On the first day of the United States Conference of Mayors’ 89th Winter Meeting, hundreds of mayors gathered virtually to discuss some of the most pressing challenges facing cities – and our nation – today. They engaged in conversation with Biden administration officials, heard from business leaders, and they exchanged ideas and solutions with each other.
The day kicked off with sessions dedicated to cybersecurity and equity. During ‘Responding to Current Cybersecurity Threats and Attacks,’ mayors discussed how to keep our cities safe from future cyber-attacks and long-term threats to our nation’s cybersecurity. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) announced a new public awareness campaign during the session which will educate Americans against rising ransomware cyberattacks, which have impacted numerous cities across the country.
In “Supporting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in a Post-COVID America”, mayors discussed how they are implementing internal and citywide efforts to strengthen existing programs and launch new initiatives aimed at identifying and eliminating barriers that have marginalized underrepresented residents for too long. They shared best practices for creating more equitable outcomes through various economic security initiatives, including equity training, workforce development, and re-entry programs designed to assist incarcerated individuals with a successful transition to their community after they are released.
While sharing important lessons learned in Tacoma around closing opportunity gaps for more residents, Mayor Victoria Woodards encouraged mayors to, “…move purposely rather than quickly”, and advocated choosing a deep rather than wide approach to thoughtfully addressing disparities.
The opening plenary session featured Conference President Mayor Greg Fischer as he outlined the Conference’s priorities for 2021 and what the new Biden administration means for mayors and cities. 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, saying “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.”
Mayor Fischer was joined in the plenary by numerous mayors including Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami, and by business leaders including Laysha Ward, Executive Vice President and Chief External Engagement Officer of Target Corporation, and Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon, for conversations on civil rights and affordability of and access to the internet.
Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, President Biden’s nominee to serve as Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a former mayor herself, joined a conversation led by Mayor Fischer and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on housing policy under the new Biden administration. Fudge pledged, if confirmed, to work with mayors on a variety of critical areas, including affordable housing and homelessness.
To wrap up the first day of the 89th Winter Meeting, Conference leadership – including Mayor Fischer, Nan Whaley of Dayton, and Jeff Williams of Arlington, TX – spoke with key members of the Biden Administration about their “American Rescue Plan” to rebuild our economy and, importantly, deliver direct fiscal aid to cities.
Brian Deese, Director of the National Economic Council, and Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, joined the Conference to discuss President Biden’s comprehensive plan to deliver $350 billion in direct aid to state and local governments, which will save jobs and help revive our economy as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the majority of American cities having been left without direct federal assistance since the beginning of the pandemic, Mayors advocated for a major portion of this $350 billion proposal to be directly allocated to cities of all sizes.
The first day of the 89th Winter Meeting reminded mayors in attendance of the power of collective action and the powerful support of the peer network embodied in the Conference. Two full days ahead will provide mayors with more opportunities to collaborate, learn from one another, and begin a partnership with the Biden Administration to meet the needs of city residents across the country.