Beverly Hills mayor bonds with residents during weekly walks

In a survey, more than half of Bostonians said they had met Mayor Thomas Menino

Celebrity trainer Dion Jackson stands on a step behind Beverly Hills City Hall, entreating scores of fitness buffs to join him in waving their arms over their heads and lifting their knees.

Waggling her hips next to him is a trim woman with long, blond hair. She sports a melon-colored workout jacket over black yoga pants. She could pass for a cheerleader, and, in a sense, she is one. For her city.

Since being sworn in as mayor in March — by family friend and Hollywood legend Sidney Poitier, no less — Lili Bosse has made it her mission to improve the health of the city's citizenry, economy and government, she says.

At 8:30 a.m. each Monday, Bosse (pronounced "bossy," although her style is collaborative) invites constituents to don their walking shoes, grab a water bottle and share their thoughts and concerns as they stroll with her around their swank city, visiting businesses and enjoying refreshments along the way.

This mayor walks the talk and talks while walking. Residents say they appreciate her willingness to engage and the sense of community bonding that results.

"She's very caring," said Florence Rhodes, 88, a 50-year resident who regularly accompanies Bosse on her rounds.

Across the country, mayors in cities large and small are looking to effective ways to commune with constituents.

"It's an interesting model to do something with the mayor," said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti posts on Twitter, participates in town halls and regularly appears on KNX radio for Ask the Mayor sessions. Now and then he picks a neighborhood and goes door to door.

As mayor two decades ago, Richard J. Riordan routinely invited residents to join him for bicycle rides — a strategy that one witty headline writer described as "influence pedaling."

In years past, Paul Soglin of Madison, Wis., set up a card table with a Peanuts-esque sign reading: "The mayor is in." These days, his busy calendar doesn't allow for regular get-togethers. "I wish I could make a commitment like that every week," Soglin, whose current term began in 2011, said of Bosse's weekly walk. "I prefer to do things unannounced. I may focus on a specific neighborhood and just go over there and literally walk the streets."

The champion of engagement might be the late Thomas Michael Menino, who governed Boston through an unprecedented five consecutive terms. More than half of Bostonians who responded to a 2008 Boston Globe poll said they had met him personally.

Bosse's Walk With the Mayor typically attracts 100 to 200 people every week, from parents pushing baby strollers to cellphone-toting retirees gripping their dogs' leashes.

Like other small cities, Beverly Hills rotates the mayor's yearlong job among City Council members. Bosse, who was elected to the council in 2011, has held the post during much of the city's centennial year.

That 100th birthday was a big marker that prompted her to ask: "What can we do to ensure we stick around for another 100 years, to ensure we have a healthy city?"

"I think for so long, people thought of City Hall as us versus them," she said. "They didn't feel City Hall was that accessible. … I wanted people to know they can reach me."

The weekly walk was born. Part of the motivation was personal. During her first two years on the council, Bosse, 53, spent so much time in her office working on city affairs and attending events that she gained about 50 pounds. With council meetings running as late as 1 a.m., "I'd be tired and wired and have some chocolate or a cupcake," she said. "It was about not really being in balance in a healthy way."

She began eating better and working out and, by the time she became mayor, had lost the excess weight.

Now she's encouraging her followers to get and stay healthy.

"It's a good way to start your week," said Morry Waksberg, a doctor. "You get up, exercise, see your friends and laugh."

Paul Puno, 65, a retired engineer who has attended every week since the program's inception, said he has lost 15 pounds.

As the spirited walkers warmed up one recent Monday, people stood in line to snag orange T-shirts, backpacks and caps bearing the logo #BHHealthyCity. They soon headed southeast on Crescent Drive, stopping in at Sunrise Senior Living, where they snacked on bananas (and cookies) and heard the executive director talk briefly about the facility's care of clients with Alzheimer's.

As the group swarmed through the city's Golden Triangle, Beverly Hills police officers on bikes did their best to keep the free-flowing crowd in the crosswalks.

Bosse grew up in Beverly Hills, where she attended public schools. She worked as a research associate administering tests for depression at the adult inpatient ward of UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute. She met Jon Bosse, her husband of 26 years, at a Jewish Federation party and left the workforce to raise their two sons, now 22 and 25.

Not all the walk participants live in Beverly Hills, an aspect that appeals to Bosse. "It's important for them to understand what I believe Beverly Hills is," she said. "It's not just 90210 and Rodeo Drive."

Although never actually a cheerleader, she is a self-avowed optimist whose mother — like Bosse's father, a Holocaust survivor — instilled this mantra: Never give up.

"I'm someone," Bosse said, "who believes we can get to yes."

Twitter: @MarthaGroves

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