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Kauffman Mayors’ Council

The Kauffman Mayors’ Council was formed in January 2019 as an advisory group to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Comprised of former mayors, representing geographically diverse cities, the Mayors’ Council assists on initiatives throughout the Foundation, using their knowledge and experience as former mayors to support the Foundation’s work in entrepreneurship, education, and civic innovation.

In place after place, whether it’s economic development, climate change, education reform, gender equity, civil rights, or entrepreneurship, we find that mayors are the leading agents of our country’s most cutting-edge social and economic policies.

In our own work at the Kauffman Foundation, we engage mayors in many of our initiatives, and the primary focus of our annual Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship is to harness the leadership and problem-solving skills of mayors to push for local, sustainable change.

The Kauffman Mayors’ Council became a natural development from our work with mayors across the country. Many of the mayors at the forefront of forwarding-thinking, innovative policies over the last five to ten years will soon be leaving office or have already left. The Mayors’ Council was formed to harness the knowledge and experience of former mayors to assist in the Foundation’s work to support cities across the country in their efforts to build equitable community wealth through entrepreneurship, education, and civic innovation.

The current mayors on the Kauffman Mayors’ Council are diverse in the communities they represent and in their experience and tenure as mayors. Many of the programs, initiatives, and policies they pursued during their time as mayor were pioneering strategies in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Mayors’ Council Members

Former Mayor Christopher Cabaldon

Former Mayor Christopher Cabaldon served as mayor of West Sacramento for over two decades, making him the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history. As mayor, Cabaldon led groundbreaking initiatives on improving sustainability, economic development, and access to education. Globally, he has been a featured speaker at the World Urban Forum, the New Cities Summit, the Innovation Growth Lab, the Global Parliament of Mayors, and the Mayors’ Food Policy Compact. Cabaldon was inaugural chair of the national LGBTQ Mayors Alliance, and former chair of both the Asian/Pacific and LGBT caucuses of the League of California Cities. 

Cabaldon currently represents California on the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education. He served previously as vice chancellor of the California Community Colleges and director of the state legislature’s higher education committee.

In 2019, Cabaldon was appointed to a tenured faculty post at Sacramento State University as the Hazel Cramer Endowed Chair and professor of Public Policy and Administration. He earned a Bachelor in Science in environmental economics from U.C. Berkeley and a Master of Public Policy Administration from Sacramento State. 

Richard J. Berry

Former Mayor Richard (RJ) Berry served as Mayor of Albuquerque from 2009 to 2017. During his tenure, Albuquerque was recognized as one of the best run cities in America. Richard guided the city through the great recession while maintaining a AAA rating from Standard & Poor’s. His unique approach to efficiency, stewardship and accountability measures created annual taxpayer savings exceeding $34 million dollars.

Berry was honored for his administration’s transparency measures and bringing the city to the forefront of data driven solutions and open data platforms. He has a proven ability to bring diverse groups together to work out solutions to some of the most persistent and complex urban challenges of our day and known for his nonpartisan approach to government.

In 2016, The Washington Post listed Berry as one of the most inspirational people they covered that year for his Better Way initiative that hired the homeless and panhandlers to clean up the city and get connected to needed services and treatment resources. The Better Way program is still being replicated throughout the country. His TEDx Talk on the subject currently has over a million views.

While mayor, his work with the Kauffman Foundation was instrumental in setting the stage for a resurgence in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In his role on the Kauffman Mayors’ Council, Berry looks forward to helping other mayors invest in their local assets and build the foundation for strong entrepreneurial activity in their communities.

Prior to serving as mayor, he served two terms in the New Mexico House of Representatives. He was awarded the Freshman of the Year Award in his first term.

Prior to his public service, he was an accomplished business entrepreneur in the construction and design/build sector. Berry currently lives in Albuquerque and continues his business endeavors while serving on several advisory, nonprofit, and corporate boards including the Great Southwest Council of Boy Scouts, Laguna Development Corporation, and the United Way of Central New Mexico. He and his wife Maria will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this year.

