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Executive Director's Column

Washington, DC
April 8, 2004


I am including remarks from Mr. Kerry and Mr. O'Neill from out of our 38th Philadelphia Annual Meeting in June of 1971. Also pictured is Mr. John Kerry as he spoke to the mayors when he was a member and leader of the group called — Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Click here to view.

The history of The United States Conference of Mayors — the significant role that our member-mayors have played during the pivotal points of our young nation's dramatic changes has been ignored but must not be forgotten.

The United States Conference of Mayors was 38 years old in 1971 as we gathered in June at the legendary Bellevue'stratford Hotel for our Annual Meeting. It was an old established hotel, not yet remodeled as we saw later in the 1970s. Elderly ladies who were the original elevator operators when the hotel opened decades before still manned their stations with efficiency and charm. They wore freshly pressed grey uniforms with little pillbox hats on their heads, which matched their grey outfits. They greeted you on each ride welcoming you to the Bellevue'stratford in Philadelphia as if you were royalty. They reminded us even then of an era of days gone by.

Our nation in June of 1971 was in great turmoil — immensely divided over the Vietnam War. Philadelphia Mayor and Conference President James H.J. Tate and Host Mayor in his welcoming address to mayoral-delegates assembled in Philadelphia, referred back to the time when the nation's founders came to Philadelphia to write the Constitution. Mayor Tate said, "Now again, delegates from every part of the United States have convened in Philadelphia at a time of national turmoil."

The aura of the Vietnam war hung heavy over the mayors as they walked, talked, and drank and ate together in the hotel. It was on everybody's mind. Outside the Bellevue'stratford there was an immense physical reminder. Police Chief Joe Rizzo, the tough one, had his police officers in a solid ring around the hotel to deter the protesters. It was a time following the secret bombings of Cambodia which caused massive demonstrations in our cities and an uneasiness among non protesters that provoked questions from average citizens as they went about the routines of their daily lives with family, friends, children and loved ones. The demonstrations disrupted cities throughout the nation, causing disruption and most difficult for mayors and their police departments to handle. Demonstrations were huge, dangerous and costly. There were college strikes and shutdowns. The demonstrations in our cities on the weekends brought out all our people — the poor, the middle class and the rich. There was weekly banter between police and protesters over how many hundreds of thousands participated and whether or not wholesale arrests should be made. Indeed, some mayors said that the disruption was so serious that the governance of the city was seriously challenged.

s on the weekends brought out all our people — the poor, the middle class and the rich. There was weekly banter between police and protesters over how many hundreds of thousands participated and whether or not wholesale arrests should be made. Indeed, some mayors said that the disruption was so serious that the governance of the city was seriously challenged.

While there was a buzz about the war in the bars at the opening reception and in the hallways and lobbies, no one had the courage to raise the issue until the Mayor of San Leandro rose to speak at the Resolutions Committee and offered Resolution #41 entitled "Withdrawal from Vietnam and Reordering of National Priorities." The gist of the resolution was that the war in Vietnam had brought serious division to our people and that the war had become a proper concern to city governments. That, to many, was an understatement but Mayor Jack Maltester went further with the resolve language "that the United States Conference of Mayors calls upon the President to do all within his power to bring about a complete withdrawal of all American forces from Vietnam by December 31, 1971." It was an explosive and bold action at the time in history. He was the mayor of a small California city with less than 70,000 people and the resolution he proposed came to us endorsed by his city council. Mayors, as an official group, had never stood up and voted to tell a President to do anything about a war. President Nixon had strong allies within the Conference. But the concern about the war was rampant among the mayors and they were determined, in a respectful way, to give the President of The United States, our commander-in-chief, a deadline with a date certain for complete withdrawal of all military forces from Vietnam.

70,000 people and the resolution he proposed came to us endorsed by his city council. Mayors, as an official group, had never stood up and voted to tell a President to do anything about a war. President Nixon had strong allies within the Conference. But the concern about the war was rampant among the mayors and they were determined, in a respectful way, to give the President of The United States, our commander-in-chief, a deadline with a date certain for complete withdrawal of all military forces from Vietnam.

Once the resolution was introduced, the press pounced on it and the White House operatives knew they had their work cut out for them. Many felt the White House would put pressure on the mayors to defeat the resolution and there was pressure. The meeting was heating up.

