REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF MAYORS
Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all very much. Thanks. Please be
seated. Well, Victor, thank you very much. I appreciate your kind
Before I begin, I'd like to introduce the First Lady. She and I are
coming up from Crawford, Texas, on our way back to the nation's capital;
and we're so honored that you all would welcome us here: Laura Bush.
Traveling we me, as well, is the Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao; the
FEMA Director, Joe Allbaugh, I hope you don't have to call him.
(Laughter.) But if you do, I can assure you, he'll be responsive.
I'm honored to be here with my friend, the governor of Michigan and
Michelle Engler. I appreciate, Brent, so much, seeing you again, and I
thank all the mayors for your hospitality.
Traveling with me as well are members of the United States
congressional delegation: Tony Hall, J.C. Watts, Joe Knollenberg, Jim
Ramstad, and right here from her own district, Carolyn Kilpatrick.
(Applause.) I also had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with the
newest mayor on the block, Mayor Jim Hahn, of Los Angeles. (Applause.)
It's good to see the mayors from the great state of Texas. I see the
mayor from Fort Worth and the mayor from Dallas. I suspect the mayor from
Houston is somewhere around here -- oh, there he is. Thank you all very
much. There's another mayor -- thank you, mayor. I remember you -- I hope
you remember me. (Laughter.) It's good to see you all.
I also want to thank the mayor of Detroit for his hospitality. I'm
reminded of what President Kennedy said about Columbus, Ohio. He said,
there's no city in America where I get a warmer welcome, and receive less
votes. (Laughter and applause.) I think because of that, the mayor likes
me -- and in spite of that, I like the mayor. (Laughter.)
Detroit was the site of this organization's birth, 69 years ago, when
Mayor Frank Murphy and 29 of his colleagues met here in this city. In that
year, in 1932, one-third of Americans were unemployed. Food lines
stretched for blocks. Nearly 40 percent of America's banks had failed.
Today, the story is very different. American cities are once again a
magnet for ambition and culture and enterprise. The welfare rolls are
down. In some places, crime rates have fallen to what they were in the mid
1960s. Problems that once seemed hopeless have yielded to reform and good
sense. And the mayors of America deserve much of the credit. (Applause.)
Yet, as we all know, tremendous challenges still remain. Too many
children, through no fault of their own, are in families without fathers
and neighborhoods without opportunity. Too many young people drop out of
school, drop out of the labor force and end up in prisons. Too many men
and women wander alone in the twilight of addiction, illiteracy and mental
These problems seem immune to our affluence. We're not in a
post-poverty America. The challenges we face are different than they were
in the 1930s, and we must recognize new challenges demand new approaches.
I realize that many of you are doing an outstanding job of dealing with
these problems, and that the burden cannot fall upon you, alone.
The federal government should take your side. The cities and
communities of America need to be empowered, not regimented. And this is
my firm commitment to you, the mayors. The agenda is long and very
important. Equal opportunity is an empty hope without good schools. So
the education reform legislation passed by both the House and the Senate
spreads power to local communities and, for the first time, demands results
in return. (Applause.)
It's time to act when we find that children who graduate from high
school have only an 8th grade education. He's been betrayed by the adult
world, and we must end that betrayal by having high expectations, strong
accountability systems and the resources necessary to make sure that not
one child gets left behind in America. (Applause.)
In the aftermath of successful welfare reform, we must turn to the
problems of the working poor, especially the newly working poor. We're
encouraging home ownership providing it by providing tax credits to
investors to redevelop and build new single family homes. We're
facilitating home ownership for low income families by allowing them to
consolidate a year's worth of Section 8 assistance for a downpayment on a
We believe owning something is a part of the American future. We want
all people, regardless of background, to be able to claim a home of their
own in America. I can't think of anything better to help revitalize the
neighborhoods in America's cities. We must actively work to fill the gaps
in the health care system for the working poor. That's why the budget I've
sent up to Congress provides resources to expand significantly the number
of community health centers, to make sure that all folks have got an
opportunity for good primary care, and proposes a new tax credit, for those
who have difficulty affording health insurance.
