It’s safe to assume, because I live on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., that I spend lots of free time chatting about politics with folks who actually make policy. I’ve gotten to know a fair number of neighbors since moving here last year—my dog, Mortimer, is very social—but surprisingly few, if any, actually work for the government.
Just off the top of my head, I can think of meeting a rare-book dealer, a carpenter, and a veterinarian, but I have yet to cross paths with a real, live congressional staffer or White House aide. I’m beginning to think politicos operate in closed communities, like bumblebees: too busy to socialize outside the hive.
It’s a shame, my lack of acquaintances in government, because every day, decisions get made in Washington that affect architects around the country. Such decisions take on added weight given the troubled state of the economy. A potential tax increase on S corporations? The solicitation process for GSA projects? These things matter.
Before moving to the Hill, I had developed this mild Woodward-and-Bernstein fantasy, in which I tapped neighborly insiders for leads about emerging legislation and policy initiatives relating to the built environment—leads that could evolve into great articles of great service to architecture. Trade publications in other industries cover the Beltway beat like hawks. Why not ARCHITECT?
Fortunately, the profession doesn’t lack allies, just because Mortimer failed to break me into the right crowd on Capitol Hill. Power players such as Rep. Earl Blumenauer and HUD secretary Shaun Donovan sit firmly in architecture’s camp. The big question is how the profession can parlay such relationships into positive action. That’s where the AIA enters the picture.
As has been widely reported, AIA executive vice president and CEO Christine McEntee resigned earlier this summer to become executive director of the American Geophysical Union. The search for her successor deserves every architect’s close attention. In this issue of ARCHITECT, AIA president George Miller tells editor-at-large Edward Keegan about the selection process and some of the qualities that the search committee is looking for in a new CEO. I hope people skills are high on the list, because in the coming months and years, the profession will continue to need a leader who can build lasting friendships in high places.
“Wait,” you may think, “isn’t it the AIA president’s job to lobby on behalf of the profession?” Certainly, one of the president’s most important roles is to serve as a voice for architecture, notably in Washington. Since the AIA has a different president every year, the position requires a strong partner and facilitator—a CEO who will ensure the continuity of external relationships and the persistence of institutional vision.
There’s too much at stake right now to settle for a CEO who excels at pushing paper. The AIA, and the profession, needs a CEO with the skills—and the mandate—to enact change. In my opinion, the board might consider dropping “executive vice president” from the job title; it sends a mixed message about the authority of the position.
I’m counting on our new relationship with the AIA to give ARCHITECT, and therefore architects, the inside track on important policy initiatives—not just here in Washington, but in all 50 states and the local communities where architects work to make a difference. Mortimer’s no help; he’s more interested in squirrels. But the rest of us have the capacity to be political animals: As the AIA’s next CEO and the membership’s elected leaders work their magic together, ARCHITECT will be rooting for them—and reporting on their progress.