City Hall

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson: Cities Need 'a More Prominent Seat' at the Global Table

The Office of Subnational Diplomacy, which would be part of the State Department, would allow governors and mayors to influence foreign policy and try to align it with local needs.
The Office of Subnational Diplomacy, which would be part of the State Department, would allow governors and mayors to influence foreign policy and try to align it with local needs. Wiki Commons

Mayors across the country are asking the Biden Administration for help amplifying their voices on the international stage.

On Wednesday, The Hill published a column by Mayor Eric Johnson that called on the Biden-Harris administration to create an Office of Subnational Diplomacy, which would allow state and local leaders to engage more directly with other countries.

Johnson wrote that getting through the pandemic “was a global group project, but cities did the bulk of the work. And as America returns to some semblance of normalcy, it is clear that cities need a more prominent seat at the international table.”

The new office, which would be part of the State Department, would allow governors and mayors to influence foreign policy and try to align it with local needs.

In November, Biden met virtually with mayors from across the U.S. and pledged to work closely with them moving forward. He said his administration would “have an open door for mayors.”

Johnson has already taken some steps to this end in Dallas. Last January, he created the Mayor’s International Advisory Council, which is comprised of five former U.S ambassadors who are also Dallas residents. He said the council helps inform the city’s international agenda.

The following month, the Brookings Institution recommended that the Biden administration create the new office.

The thinking being that local governments are on the frontlines of global issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, trade and others. Therefore, they should be a bigger part of these global discussions.

Additionally, Brookings wrote that following the last administration, Biden and Harris need to work on rebuilding the country’s credibility in global affairs and that state and local leaders can help.

In March, Washington think tank the Truman Center published a report on ways to make the State Department more ethically diverse, equitable and innovative. The report is called “Transforming State.”

According to NPR, this administration has said that it wants to pursue foreign policy that “delivers to middle-class Americans.” The authors of the Truman Center report say connections with cities and states could help with this.

One of the authors of the report is U.S. diplomat Maryum Saifee, who works in the State Department. Based at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, Saifee worked on a program that connected Austin tech entrepreneurs with businesses in Pakistan’s Punjab region. The program’s goal was the expansion of business opportunities in the U.S. and Pakistan.

"We have mayors and governors already engaging with their overseas counterparts, and they've been doing this for years," Saifee told National Public Radio. She added that this kind of “subnational diplomacy” should be a main focus for the State Department.

The pandemic halted the meetings of the Mayor’s International Advisory Council, which Johnson created. However, he has since resumed international meetings.

In the last couple of weeks, Johnson has met with Roberto Velasco Álvarez, Mexico's Director General and Acting Under Secretary for North America, as well as King Oyo of the Tooro Kingdom in Uganda.

“The federal government needs local support and leadership more than ever,” Johnson wrote. “America’s cities, the engines that drive our nation’s economy, have led in the past year on the biggest global issue of our time. And after a year of lockdowns and isolation, it’s time for cities across the world to see each other again, because, as we mayors told our residents throughout the pandemic, we are truly all in this together.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn