In Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, a very special meeting took place the last week of June when the Association of Idaho Cities, (AIC) devoted their entire annual meeting toward involving the Idaho mayors, councilpersons, and city officials to work together for human rights and human dignity.
Wichita Mayor Bob Knight, President of The National League of Cities, has spoken to The Conference of Mayors twice on this issue, first, at our Winter Meeting in D.C. last January and at our 68th Annual Meeting in Seattle last month. When he speaks his word goes straight to the issue of race. He is challenging every city in the nation to join him in a national campaign to "undo" racism in America.
Conference of Mayors President Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles also has an initiative which complements National League of City (NLC) President Knight and his home team, the Association of Idaho Cities. Mayor Coles has named a special Human Dignity and Human Rights Transition Team within The United States Conference of Mayors. Our President Mayor Coles has asked NLC President Mayor Knight and Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf to Co-chair the U.S. Conference of Mayors Transition Team. Its purpose is to enlist the next Administration to support our efforts and to be proactive for human dignity and human rights.
The Leadership of AIC, Idaho League President Pocatello Mayor Greg Anderson, AIC Executive Director Ken Harward, Coeur d'Alene Mayor Steve Judy, Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles and others, are confronting the racism exhibited by a group dubbed by the national media as "the Aryan Nation." Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne was in Coeur d'Alene too. Kempthorne, a former U.S. Senator and also a former Mayor of Boise, referred to the white-supremacists as a "group of malcontents." He gave a strong speech castigating those who would insinuate that Idaho is a state that welcomes racists.
When Governor Kempthorne got through with his speech, you knew what his state is doing everyday to make it better for families and children and the economic expansion of Idaho. He covered the waterfront of issues facing Idaho today. And, he raised an important question and challenged all local officials at the meeting; he said if the small group of bigots moved out of the Idaho mountains and out of his state, local and state officials must still work against racism every day. Mayors and other local officials support the Governor's view on this matter. And they are doing something about it. This is the second year the AIC has devoted its annual meeting to support human dignity and human rights.
A number of speakers at the AIC Annual Meeting were from Harvard University. One central force to the whole meeting was Mr. Gregg Carr. Mr. Carr, a native of Idaho and a very successful businessman at an early age, has given approximately $18 million to Harvard to establish the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Kennedy School of Government. He has "come home" to work through the AIC against racism and for diversity in his home state.
Carr spoke of Rosa Parks and raised the question as to what would not have happened if Ms. Parks had stood up on December 1, 1955 and given up her seat on the bus that day in Montgomery. Mr. Carr asks all of us to ask ourselves where we are in June of 2000. He wonders aloud if there are other Rosa Parks today in the year 2000 who need our support and he says we should ask that question and find answers in our daily lives in our efforts to eliminate racism from our society.
Over and over, I heard city officials from all over Idaho stand up and talk about how each of them, the city official, must speak and act against racism in their individual community. Having grown up in the South in the 50's and 60's, Mr. Carr's example of Rosa Parks took me back to those images of Birmingham and of Bull Connor, the fire hoses and the German police dogs. Today, the Idaho Mayors and AIC are the ones who are leading the charge against anything that resembles what local officials were doing in some towns and cities in the 50's. The AIC is indeed the "best practice" in America for mobilizing a state effort promoting human rights and human dignity.
NLC Executive Director Don Borut heaped praise on the AIC for its bold leadership, and they deserve it. Don cites other state municipal leagues who are working in their own way to fight racism in their states. It is encouraging the way Wichita Mayor Knight is leading the NLC organization and the state leagues in this direction.
Over the years, The Conference of Mayors has been working with every President, every Congress and within our membership to support civil and human rights legislation for all people. We commended our President, Bill Clinton, for putting the issue of race through his "One America" initiative on the political table for discussion and action. At The White House last January, during our Winter Meeting and at the NLC Spring Meeting here in Washington, D.C. this year, President Clinton said if he had one wish for America he would ask that we abolish racism and have one America. That same message is being put forth by the President of NLC, Mayor Bob Knight, a Republican from Wichita. And in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, the AIC and the Idaho mayors are doing more than just talk. They are actively engaging in grass roots process efforts to get rid of bigotry. For those Americans who have for decades worked toward the elimination of racism in America, the Idaho city officials are bold leaders and today's heros.
In years past the race issue has been a most divisive one for the American people. Today in the election year 2000, Mayors Knight and Coles, two national leaders, two Presidents of two strong national organizations, two Republicans leaders, have come together to say they do not want the old George Wallace or Willie Horton theme in this Presidential campaign of 2000. And the Association of Idaho Cities is leading the way to support both of these mayors who are our Presidents of The National League of Cities and The United States Conference of Mayors.
Mayor Knight and Mayor Coles are as determined as I have ever seen elected officials on this issue of race. The AIC is too. We must not be cynical and ignore the bold leadership by these leaders. The political stars are lined up for us to make a difference. Its all about recognizing that in the USA, our strength is our diversity. Some of the other countries on our globe are of one race and are much less diverse than America. We must support Mayor Knight. We must support Mayor Coles. We must support the Association of Idaho Cities. We thank Gregg Carr, too, for his personal commitment and the money he is giving back to help make his dream a reality.
We must celebrate our diversity. It's the right thing to do and its economically smart too both here and around the world. We must do all that we can do to "undo" racism. We owe it to Mayor Bob Knight for his courage and we owe it to our children and our grandchildren. And we owe it to our great nation, still challenged by racism in 2000, but blessed by local elected officials who are today challenging us to first, face the past, as well as the present, and then to move with strength to eradicate racism for a brighter future where all men, women, and children in America will truly have an equal chance to be what he or she wants to be.
Mayor Coles and Mayor Knight deserve our support and they know they can count on all of us as we go forward.