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Political Science

He’s making South Miami—and the world—greener

Becoming mayor of South Miami, Fla., eight years ago was “an accidental thing” for Philip Stoddard ’79.

“I went to a friend’s house to hear who the next candidate would be,” he laughs. “I discovered it was me.”

As he considered running, Stoddard thought about the sustainable policies he’d like to see cities enact. Now in his fifth and final term, Stoddard has seen many of his proposed initiatives face challenges and pushback, but he relies on his scientific background to keep making the case for change in his change-averse town.

“One of my happy discoveries is that voters value leaders who make evidence-based decisions,” says Stoddard, “provided the leaders clearly and simply articulate that evidence.”

A professor of biology at Florida International University with a lifelong dedication to conservation—and the solar-powered house and car to prove it—Stoddard has made pioneering environmental progress for South Miami. This includes mandating solar panels on new construction, reworking park contracts to require landscapers to use no-risk pesticide alternatives, and being awarded $4.1 million by the CDC to fight mosquitoes without toxic sprays.

“I didn’t start out knowing much about how to run a town,” reflects Stoddard. “But I discovered that you can call up the experts and say, ‘Hey, I need a tutorial on something,’ and somebody will spend part of their Saturday bringing you up to speed.”

This inclination for collaborating and asking questions is something Stoddard says he learned from Swarthmore, and he still has big goals: affordable housing, revitalization of South Miami’s downtown, and an ongoing commitment to solar power. Achieving them will mean returning to his College roots.

“Swarthmore showed me there’s a whole world of people out there who know more than you about something,” he says, “and they’re happy to share it.”