I'm convinced that we can make progress on the important issues.
Today, I want to focus on one in particular: supporting the good works of
charities and neighborhood healers, empowering communities to meet their
own needs, and to care for their own members.
In every city, there are people who mentor and tutor; who give shelter
to battered women and children; who teach biological fathers to be real and
caring fathers; who help young people find jobs and avoid violence; who
confront -- who comfort the aged and help the dying; who picket crack
houses; who walk into gun-fire to end gang wars.
These good people don't lack compassion. They certainly don't lack
courage. They don't lack commitment and spiritual strength. But often
they lack resources. And I believe government, where it can, should stand
side by side and to help them. (Applause.)
This belief isn't owned by Republicans or Democrats. It doesn't fit
into neat, ideological categories. It demands an active government to
support the good works of others; an active government to spread resources
and authority beyond government entirely.
In articulating his philosophy of how to aid American cities, Robert
Kennedy said, there must be an overriding theme and goal; the involvement
of the community, of those who have the greatest stake in the quality of
the services they receive.
He spoke about putting community at the center of all our policy. He
said, government back to the people of the neighborhood. I agree. In the
21st century, we should bring government back to the people who have a
powerful sense of mission and idealism; back to people who know the needs
of neighbors; back to people committed to rebuilding their communities from
the inside out.
These committed men and women take the side of hope and compassion.
And we must take their side. We must help those in need and we must
encourage people to be good citizens, instead of bystanders. So I'm
pleased that more than 150 mayors' offices across the country are launching
their own efforts to encourage faith and community initiatives in
partnership with the White House.
I'm honored the U.S. Conference of Mayors has strongly endorsed my
administration's faith-based and community initiative. I'm extremely proud
to announce that Rosa Parks, a monumental figure in the civil rights
movement, has endorsed the initiative. (Applause.) These are
unprecedented votes of confidence. They're important steps in our efforts
to bring healing and hope to those in need.
I'm excited about this approach, yet, I'm under no illusions. I know
government cannot be replaced by charities. The best mentoring program
will never be a substitute for Medicaid for poor children. The best effort
to renovate housing will never be a substitute for fair housing laws.
Charities and community groups cannot do everything. But we strongly
believe they can do more. We must find creative ways to expand their size
and increase their number. And now is the time to start.
I proposed a new initiative to mentor the children of prisoners, so
they are not further punished for the sins of their parents. I have
proposed expanding federally funded after school programs, so that
faith-based and community based programs can access that money.
(Applause.) I proposed a responsible fatherhood initiative, aiding
community groups that seek to strengthen the role of fathers in the lives
And soon, the United States House of Representatives will act on HR-7,
the Community Solutions Act, sponsored by Republican J.C. Watts and
Democrat Tony Hall. (Applause.) The bill contains important elements of
the faith-based and community initiative, and I hope you'll make your
support of this legislation known to the skeptics in the United States
Senate and to the United States House. (Applause.) HR-7 expands
individual development accounts, which provide a way for charities,
government and business to help struggling families find the security of
assets and the dignity of independence.
The bill allows not itemizing federal taxpayers to joint itemizes in
deducting their charitable contributions, a step that should encourage new
charitable giving all across America. The Community Solution Act also
expands charitable choice, the principle already established in federal
law, that faith-based organizations should be able to compete for
government funds, without being forced to hide their religious character.
We recognize that the funds will be spent on social services, not
worship services. And we recognize there must be secular alternatives for
those who wish to use the services. We respect the separation of church
and state, and the constitutional rights of religious people. But the days
of discriminating against religious institutions simply because there are
religious must come to an end if we want to heal America. (Applause.)
As you know, many community groups are not religious in nature. Their
employees and volunteers are motivated by kind hearts and moral
convictions. Yet, many acts of charity and social justice are also the
acts of faith. And in our cities, they are often associated with African
American churches. More than 70 percent of African American churches
engage in community outreach programs, including day care, job search,
substance abuse prevention, food and clothing distribution. They're far
more likely to apply for public funds for their social programs than other
churches. And the people who most often benefit from the outreach efforts
of these African American churches are poor children, who are not
affiliated with any church, at all.