Mayors’ Council Roundtable

Mayors Roundtable video

Fresh on the heels of Kauffman’s annual Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship, elected leaders from four cities across the United States joined host RJ Berry, former mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to discuss how to best help small businesses prosper as part of their communities’ broader coronavirus recovery strategies.

Betsy Hodges

Former Mayor Betsy Hodges was the 47th mayor of Minneapolis. As mayor she worked hard to support entrepreneurs and small business owners in Minneapolis, including a complete assessment of where city policies were creating barriers for investment and growth and implementation of the Business Made Simple plan that resulted. Implementation included eliminating dozens of outdated ordinances and policies affecting entrepreneurs, streamlining the licensing process, funding training for new American entrepreneurs, and increasing investment in technical support both for entrepreneurs of color and for cooperative ventures.

Hodges currently serves as an advisor to cities and mayors to improve equitable outcomes for people of color, she is a fellow with the Atlantic Fellowship for Racial Equity (AFRE), and recently served as a residential fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. She has written about politics and race for CNN and The Huffington Post.

Hodges is married to Gary Cunningham, president and CEO of Prosperity Now. They live in Washington, D.C. with their two cats. You can find her on Twitter at @BetsyHodges, where more than one member of the cast of Star Trek: Discovery follows her.

Mayors’ Council Roundtable

Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Betsy Hodges

Betsy Hodges, former Mayor of Minneapolis and expert in local anti-racism policies, with mayors and experts explored policies that explicitly address racial justice in systemic ways. The conversation ranged from specific policies to understanding how systems can affect people in unseen and insidious ways. Join us for a deeper understanding of how local policy, systems, and racial bias prevent economic inclusion and how some leaders are talking the problem head on.

Sly James

Former Mayor Sly James served from 2011 to 2019 as the 54th mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, and only the second African American to be elected mayor of the city. His leadership ushered in an era of renaissance and innovation in Kansas City. He was awarded KCPT’s American Graduate Champion of Education, the Visit KC Tourism Icon Award, the Kansas City Area Development Council One KC Award, and named the Paid Leave Leader from the National Partnership for Children and Families, as well as Government Technology’s Top 25 Doers Dreamers and Drivers.

As mayor, he never shied away from taking on tough challenges, as evidenced by how he moved public opinion on whether or not to build a new airport terminal from only 25% of voters in agreement to 76% voting in favor in just under one year. He also moved the needle on universal pre-K when no other leader was willing to take on the issue.

James’s uncanny ability to bring a bold vision to life are evident through results like the construction and expansion of a transformative modern streetcar line, overwhelming passage of an $800 million infrastructure package, creating the first “Smart City” initiative in North America, attracting an 800-room convention hotel to the heart of Kansas City’s downtown, collaborating with Major League Baseball and the Royals to build the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy, and closing the gap between the city’s third grade reading proficiency and the state average by a third. As the newest member to the Kauffman Mayors’ Council, James will use his expertise to help mayors throughout the country bring their own transformative visions to life and looks forward to helping cities continue to lead the way for bold change.

Prior to his election, he enjoyed a successful legal career which spanned almost three decades. James served his country as a military police officer in the Marines from 1971-1975 in California, the Philippines, and Japan during the Vietnam War. Shortly after leaving office, Sly opened a new consulting firm with his chief of staff, Joni Wickham. Wickham James Strategies & Solutions recently opened their new office along the streetcar line on Main Street in the historic Crossroads Arts district in Kansas City.

Mayors’ Council Roundtable

Mayors Roundtable, hosted by Sly James

Former Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, Sly James gathered local leaders to discuss how other communities implemented early childhood education and connected it to economic growth.

Former Mayor Madeline Rogero

Former Mayor Madeline Rogero served as the mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee, from 2011 to 2019 – becoming the first woman mayor of a Big Four City of Tennessee. As mayor, Rogero promoted a vibrant local economy through creating an Office of Business Support to reduce unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles, and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center – a business accelerator to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem in East Tennessee. Rogero worked to support strong neighborhoods, a high quality of life, and a greener, more sustainable Knoxville. She believes Knoxville’s strength comes from the diversity of its people and the beauty of its natural resources.