The Resolutions Committee first tabled the resolution but Mayor Maltester gave a passionate speech. He openly chided the big city mayors who had expressed concern about the war in private but "did not have the guts" to stand with a mayor of a small California city. It was a powerful speech. Afterwards, New York Mayor John Lindsay asked for a recount. It was granted and the resolution's debate on the war was lengthy and caused apprehension because of a lovely event scheduled for the evening hosted by Philadelphia Mayor Tate who was our President as well as our host mayor. As we were approaching the hour of six o-clock, my boss, John Gunther, the Executive Committee came into the room and announced, "Mayors, there is a wedding that will begin in this room shortly and we must clear the room." The question was then called. The vote was taken and Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes announced that the resolution had passed and that the full body of mayors would take action on the Resolution in an open debate in a plenary session in two days. War was one thing but the mayors knew weddings preempted all events so the Committee ended their business for the alleged nuptials that were to allegedly take place.

resolution had passed and that the full body of mayors would take action on the Resolution in an open debate in a plenary session in two days. War was one thing but the mayors knew weddings preempted all events so the Committee ended their business for the alleged nuptials that were to allegedly take place.

It was after the Resolution Committee debate that Mayor John Lindsay turned to me and asked me if I knew how to get in touch with "that young veteran" who was the leader of the veterans against the war. His name was John Kerry. Mayor Lindsay said he had talked to our incoming President, Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier. He said, "Henry and I want him here to speak before the vote on Tuesday. Get on the phone and get him here. I said yes and I did.

The press got the word the young anti-war veteran was coming to speak to the mayors in favor of the Maltester Resolution — and it leaked out to all attending the meeting. My boss was quite upset because, unbeknownst to me, Mayor Lindsay had not cleared his request with John Gunther, my boss and mentor. It was the only time in my 17-year history as his principal deputy I had not run the request by him for consent. I was wrong to make the assumption that Mayor Lindsay and Mayor Maier had run the decision through Gunther. I felt bad about it because of my loyalty to him. More about that later.

President Nixon's forces were on the phone to the White House. Reports and rumors were abound about how the White House operatives were threatening mayors that they would not be appointed to this commission or that commission if they voted to pass the Maltester Resolution. But the threats were to no avail. Mayors in 1971 were determined to air the issue of the war and they were also determined to take a historic position on the grave matter put before them by the San Leandro Mayor. The debate was robust once the plenary session got rolling that day. The central issue to the debate was whether the mayors of the nation representing the majority of USA citizens should in a body of mayors assembled dictate to the President that he should withdraw all forces from a war in a foreign country by a certain date. It had never been done before; it was happening though right before our eyes 35 years ago at the 38th Annual Conference of Mayors. Then, out of the blue a new development — The word came back that the White House was requesting time for John O'Neill a young Navy veteran to speak against the Maltester resolution. Mr. O'Neill represented the Vietnam group called Vietnam Veterans For A Just Peace. At the request of Houston Mayor Louie Welch, the request was granted. It was starting to get more interesting — Kerry vs O'Neill. I knew then we were headed for a show and a showdown — one way or the other.

ago at the 38th Annual Conference of Mayors. Then, out of the blue a new development — The word came back that the White House was requesting time for John O'Neill a young Navy veteran to speak against the Maltester resolution. Mr. O'Neill represented the Vietnam group called Vietnam Veterans For A Just Peace. At the request of Houston Mayor Louie Welch, the request was granted. It was starting to get more interesting — Kerry vs O'Neill. I knew then we were headed for a show and a showdown — one way or the other.

I met young and lanky Mr. Kerry in the lobby and took him directly to Mayor John Lindsay and they went into a private meeting. I did not attend since we were trained and respected the rule that we did not get involved in such controversial issues as the war.

