Washington, D.C.— Today, during the opening plenary session of the 89th Winter Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM), President and Louisville (KY) Mayor Greg Fischer addressed hundreds of mayors from across the country. In sweeping remarks, Mayor Fischer spoke about the importance of mayoral leadership in the new Biden era, outlined the Conference’s policy priorities for the coming year, and laid out his vision for how to achieve an American breakthrough. The full text of Mayor Fischer’s speech is below:
Welcome, everyone, to the 89th Winter Meeting of The United States Conference of Mayors.
Every four years this meeting coincides with the inauguration of the President of the United States, a testament – through good times and bad – to the enduring power of our democracy.
This year, our meeting comes at a pivotal point in the history of our country.
Yesterday, President Biden and Vice President Harris swore to uphold the Constitution, only two weeks after a violent assault on the Capitol and on the process and the principles of democracy enshrined in that Constitution.
As an American, watching that assault was painful and sobering. It’s not that I couldn’t believe that it could happen but to see it actually taking place was borderline surreal. My inner voice was saying “how is this possible” and my mind was saying “they will NEVER prevail”.
Like so many of the painful moments from the last year, we will learn from it, and continue our work to bring people together, to heal wounds and close divides. To work with partners and allies in every neighborhood in every city and town in America to re-unite the people of our country so we can face our challenges, move forward together, and lift each other up.
THAT is the humanity of America.
In a moment, I’ll talk about the business of our conference, but first I just want to thank all of you for your presence here today – virtually. But also for being there for our fellow mayors and me through the incredible challenges of the past year. There’s no shame in our admitting that we were shaken at times, and heartbroken, infuriated, worried, and exhausted. I know I’ve felt all that, and so has every mayor, every leader, every parent and every friend I know.
We have been challenged in ways we’d never expected.
But we persevere – and we do that in part with each other’s help. I deeply appreciate the calls and messages of encouragement that I’ve gotten from my fellow mayors, and I know others feel the same way about the calls they have received. That support, sharing and collaboration help each and every one of us better serve and lead our cities and are the very foundation of this Conference.
The challenges of this past year have made us stronger and more capable to lead our cities.
The Greatest of All Time, Louisvillian Muhammad Ali, would have been 79 on January 17. He once said, “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win.”
I believe we mayors are at the center of this “soul work” for our country, and right now, while we’re facing historic challenges and opportunities, our conference is focused on helping us meet them head-on.
Last summer, following my inauguration as USCM president, the Conference took action to address both the immediate crises of this moment like COVID-19 and the economic downturn, as well as the long-term challenges that are exacerbating these crises, including poverty, systemic racism, and the related need to reimagine public safety.
My view was that America needed a breakthrough from the path our country was on so we established five Working Groups to develop bipartisan solutions to these challenges:
- COVID-19 Response and Health Equity
- Economic Recovery
- Eliminating Poverty
- Dismantling Systemic Racism; and
- Police Reform and Racial Justice
These working groups and then the entire USCM leadership put extensive effort to create The Mayors’ 2020 Vision: An American Breakthrough. My thanks to all the mayors who led or participated in this effort, as well as our USCM staff.
I particularly want to highlight the work of our Police Reform and Racial Justice Working Group – chaired by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot along with Mayors John Cranley of Cincinnati and Jane Castor of Tampa. Their work was launched in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others and while we were experiencing righteous calls for racial justice in communities across America.
The Working Group’s report was praised by a wide range of organizations – including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and the Police Executive Research Forum. Most importantly, this report is being used by you, our members, and its recommendations are being implemented in cities around the country so we can reimagine and redefine policing and the police-community legitimacy that will flow from this work.
We presented our American Breakthrough document ahead of the Democratic and Republican party conventions and launched a series of critical conversations through a new partnership entitled “A National Discussion on Achieving an American Breakthrough.”
Sponsored and hosted by Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg, mayors and CEOs explored our five priority areas and how the public and private sectors can work together to tackle the pandemic, revitalize the economy, and build a more just and equitable future for all. We look forward to continuing efforts like this with Verizon and all of our Business Council partners.
And you will be hearing more about a new partnership with Target related specifically to police reform and racial justice later in our meeting.
In the last few months, USCM has also supported mayors by organizing over 100 webinars on critical topics like COVID-19 testing and contract tracing, protecting immigrants, ending disparities in treatment and care, and much more, including election and mayoral security.
And USCM has been working with Congress to provide direct payments to our residents and small businesses, and to provide billions in support of rental assistance, infrastructure, workforce training, childcare, public safety, mental health and substance use disorders.
The Conference also waged one of the strongest advocacy campaigns in its history to secure fiscal assistance for ALL cities. Led by our Vice President Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton and Metro Economies Chair Mayor Jeff Williams of Arlington and with mayors from targeted states, you responded through direct outreach to Congress, countless bipartisan press events, and detailed surveys clearly stating the urgent need for assistance.
The fight continues – now with new allies. President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer fully understand that cities need resources to facilitate economic recovery and prevent layoffs of first responders, health workers and other public servants who provide critical services like vaccinations.
In fact, President Biden has included in his American Rescue Plan $350 billion in direct relief for state and local governments. Let me repeat that: $350 billion in flexible, emergency assistance.
We are working directly with the administration and our champions in Congress to ensure that a major portion of this funding is provided directly to ALL cities – and that the program contains the degree of flexibility mayors need to address every aspect of the pandemic.
AND it’s critical that we all do our part to build support for American Rescue Plan in Congress so that it can be passed quickly and signed into law – which is why, on Tuesday, our organization released a letter signed by over 250 mayors – Democrats, Republicans and independents – from cities of all sizes – in support of these much-needed resources.
