Conference of Mayors Hosts Bipartisan “Building a Better America” Forum to Promote City/Metro Priorities Before First Presidential Debate in Denver
Mayors Lead by Example, Urge Washington to Put Partisan Politics Aside
By Evangelina Garcia
October 15, 2012
As President Barack Obama and Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney were preparing to debate face-to-face for the first time, five U.S. mayors from throughout the country gathered to hold a highly interactive discussion on a range of issues affecting America. The forum covered key topics from transportation infrastructure to job creation, safe drinking water, education, and the need for bi-partisan cooperation and accountability in order to lift our nation out of the global economic recession.
The mayors’ forum was hosted by Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock and Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran, and moderated by Howard Fineman, Editorial Director of the Huffington Post. The five mayors who participated in the session were: Conference of Mayors Vice President Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, Conference of Mayors Second Vice President Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, and Hancock.
As the nation becomes increasingly disillusioned with leaders in Congress and as voters prepare to make a critical choice for president in November, the mayors used real examples on how they’ve worked across party-lines, shared best practices to help keep their cities vibrant and functioning and discussed how they are held accountable by their own constituents.
Smith emphasized that all across America, mayors have been faced with making difficult budget choices and adjustments unlike ever before. “In Mesa we’ve had to make some touch choices, and one example is in our public safety system. When we learned that we had to make cuts in our police and fire departments, we met with them right away and found a solution. They came up with a plan to still respond to emergencies within four minutes, despite their limited resources. City after city, you will hear similar stories. Congress and Washington have to do the same. We cannot continue entitlement programs without making some adjustments. And it’s not a political issue, it’s a mathematical issue. I’d love to see a Bill from Congress that makes touch choices in a way that makes sense for our country,” he said.
Rawlings-Blake, who has made water infrastructure a priority in her city, said, “When you’re re-building a road or a bridge in America, those jobs can’t be moved to India or anywhere else. Those are American jobs and what it does is put our own workers back in first place. As mayors have talked about, we used to have so much pride in our technology, in our infrastructure and other things that mattered and made America great. And without federal support in infrastructure investments we cannot get it done – just ask any mayor. Infrastructure has always been a bipartisan issue until now. How has safe drinking water or making sure a bridge does not fall become political fodder?”
Johnson talked about the urgent need for Congress to balance the nation’s budget. “At the end of the day above all else, we need a balanced budget and I’m not sure why Congress doesn’t understand that. Cities and metro economies make up 84 percent of the nation’s population. We also create 86 percent of the jobs and 90 percent of the nation’s income comes from our metro economies. So cities are the hardest impacted when there is not a budget in place. Both sides in Congress need to come together to deal with these issues because the buck is passed down to cities when they kick it down the road,” he said.
In response to a question from moderator Fineman about possible legislation in Congress that would benefit Oklahoma City if it passed today, Cornett said, “The Mainstreet Fairness Act could help Oklahoma City in that it levels the playing field between internet sales tax and brick and mortar stores. There are stores in many communities that are still unable to compete with internet sales and have unfortunately had to close their doors. Many cities benefit from sales taxes and don’t get that revenue once those businesses go under. This issue needs to be addressed especially since more than 75 percent of people now live in cities and I’m not sure Congress respects that fact.”
When asked by Fineman about how the Jobs Bill that failed to move through Congress would have helped locally, Hancock said, “The Jobs Bill would have complimented what we are already doing in Denver and could have supported our FasTracks program in Denver. It could have helped us extend into some areas where we have not been able to do so and could have also impacted our state and regional programs in a positive way.”
All of the participating mayors agreed with the sentiment expressed by Johnson: “There is no accountability in Washington anymore. If they are serious about wanting to create jobs, the conversation has to take place with mayors.”
In a Huffington Post piece written by moderator Howard Fineman, he described the event, saying, “Listening to a panel of mayors is both inspiring and depressing: inspiring because they are such optimistic, non-ideological, can-do realists; depressing because they so vividly demonstrate, by contrast, everything that is wrong, cramped, broken, gridlocked and stupid about our national politics.”