Inaugural Remarks of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, 75th President of The U.S. Conference of Mayors

Miami Beach, Florida June 26, 2017

***Remarks as prepared for delivery***

Thank you and welcome.

I am proud and honored to stand before you today as President of this prestigious and important organization.

And I am here to say that American greatness is alive and well in cities and towns across the country – from urban to rural to suburban, from coast to coast.

It is in our cities where Americans work. It is in our cities where we play — whether it’s little league or the pros; at a museum, in a park or shopping on Main Street. It is in our cities where we pray. In churches, synagogues, mosques, side by side in peace.

It is in our cities, where energy meets opportunity, where grit and determination produces incredible results – new jobs, innovation and entrepreneurship. It is in our cities where values like faith, family, and country still ring true today. And it is in cities where hope hits the streets.

As the government closest to the ground, Mayors are leading the way on issues both big and small. I don’t have to tell you this – you have shown me. Mayor Levine did a great job highlighting how each of you are setting an example for our country.

You are setting the example for how to rebuild American infrastructure- our roads, bridges, transit and water systems. You are combating climate change in every corner and every community in this country. You are connecting people to jobs and opportunity through education and training. Cities are also focused on making our country safe. And if you want to find a bipartisan, bi-coastal pathway forward on immigration or healthcare, look no further than this room itself.

We can show America what leadership looks like. The country is clearly hungry for results: and that’s what a Mayor delivers every day. We govern in real time and reality. And we never step back when duty calls. We don’t just talk about it –or debate it. We don’t have time for that.

So while cable news may train Americans’ eyes on Washington, I want to tell our story. I want America to see what Mayors have to offer. That’s why earlier in this conference, we began to lay out a positive, bipartisan, national vision– our Mayors’ Agenda for the Future.

I come before you eager to share our plan of action with America; to show Washington what kind of partner we hope for; and excited about the opportunity for Mayors to define a better future for the people of this country.

A future that secures families in every community. A future that rebuilds our most dangerous, crumbling infrastructure. A future that creates a stronger, more inclusive economy. A future that invests in fair, equitable and healthy communities. A future that honors diversity, brings people together, and restores faith in public service for those who have been left behind for too long.

At its essence, this is about security, jobs and opportunity for America’s families. This is about restoring the dignity and a reputation that America has locally and globally. This is about improving the lives of all Americans. This is about making sure we don’t leave anyone behind because here is the hard truth and eloquent beauty of our country. You see, none of us will truly live up to our full God-given potential, unless all of us have the same opportunity.

Mayors – as I enter the final year of my second term as Mayor, and my 30th year of public service, I still cherish the opportunity to seek solutions and find consensus. Compromise is not a dirty word. That’s why I know our plan for action is right for America’s future right now. But beyond the words on paper, our job is to deliver for our people. It is to put a face with the public policy we create.

Next week, the Senate will be voting on a bad healthcare bill that will only cause more confusion and anxiety in the people of this country. It will make us sicker and hurt the economy. It is a basic and fundamental reality that less coverage means more burden on our cities, on our hospitals, in our ERs and in our emergency response.

If Washington will slow down, we can help them get beyond democrat and republican politics and find the fixes necessary to protect the tens of millions of people who may lose health care if they keep going in the direction they are today. There is a better way.

So, let’s be honest. In these most uncertain, chaotic, and sometimes frustrating times, the families we that represent cannot look to Washington for answers. In this political climate, we mayors must fight to occupy ‘the radical center’, where idealism meets reality, and where we put people over politics. And so we need to speak with one voice, with courage, conviction and honesty. If we do, America will follow.

When we work across party, it’s good for our people. When we find common ground, we find neighbors who share the dream of a better future that we are working for.

We cannot simply resist and retreat – we must lead and engage.
Whether we like it or not, we are bound together, sharing one destiny, one fate. E pluribus unum – out of many, one.

Mayors – we know that America is not and has never been ‘survival of the fittest’—a zero sum game of “I win” and “You lose.” That is not when we are at our best, but that is where we are now. Our founders declared that it is ‘we the people’. It is ‘indivisible’, with ‘liberty and justice for all’, not just for some.And that is the true genius of America.

If you have faith in God. If you believe in our country, then you already believe that there is something bigger than ourselves and our own self-interest. This is what Doctor King summoned us to when he said we are all tied together in a “a single garment of destiny.” When that garment gets ripped, we are the ones who have to stitch it back together, one stitch at a time.

If we are united, if we are indivisible, then we are strong. As President Clinton told us, this is about addition, not subtraction. About multiplication, not division. This is where I want us to start. Too often, we can be paralyzed by division or overcome by indifference.

In our country, there have always been demagogues with their own political agendas seeking to divide us. Trying to pit people against one another.Black, white, Latino. Gay versus straight. Republican versus Democrat, rural and urban, north versus south.

As opposed to standing side-by-side, we too often fight over a little bit of meat on an otherwise empty bone. This is not the future we want for our people. We know that if we are going to create opportunity, we must be united as one. And if we can come together across race, across class and across geography, it would be a political tidal wave. We would be an unstoppable force and America would be better for it.

Mayors – stop for a minute to think about why we are here and who we are here to serve. Think about those we have lost due to attitudes of exclusion and divisiveness. Consider how much potential is denied because we remain isolated in comfortable corners — afraid to extend a hand because of fear or indifference. How many more must be forsaken because we are not helping each other? How many more African American

kids must be killed because our society does not value young, black men? How many more parents must lose a child to addiction or mental health illness because politics prevent us from finding solutions? How many more times will the relationship between police and community be strained because we judge by appearance and uniform rather than behavior?