In some places, African American churches are the only institutions
that hold the fraying strands of a community together. And their work
should be praised and welcomed and encouraged. (Applause.)
I've heard the voices, and so have you, the critics who are concerned
about supporting good works, motivated by strong faith. I suggest they go
to the cities, to see the need, and to see the hope. I suggest they talk
to the forward-thinking mayors, mayors who are on the front line, who work
closely with faith and community organizations, who are witnesses to the
power of this approach.
Your witness is in Philadelphia, where Mayor John Street supports the
Amachi program, directed by former Mayor Wilson Goode, which recruits
mentors to care for the children of prisoners. Your witness is in Orlando,
where earlier this month Mayor Glenda Hood announced her faith-based and
community matching grants program. That program focuses on funding youth
in family projects, that contribute to civic responsibility and character
Your witness is in Indianapolis, where my good friend, Steve
Goldsmith, when he was the mayor, pioneered the Front Porch Alliance, a
partnership between city hall and the values shaping institutions in
Indianapolis that helped transform this city. And thank you for being here
today, Steve. (Applause.)
You know that child care vouchers are used at houses of worship. You
know the Head Start programs are often found in religious settings. You
know that many public services in our cities are provided through Catholic
Charities or the Salvation Army. You know that many government dollars in
Medicaid and Medicare are used in religious hospitals.
In all these cases, we are funding the good works of the faithful, not
faith itself. Do the critics of this approach really want to end these
programs? I certainly hope not. It would be bad for America. (Applause.)
I understand, mayors, my administration did not invent the idea of
community empowerment. But along with you, we're going to build on it.
Together, we're going to convince the skeptics. Together, we're going to
put the federal government and local government squarely on the side of
America's armies of compassion. (Applause.)
There are great stories in every great city, stories of grand ambition
and immigrant enterprise and cultural achievement. There are also stories
of suffering, redeemed by hope and faith. And we should listen to those
stories as well.
The Brightmore neighborhood in northwest Detroit can be a tough place
to grow up. Some people even ask, can anything good come out of
Brightmore? Well, it turns out that much good does come out of that
neighborhood. At Rosedale Park Baptist Church, a group of young men and
women have committed their lives to bringing hope to young
And one of the young men they've helped is Demarco Howard. Demarco's
dad had been in prison since he was a baby. His mom was addicted to drugs
and was unable to raise him, so his Aunt took on the responsibility and she
did the very best job she could possibly do. But life was tough. Demarco
was shot when he was six, and spent a year in the hospital recovering. He
was often in trouble, and at the age of 14, was arrested and sent to a
juvenile detention facility. At that facility, Demarco met someone on the
staff of Rosedale Park Baptist Church. Demarco began attending bible study
classes. And his life began to change in dramatic ways.
He goes to school, he does his homework, he goes to church, and he
volunteers to help other kids in trouble. I had a chance to look Demarco
in the eye and thank him for his leadership, and asked him how life was.
And he said, It's getting a lot better, Mr. President. Thank you for
coming, Demarco. (Applause.)
America can be saved, one heart, one soul, one conscience at a time.
The pastor of Rosedale, Dennis Talbert is fond of quoting a passage from
the Book of Romans: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
That accurately describes the situation of many of our children in America.
Evil is what his church is fighting against, with impressive results. And
it's worth noting that Rosedale's outreach programs are financially
supported by the Department of Justice and Michigan's Family Independence
Agency, among others, and it shows what is possible.
Stories like these are being written all across America, and it's the
goal of this administration to praise them at every chance, and to
replicate them where we can. I hope you continue your good works as
mayors. You're on the front line. At least in Washington, we don't have
to worry about how the garbage gets emptied. (Laughter.) But at least in
Washington, we can work in Washington to make sure the garbage gets
changed. We can make sure that we think differently about the problems
that confront us. We can make sure we ask the question, what are the
results, not what is the process. And together, we can rally the great
compassion and faith and hope of America.
Thank you for what you do, and thank you for giving me the chance to
come by and say hello. God bless. (Applause.)