Mr. Kerry spoke. Mr. O'Neill spoke. They left and later the debate on the resolution commenced. Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, as Chair of the Resolutions Committee managed the debate. Here are some excerpts: Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb: "In words that every mayor will understand, my feeling is that we need to leave the military affairs of our country to the President and his advisors and that he leave the garbage pickup of the country to us who know more about it. Local affairs are ours. Country affairs are the country's, and we need to back our country. If we set a date for withdrawal we tie our own hands." New York City Mayor John Lindsay: "I must profoundly disagree with my distinguished colleague Mayor Loeb on the subject of our right to be heard and to ask others to hear us on this question (the war). Yes, we are responsible for picking up the garbage. But the fact of the matter is that among the victims of this war are the people in our cities. My city — like so many cities represented here by distinguished Mayors — is torn by the war. We represent 70 percent of the people of the nation who are in the cities that are members of the United States Conference of Mayors, and it seems to me we have a clear obligation to stand up for our people. There is a very great relationship between the unhappiness and frustration of our people and this unwanted war. We have become used to having every grievance of the community deposited on the front steps of city hall. We expect it. We live with it. But we also have a right to ask others to listen to us when we know how much of what is happening in our cities is directly tied to this most unwanted and bloodiest war in the nation's history." Ontario California — "The time in the Resolution bothers me the most. What is so holy about December 31st? How about Thanksgiving? How about July 4? Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell: "I support a date. I too, am uncomfortable with December 31. It permits another six months of this war. If I could, I would like to have the date the first of next month. But if this war can be ended by December 31, at least those who would otherwise die next year wont. I support the resolution." San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto: I don't think it is appropriate to say we ought to stick to picking up the garbage and let someone else run the foreign policy of the United States, leave Vietnam to so-called military experts. Vietnam relates to us as a matter of priorities — the matter of putting money into things we can use constructively instead of things we are using for destruction. There is no dishonor in concluding on December 31 or sooner — Thanksgiving and July 4 included. We ought to get out now for the benefit of peace. Highland Park, Michigan Mayor Robert Blackwell: I have never taken a position as a hawk or a dove on this issue. I think rather I have been more chicken over these long years. It has caused me deep personal concern. The date should not be December 31, 1971. It should have been December 31, 1963. We need to marshal all of our financial resources in this great country not to concentrate on the war in Vietnam but to concentrate on the wars in our cities where our people are suffering from muggings, rapes, robberies and deprivation. I speak in favor of the resolution.

among the victims of this war are the people in our cities. My city — like so many cities represented here by distinguished Mayors — is torn by the war. We represent 70 percent of the people of the nation who are in the cities that are members of the United States Conference of Mayors, and it seems to me we have a clear obligation to stand up for our people. There is a very great relationship between the unhappiness and frustration of our people and this unwanted war. We have become used to having every grievance of the community deposited on the front steps of city hall. We expect it. We live with it. But we also have a right to ask others to listen to us when we know how much of what is happening in our cities is directly tied to this most unwanted and bloodiest war in the nation's history." Ontario California — "The time in the Resolution bothers me the most. What is so holy about December 31st? How about Thanksgiving? How about July 4? Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell: "I support a date. I too, am uncomfortable with December 31. It permits another six months of this war. If I could, I would like to have the date the first of next month. But if this war can be ended by December 31, at least those who would otherwise die next year wont. I support the resolution." San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto: I don't think it is appropriate to say we ought to stick to picking up the garbage and let someone else run the foreign policy of the United States, leave Vietnam to so-called military experts. Vietnam relates to us as a matter of priorities — the matter of putting money into things we can use constructively instead of things we are using for destruction. There is no dishonor in concluding on December 31 or sooner — Thanksgiving and July 4 included. We ought to get out now for the benefit of peace. Highland Park, Michigan Mayor Robert Blackwell: I have never taken a position as a hawk or a dove on this issue. I think rather I have been more chicken over these long years. It has caused me deep personal concern. The date should not be December 31, 1971. It should have been December 31, 1963. We need to marshal all of our financial resources in this great country not to concentrate on the war in Vietnam but to concentrate on the wars in our cities where our people are suffering from muggings, rapes, robberies and deprivation. I speak in favor of the resolution.

cember 31st? How about Thanksgiving? How about July 4? Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell: "I support a date. I too, am uncomfortable with December 31. It permits another six months of this war. If I could, I would like to have the date the first of next month. But if this war can be ended by December 31, at least those who would otherwise die next year wont. I support the resolution." San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto: I don't think it is appropriate to say we ought to stick to picking up the garbage and let someone else run the foreign policy of the United States, leave Vietnam to so-called military experts. Vietnam relates to us as a matter of priorities — the matter of putting money into things we can use constructively instead of things we are using for destruction. There is no dishonor in concluding on December 31 or sooner — Thanksgiving and July 4 included. We ought to get out now for the benefit of peace. Highland Park, Michigan Mayor Robert Blackwell: I have never taken a position as a hawk or a dove on this issue. I think rather I have been more chicken over these long years. It has caused me deep personal concern. The date should not be December 31, 1971. It should have been December 31, 1963. We need to marshal all of our financial resources in this great country not to concentrate on the war in Vietnam but to concentrate on the wars in our cities where our people are suffering from muggings, rapes, robberies and deprivation. I speak in favor of the resolution.

nefit of peace. Highland Park, Michigan Mayor Robert Blackwell: I have never taken a position as a hawk or a dove on this issue. I think rather I have been more chicken over these long years. It has caused me deep personal concern. The date should not be December 31, 1971. It should have been December 31, 1963. We need to marshal all of our financial resources in this great country not to concentrate on the war in Vietnam but to concentrate on the wars in our cities where our people are suffering from muggings, rapes, robberies and deprivation. I speak in favor of the resolution.

