Teaching Civics with Episode 8 of The Mayor: Monuments Man
This week, episode eight of The Mayor aired. In this episode, “Monuments Man,” Courtney Rose tries to save a local establishment, Tito’s, from being gentrified.
The show is a relevant way to expose students to issues related to local government and politics. As part of an ongoing series, we’ve been reviewing each episode and highlighting some questions and themes worth discussing with your class.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into this week’s episode.
Plot Summary of The Mayor, Episode Eight: Monuments Man
Here’s a quick plot summary of the latest episode. You may be able to stream it on ABC or on Hulu, and you can purchase episodes for download on Amazon. YouTube let me down, and there is apparently no promo or commercial available for the episode. /shrug
In the beginning of the episode, Courtney and his staff are out to the bar in town – Tito’s. The bar is an important piece of Fort Grey history (as well as Courtney Rose history, since it’s where he made his first performance). And to Courtney’s dismay, he learns that Tito’s is about to close.
Courtney’s episode explains that his costs are going up and that he can’t afford to operate the business anymore. He plans on shutting down the business, but the Mayor’s team decides that they’re going to help. They plan a music festival at the venue, and Courtney goes on the local hip hop radio station to promote the event. The whole plan begins to backfire, though, when Council President Gunt goes on the offensive and accuses The Mayor of being corrupt – and using his official position to give special treatment and drive revenue to his friends.
Tito-gate picks up some steam, and Courtney has to change tack a little bit. He figures out that Tito’s has a prominent role in local history, and he organizes a campaign for the city council to designate it a historical landmark. Meanwhile, Council President Gunt pushes back and suggests that Tito’s should be replaced by a Starbucks to help the economic development of the city.
Courtney organizes a group of people to attend the City Council meeting in support of the ordinance to protect Tito’s. Things get a bit dicey when a member of the audience unexpectedly talks about the negative history of Tito’s, when civil rights protests organized there got violent. The measure to sponsor a festival at Tito’s was voted down.
But Courtney comes back at the next meeting with a new plan. He suggests expanding the ordinance to cover a variety of historical landmarks, reflecting the diverse population of Fort Grey, and the measure passes. The episode closes out with the festival at Tito’s.
Civics and Government Themes in This Episode
This episode was a really thought provoking one dealing with the history of changing cities. How do you preserve the character of a city in the face of economic development?
How Do You Stop Gentrification?
The episode doesn’t come up with a great answer to that question – and I don’t think we’ve really figured one out. But it does raise the question of how you protect the history and character of a neighborhood as it goes through economic and demographic changes.
This is not a foreign topic to anyone who has lived or worked in an American city in the past decade. And it is a controversial one. As companies move back into America’s urban centers from the suburbs and bring millennial workers with them, neighborhoods are changing over. Affordable neighborhoods on the outskirts of these cities are seeing rents and property values skyrocket. This may seem like a good thing at first – but it also means that the people who have lived and owned businesses there for decades are being priced out.
This episode puts gentrification front and center. The narrative of gentrification is one of poor black folk being pushed out by rich white folk, and Tito’s bar is representative of the black citizens of Fort Grey. It’s a club that plays hip hop music and was the meeting place for Black Panthers back in the day. When an old, white, Councilman Gunt suggests replacing it with a Starbucks… you can hardly be more stereotypical about gentrification.
But back to the point, this is a good opportunity to talk about gentrification. What do places like Tito’s mean to the character of a city, and should the government help protect them? What historic places exist in your community? Would your students be upset if some of them were replaced by corporate storefronts?
Tito-gate and Corruption
There’s an interesting subtext in this episode where corruption is juxtaposed against gentrification. On the one hand, economic forces are changing the city and replacing its character. But as Mayor Courtney Rose tries to stop it he’s using his power for personal gain (or for the gain of his personal friends).
Clearly, he has altruistic reasons for wanting to host a festival at Tito’s. But taken out of context, his actions do seem corrupt. If the President / Governor / Mayor hosted a concert at an establishment that he owned, wouldn’t you question that? If it’s an establishment that his friend owns, is it any different?
City politics are notorious for corruption, but this episode is an interesting way to talk about the blurred lines around corruption. When is a politician doing his or her job, and when is he or she just making a profit off the power of the office? This is a timely question given the recent trial of Senator Menendez here in New Jersey.
The Difference Between Authority and Leadership
Meanwhile, there’s an interesting subplot with Courtney’s mother, Dina. She becomes the director of her church choir.
When she takes over, she has visions for what the choir will become. She changes the location of rehearsals and changes the line up for soloists. The choir members begin to chafe under her authority.
She tries to force them to do what she wants, and in the end they all end up quitting. It’s not until she decides to take some of their suggestions and work with them that she’s able to actually lead them. This happens after Courtney gives her a little speech about leadership and listening to the people.
It’s an interesting example to talk about forms of leadership. And it’s an important reminder that your position and your authority are not enough to make you a leader.
What Do You Think of This Episode?
What did you think about this episode? Do you have other issues that you would discuss with your students?
Check out these thoughts on other episodes from Season 1 of The Mayor, and how they can be used to teach civics and government.