Politics professor's new book explores branding in big-city politics

Eleonora Pasotti, an assistant professor of politics, writes about "brand" mayors in Naples, Bogotá, and Chicago.

As she contemplated her Ph.D. dissertation, Eleonora Pasotti thought she'd be writing about state-owned enterprise reform in China.

Then she discovered Naples.

What began as a study of culture and politics uncovered a

Eleonora Pasotti will present a lecture on her research Monday, April 5 in Social Sciences 1, Room 261 from 3:30-5 p.m.

She'll read from her new book at noon April 21 at the Bay Tree Bookstore.

revolution of sorts in the mayoral governance of the southern Italian city. It illustrated for Pasotti, now an assistant professor of politics at UC Santa Cruz, the emergence of brand politics at the municipal level.

Cities matter, Pasotti writes. And as an increasing percentage of the world's population crams into cities, "cities matter more than ever." Pasotti expands on her Naples research in her first book, Political Branding in Cities: the Decline of Machine Politics in Bogotá, Naples and Chicago (Cambridge University Press). She argues that a new form of politics is taking hold in cities that have historically been entrenched in poor government, patronage, corruption, lack of development, social conflict, and political apathy.

"Cities have made a transition to brand politics," she writes. "This new approach has broken a vicious cycle of skepticism and inertia and has opened the window for a broad set of reforms."

Pasotti uses the concept of branding in politics in the same way we understand the word in commerce. Mayors create and use their "brand" and their cities' brand to establish a personal connection with their citizens. Citizens adopt the brand values and respond with their votes just as consumers respond with their dollars by purchasing brands that make them feel good about themselves.

After seeing the turnaround that a mayor could make in Naples, Pasotti looked around the world for other cities where dramatic changes had taken place. In her book, she compares Naples with Bogotá, Colombia, and Chicago. "They were classic cases of machine politics in their regions," she said.

Three elements must be present for brand politics to take root, according to Pasotti. First, the direct election of the mayor, as opposed to a mayor being selected by other council members or a higher authority.

Second, relative austerity and fiscal autonomy - the mayor faces higher public scrutiny when resources are tight and locally collected. And third, weak political parties.

"Brand mayors emerge only when you have all three," Pasotti said.

The change in Bogotá was most dramatic, Pasotti said. The direct election of the mayor in 1988 completely changed the nature of politics in the Colombian capital. Previously, the mayor was appointed by the president. In the intervening years, Bogota witnessed striking reforms, deeper civic involvement and real change.

Chicago was more gradual but just as profound. At one time, Mayor Richard J. Daley controlled 35,000 jobs through an entrenched patronage system that allowed him to serve from 1955 until his death in 1976.

His son, Richard M. Daley, first elected in 1989, will overtake his father if he serves beyond Christmas this year. The younger Daley governs a city fundamentally different from the one his father ruled, Pasotti said. "There's been a progressive weakening of the parties and strengthening of fiscal autonomy. There are fewer resources, so widespread payroll patronage is not really an option anymore," she said.

Naples, Bogotá, and Chicago, located on three separate continents and shaped by profoundly different contexts, nonetheless exemplify branding in city politics as citizens adopt the values marketed to them by their mayors. The result, said Pasotti, is an opening for reform and a new relationship between government and voters.