Clearly, the country is ready for a new approach. And the Conference is extremely enthused by the American Rescue plan and the many new resources it offers that President Biden introduced on January 14.
America is ready for a breakthrough.
Mayors understand that, while we have values and ideology, we must also value each other and our shared future.
On January 6, we saw where all-or-nothing partisanship leads – to violence, destruction and a breakdown of our democracy.
This act of insurrection is far outweighed by the goodwill of the American people.
Think about the volunteer citizens that are working alongside we mayors as we deliver life-saving vaccines to our residents and support their delivery, storage and administration.
In my city of Louisville, we’ve set up a drive-through mass-vaccination site at a basketball arena. Led by our city’s Public Health and Wellness team, along with nurses and volunteers, our ability to vaccinate far outstrips the current supply of this precious medicine.
And through USCM’s new partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and in support of Surgeon General-designate Vivek Murthy and the new Administration, the conference will support your vaccination efforts and highlight effective communication to engage all residents.
Over the course of this Winter Meeting, we will continue to engage with the new Administration and Congress on the priorities contained in our American Breakthrough.
In November, one of the first actions taken by then President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris was to meet with the ENTIRE elected leadership of our Conference of Mayors.
President Biden understands what can be accomplished through a strengthened federal-local partnership, and he made clear that his White House will be open to all mayors – regardless of political affiliation.
In addition, the President has two of our colleagues joining his Cabinet. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, as Transportation Secretary-designate, knows that infrastructure is the foundation of a strong economy, and that cities can’t carry this load alone. I believe we can bring Republicans and Democrats together in Washington around a localized infrastructure investment agenda, and, as Mayor David Holt of Oklahoma City so eloquently stated, we will end the longest wait for the launch of “infrastructure week” in our nation’s history by making roads, bridges, airports and much more a priority every day.
President Biden has also chosen Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Secretary of Labor. Mayor Walsh is a man of conviction and action, and we look forward to a strong partnership to reshape our workforce for the post-COVID economy and ensure that ALL Americans can climb the ladder of success. Additionally, Marty has been a leading voice in our Conference for the fight against drug and alcohol addiction. His journey of recovery will inspire millions more with his national profile. Good work, Marty!
We now have an administration that shares our commitment to combat the climate emergency. President Biden has not only agreed to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord but has unveiled a $2 trillion climate change plan. Our Conference has led on this issue when others have shied away from this urgent global crisis. And we understand that there are also opportunities that can unleash the innovative and entrepreneurial power of the American people and American business in ways that will help produce a robustly healthier economy and a healthier planet.
Any great organization has the skill to take care of immediate business while planning for a stronger future. I experienced this throughout my business career, so a major initiative of my presidency has been to produce a strategic plan to better understand USCM’s value to the membership; identify strategic opportunities to meet and exceed expectations; and determine how the Conference can best serve you and your cities now and in the future.
We created a task force charged with overseeing this work and it includes Vice President Whaley, Second Vice President Suarez, and past presidents Barnett, Benjamin, and Kautz, along with myself. And we asked that our CEO Tom Cochran manage both the overarching objectives and the day-to-day work on this effort.
We issued an RFP and brought in Freedman Consulting, a first-class strategic advising firm, to assess our organization and develop the strategic action plan. This initiative has been generously underwritten by our partners at Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Over 300 member and non-member mayors responded to our survey and 50 were interviewed in individual conversations and group dialogues. Interviews were also conducted with business council members, Congressional and White House staff, policy experts and other advocacy groups.
We found that:
- Not surprisingly, mayors say the most important benefit of membership in the Conference is the opportunity to connect with other mayors. You value access to best practices, and want even more resources, including grants and similar opportunities.
- You confirmed that a core purpose for the Conference is to amplify mayors’ voices and priorities, cutting through division and partisanship to advocate for mayors and cities.
- We also heard that you benefit from the relationships developed with private-sector companies and organizations from our Business Council that share our core mission of strengthening America’s cities.
- And while we have so much in common, we heard that no one mayor has exactly the same experience or set of circumstances. So the conference must always consider what it means to serve a membership with a diverse range of needs.
We will be working with Conference staff and the Freedman team to translate these findings into an actionable plan that results in an even stronger organization, one that creates exceptional services and offerings that can be sustained well into the future. I want to thank the entire executive committee for their commitment to this multi-year capacity building initiative.
I am extremely confident and relentlessly optimistic about the future of the US Conference of Mayors and about the future of our country.
We’ve all been through a crucible over the last year, we’re still in it, and we’ll be stronger and more united as a result.
That’s our vision – stronger and more united as we make historic breakthrough progress in 2021.
This is the year to take action.
Earlier this week, we celebrated Dr. King’s birthday. I believe he’d tell us to seize this historic opportunity with what he once famously described as the “fierce urgency of now.”
Let’s follow his example, so that in one year, two years, ten years, 50 years, people will look back at this moment in our history and say that if 2020 was a low point, 2021 was a turning point.
A turning point where we looked at the racism both in our history and in our lives today and together, we said, “Enough.”
When we looked into the face of hatred and division storming the Capital, masquerading as patriotism, and together, said, “Enough.”
When we found the strength, compassion and commitment to recognize our common humanity and our shared future and worked to unite the people of the United States of America like never before.
Let’s commit ourselves to our neighbors, our cities and our country’s future so that the lesson our children and grandchildren learn about this period is not just about the tragedies we experienced, but the transformation we steadfastly created in response, together.
Thank you all and may God bless our country, her people, and her mayors.”