Expert Sees Desire for ‘New Kind of Politics’ in Poll Showing NY Voters Want Mayor with Empathy

Bethesda, Md., July 18 – A new poll showing that New York voters choose empathy as the most important quality in a new mayor demonstrates that people are seeking a different kind of path from their elected leaders, according to a nationally renowned community change expert who has written extensively on public disenchantment. The New York Times/Siena College poll showed New York voters rated having a leader who “understands the needs and problems of people like you” (61 percent) far higher than qualities such as knowing “how to attract and keep businesses in New York City“ (15 percent), “successfully managed a large organization” (11 percent) or possesses “the right temperament” (6 percent). Another 65 percent said the city needs a candidate “who can move the city in a new direction.”

“People are saying they’re tired of the kind of dismissive politics in which they feel disconnected, as though they’re living in a Tower of Babel,” said Richard C. Harwood, founder and president of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a Bethesda, Md.-based nonprofit focuses on community change, teaching and coaching people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together.

“Empathy has a very particular meaning in this context. It’s about understanding and reflecting people’s reality and then acting on it,” Harwood said. “Empathy is not manufactured authenticity. It’s not about shedding tears or kow-towing to people, and it’s not about being the kind of leader with whom people want to have a beer. People want a leader with a certain kind of fight and stamina within them. They want someone who isn’t drawn into politics as usual or who becomes enamored by moneyed interests.”

New York City’s next mayoral election is in November; current mayor Michael Bloomberg is ineligible to run due to term limits. He has been described as a pragmatic visionary, but also someone who lacks compassion.

Harwood’s observations about public dissatisfaction with their elected leaders are chronicled in his new book, “The Work of Hope: How Individuals & Organizations Can Authentically Do Good.” The book documents Harwood’s conversations with Americans across the country about politics and public life.

In a recent article published in The Huffington Post Harwood wrote about the support people have voiced for mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, a former congressman who left office after admitting sending lewd pictures of himself online to various women. “While people may not condone his behavior, they back his track record of fighting for people and his willingness to take on the powerful, rich and elite,” Harwood said. In the Times/Siena poll, Weiner ran second among the seven Democratic contenders for mayor.

Harwood contended that people believe that Weiner, along with former governor Eliot Spitzer, have the public’s best interests at heart and will stand up for them. Spitzer, who resigned his post after being caught with prostitutes, had a 28 percent favorability rating in the poll – twice the positive rating of opponent Scott Stringer (61 percent said they hadn’t heard enough to form an opinion of Stringer).

Harwood is available for interviews and can be reached at (301) 656-3669 or rharwood@theharwoodinstitute.org.

More about Richard C. Harwood

Richard C. Harwood is the founder and president of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a national nonprofit organization that teaches and coaches people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together.

Rich’s transformational work has spread to thousands of communities nationally and worldwide – from small towns to large cities – by applying concrete methods he created and honed over the past 25 years. These proven practices are based on hands-on work with individuals, organizations and communities in their quest to create change. Rich's talks, coaching techniques and practical guides have provided the hope and inspiration for individuals and groups to improve their public and private lives. He recently facilitated Newtown, Connecticut's unanimous decision on the fate of Sandy Hook Elementary, where 26 children and adults were killed in December 2012.

A visionary with the ability to help people identify obstacles and tap their aspirations, Rich has inspired hundreds of audiences as he shares his philosophy of what it takes to be relevant and connected in today's world. Rich is also a prolific author whose books and guides include The Work of Hope: How Individuals and Organizations Can Authentically Do Good; Hope Unraveled; Make Hope Real; and Why We’re Here: The Powerful Impact of Public Broadcasters When They Turn Outward.

He has also written numerous studies and articles that chronicle the most vital issues of our time, and has appeared on national media including MSNBC, NPR, CNN's Inside Politics, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Special Report with Brit Hume and C-SPAN. Learn more about Rich and his inspirational personal journey.