Mayor Norm Mineta, San Jose, California(now Secretary of Transportation): As an Asian-American I would like to give you a different slant to this issue if you will pardon my expression. It was the Asian American who was the subject of governmental action back in 1942 as a result of the urging of the military despite the economic moral and political civil rights questions involved. Now in 1971 we have the premise that we are in a war rightfully and are told the military knows best about questions involved. But it seems to me the premise is incorrect this time. I think we should extricate ourselves from a situation we should never have been in. We have got to get out to get on with the reordering of priorities of country. I support the resolution.

San Leandro Mayor Jack Maltester (author of the resolution): "I might ask you: Have we left anything up until now to the military experts or have we been running a political war in Vietnam? My city, a small city in California with less than 70,000 people, proposed this resolution and it is supported by the citizens of the community. It is not a resolution of condemnation. It is not offered in rancor. It is a positive statement of principle. To support this position, I believe, is an obligation none of us can ignore in the name of humanity. I ask your vote for an end to this war."

The debate was long. The vote was taken and The United States Conference of Mayors adopted policy and publicly went on record asking President Nixon to end the war, removing all forces by December 31, 1971, which then was a little more than six months away. The press were all over us. The mayors were pictured on the front page of The New York Times voting to end the war. Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago voted in favor along with Mayor John Lindsay. They were holding up their voting cards — along with the determined mayor who brought his small city message to the nation — Mayor Jack Maltester.

A few days after mayors left Philly that year, the young veterans Kerry and O'Neill were catapulted into the national spotlight on the national TV night show with Dick Cavett. The duo became the political TV show of the year on all networks. And it all started with a telephone call I made in Philadelphia.

I left Philadelphia recognizing that this was history because mayors had heretofore been seen as working to provide basic services. But with the nation more divided since the Civil War, the mayors decided they had a right to be heard and a right to have a voice in the social and moral issues affecting their people — here in the USA and throughout the world. It was a defining moment in our history and our scope of concern and action have now been expanded to touch national and global issues since that tumultuous 38th Annual Meeting in June of 1971.

I also left Philadelphia knowing my boss was upset with me. Total loyalty to him was my middle name. It was a code lived by. I had made a mistake but it was an honest mistake with no malice. It grieved me because he was upset. I couldn't sleep and so I called him over the weekend after we had rested from a most tumultuous meeting. I told him my side of the story and told him I was ready to offer my resignation because I felt so strongly about it. He said, "Tom, forget it. It's over. Let's move on. I-ll see you at 8:30 Monday." And so it was over. He and I both supported the mayors- position working side by side with other groups to pressure an end to the war. And the mayors were there with us.

Then one day after Philadelphia, I was getting ready for work and I got out of the shower to shave. My oldest son, Tom, then age 9, came into the bathroom, lowered the commode seat and sat on top of it watching me shave as little boys are prone to do at that age. I could tell he had something on his mind. He said, "Dad, I-ll be 18 in nine years and I don't want to go to Vietnam and kill people like I've seen them doing it on TV." He started to cry. I held him. I comforted him and told him not to worry. I told him the mayors voted to end the war and the mayors would end the war and I was going to help them. It was the best answer I could come up with at the time. It was one of those many moments I got as a young father, then 29, when you really don't have the answer. But he did calm down. I finished shaving in order to get to work by 8:30 but I've never forgotten that moment. I never will. Those were challenging times for all of us, the most divisive for our nation and even today we are haunted by Vietnam. It just doesn't seem to go away — and for those who fought and to the loved ones of those who died and yes, even for all of us, men, women and children, who were not there but lived through it in our Country — it will never go away.

. Those were challenging times for all of us, the most divisive for our nation and even today we are haunted by Vietnam. It just doesn't seem to go away — and for those who fought and to the loved ones of those who died and yes, even for all of us, men, women and children, who were not there but lived through it in our Country — it will never go away.