Mayors- this is why we must lead with courage, conviction and honesty. Mayors – we must sow the seeds and till the soil if we expect to reap the fruits of our labor. We must match American exceptionalism with extraordinary deeds.

We can see that the solutions to this country’s problems won’t come from the halls of Congress or the boardrooms on Wall Street, but instead will emerge from the Main Streets and byways of this great country.

That is our wheelhouse. This is our playing field. We are the inheritors of a great legacy and with that comes great responsibility. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Indeed, I am lucky enough to be the fifth Mayor of New Orleans to serve as President of this august organization – and the second one named Landrieu. As a young boy, I watched my father Moon help integrate our great American city. His strength, his resolve, his clarity of vision and his relentless focus on the people he served inspires me every day. And it was Dutch Morial who became our first African-American Mayor; and then his son after him – Marc H. Morial who today leads the National Urban League. All three men led this organization and continue to set an example for me today.

At every defining moment in our country, it has been Mayors stepping into the breach to help American families.

Mayor DeBlasio reminded us that in 1932 Mayors were convened by Detroit Mayor Frank Murphy and later New York Mayor LaGuardia to respond to the great depression and deliver aid to cities in partnership with Washington.

Mayors like Andrew Young, Maynard Jackson in Atlanta, George Moscone, Diane Feinstein and Willie Brown in San Francisco, Jerome Cavanaugh in Detroit and so many more across this country led the fight for civil rights and equality.

In New York in the 1970s – when my dad led this conference, we along with Mayors John Lindsay and Abe Beame, convinced President Gerald Ford to help save that great American city from bankruptcy. And today, New York sits as a shining star for our nation.

After September 11th, led by Mayor Morial, we stood with Mayors Giuliani and then Mayor Bloomberg in New York and Mayor Williams in D.C to respond and help calm the country. They helped spur the investments in homeland security that we have today.

In New Orleans, Tom Cochran and Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neil worked out of my Lt. Governor’s office to help us recover and respond to Hurricane Katrina, and Mayor Kautz came to make sure we had what we needed after the BP oil spill.

Mayors have led this nation forward for generations. This- mayors- is the legacy we inherit, and the responsibility that we now own.

Today, we stand at another moment. Let’s rise to the occasion that we find ourselves in. We can re-teach America a lesson we have all learned before – that everyone is the

same, and everybody ought to be given the same opportunities and be expected to shoulder the same responsibility. We all value faith, family, country; we all want our kids to have a better life than what we had ourselves.The things which unite us in our shared humanity make us stronger than anything that divides us.

We cannot stay quiet when there is injustice, even if it is being perpetrated by people with great power. Might does not make right. We as a conference will speak with courage, conviction and honesty.

Mayors – use your powerful voices – Bring your leaders from Washington to the streets of America and carry the voices of your people to Washington with us. Show them how it’s done –without acrimony and to better people’s lives. We can do it. We must.

Mayors- I’ve seen people come together at some of our highest and our lowest points.

I’ve stood on the flooded streets of New Orleans after the federal levees broke following Hurricane Katrina and I can attest to this truth– when everybody is wet and everybody needs to be saved and everybody needs to be pulled out of the water, nobody worries about what boat they are getting in. You just get in the damn boat.

I saw in that moment of catastrophe when the entire civil government disappeared that black people and white people didn’t see color in that moment. When they had a common enemy and a common threat or a common opportunity, there was unity. I saw the whole world and all of you rally to our side to save a great American city and the soul of this nation. And despite our many challenges, New Orleans is alive, well and booming today.

We should not wait until the next catastrophe to bring our country together. Let’s do it now. We can and we must. We have a special obligation to the people of America.

As President Kennedy told mayors in 1963: “You can set an example in your communities to which the timid can rally and which those clinging to the past cannot ignore.”

Our feet may be tired, but our soul is strong. Many of you have praised the speech I gave on Confederate monuments. I don’t deserve it but I really do appreciate it. But this is what I have learned.

In a time of great turmoil, a mayor talked, and the nation listened. You can do the same. Mayors- do not be afraid. When you speak, people will listen. When you act, people will join you. When you lead, people will follow.

Mayors- This is our time to lead and we will do it. When we speak with one voice, we can break through the noise and the chaos. We can calm the waters of this nation. When we speak with courage, we can be the voice of the of the American people. When we speak with clarity and honesty, we can make these times less uncertain and less chaotic. Our cities and our nation will be better for it. We will prove that we are a force to be reckoned with on behalf of the American people.

I will end where I began, with my parents. They taught all nine of their kids to love one another. To be fair. To be just. Be honest. They taught us to work hard and play hard. To be thankful. To help others. These are good rules for life. And they happen to be good rules for governing.

If my father were up here today, he would tell me and you: “You have political capital for a reason– use it. What else is it for?”

In these times, let’s be bold. It’s our time.

Mayors- out of many, we are one. And when we are one, we are strong. Now, in what is clearly a moment of truth for our nation, we are called once again to prove that this country can live up to the ideals set forth by our founding fathers. We are being called into duty.

Mayor- It is our time. Let’s seize the moment. And let’s get back to work. Thank you.

By | 2017-06-29T13:34:34+00:00 June 26, 2017|85th Annual Meeting, Speeches|

About the Author:

Elena Temple is the Director of Public Affairs for the Conference. She can be contacted by phone at 202-286-1100 or via email at etemple@usmayors.org.