new colleagues valued experience and competence.
That’s certainly true. And we should remember that Bach was elected Mayor over the somewhat younger Richard Skorman by a 57-43 margin. Our three geezers got to their (somewhat) exalted positions through open electoral processes, so we shouldn’t begrudge them their success. And we shouldn’t make jokes about hearing aids, city-issued canes, unfashionable dress and cackling laughs, or assume that they’re unfamiliar with the Internet/Twitter/Tumblr/Pinterest thing, or wonder why none of them were chosen by Sergey Brin to receive Google Glass – as one who is older (if not wiser) than our 3G leadership, I’m the only one who gets to make such jokes.
That said, aging leadership is not necessarily a good thing. Ronald Reagan and Rupert Murdoch were strong, effective and creative leaders in their late 60s and early 70s, but they were outliers. Successful leaders in business and government tend to be younger.
Consider Denver. The daring visionary Federico Pena, whose farsighted leadership ignited the 30-year transformation of Denver from poky, depressed Midwestern capitol to world-class American city was 36 when elected. He was succeeded by Wellington Webb (50), John Hickenlooper (51) and Michael Hancock (42).
The young can be fearless and unbound by tradition. The old may see today through yesterday’s lens, mistake change for progress and find it difficult to abandon long–held beliefs.
King, Bach and Bennett have all had successful careers in business (and, in King’s case, in politics as well). That very success combined with their age may make them less flexible, less adaptable and less able to understand the new world before them. Capitalism’s “creative destruction” is remorseless and unpredictable, but, like death itself it mainly attacks the old. Businesses, governments, institutions and people age and decay, and eventually go down. Think of Detroit, passenger railroads, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Airlines – sclerotic, inflexible organizations which succumbed to the terrible power of the future.
Will our 3G leaders embrace the future, or misunderstand it? Will they be wise old owls who won’t be seduced by folly and fashion, or stubborn old fools blind to the gathering storm? Will young professionals stay and prosper, or will they pick up and go? Will we become another Silicon Valley, or another Death Valley?
Geezers, the race has just started – so don’t trip over your shoelaces…