Rogero’s career also includes serving as Knoxville’s community development director, a two-term Knox County commissioner, an urban and regional planner, and a nonprofit executive. She was the executive director of Knoxville’s Promise – The Alliance for Youth, the Dollywood Foundation, the Community Partnership Center at The University of Tennessee, and the Coal Employment Project.

Rogero has a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Furman University and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. 

Mark Stodola

Former Mayor Mark Stodola served as the mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, from 2007 through 2018. In 2017, he became president of the National League of Cities (NLC), the largest organization representing America’s cities and their leaders. As president of NLC, Stodola advocated on behalf of more than 19,000 cities and towns, focusing on the critical issues of municipal infrastructure, public safety, economic development, telecommunications, smart city applications, and preparing the city’s workforce for the future of work.

Partnering with the private sector, the federal government, and private foundation grants, Stodola spearheaded the revitalization and development of Little Rock’s Main Street into the “Creative Corridor” incentivizing the collision of arts and culture with science and technology. In three short years, over $200 million in private sector development helped turn a once vacant Main Street into a bustling corridor of the Little Rock Technology Park, restaurants, businesses, art galleries, theatres, dance studios, and over 200 apartments.

Under his mayoral leadership, with the assistance of the city’s economic development partners, Little Rock saw $1.3 billion in new capital investment, resulting in over 7,000 new jobs. He also helped bring the Kauffman Foundation’s model program, 1 Million Cups, to Little Rock and held a statewide Mayoral Entrepreneurship Summit. As a member of the Kauffman Mayors’ Council, Stodola looks forward to using and sharing his expertise and approach to solving public challenges to help mayors across the country develop innovation, entrepreneurship, and public-partnerships as solutions to the challenges in their own communities.

Prior to becoming mayor, Stodola led a very successful career as a lawyer in private practice and previously served as prosecuting attorney and Little Rock City Attorney. He received his law degree from the University of Arkansas. Today, he is an attorney with the Barber Law firm heading up their government affairs division and handling a variety of commercial transactions and land use issues.

Mayors’ Council Roundtable

Mayors Roundtable with Mark Stodola

Mark Stodola, former Mayor of Little Rock and policy leader on the future of work, gathered some of his former colleagues and researchers to determine whether the gig-economy lived up to the hype or did it merely exacerbate already existent issues. They also discussed what prepared workforce might look like and how that might impact entrepreneurship in cities.

Former Mayor Tom Tait

Former Mayor Tom Tait served as Mayor of Anaheim, California, from 2010 to 2018. As mayor, Tait focused on fostering a culture of kindness to build social infrastructure and a stronger, more resilient community. Tait has been invited to discuss his Anaheim kindness initiative at United States Congress, the White House, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the Strong Cities Network International Combatting Violent Extremism.

To enhance freedom and to promote innovation in Anaheim, Tait created a regulatory relief task force to eliminate useless regulations that unduly burdened local small businesses and entrepreneurs. He also helped bring in an entrepreneurial curriculum to Anaheim schools and created a wide-ranging mentoring program connecting high school students with mentors in local businesses. 

Tait received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Wyoming and a Master of Business Administration and Law degree from Vanderbilt University. He is currently the CEO of TAIT & Associates, a national engineering and environmental company.

Former Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson

Former Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson served as the mayor of Gary, Indiana, from 2012 to 2019, becoming the first female to lead the city of Gary and the first African-American female mayor in Indiana. As a mayor, Freeman-Wilson led initiatives on job creation, infrastructure improvement, and economic development.  

Freeman-Wilson previously served as Indiana Attorney General, director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, and presiding judge of the Gary City Court. She also served as executive director of the National Drug Court Institute and CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals – currently serving as the Board Vice Chair.

Currently, Freeman-Wilson serves as president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, working to advance economic, educational, and social progress for African Americans through advocacy. She is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.