US Election 08: The Mayors Speak

The Nation and the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy recently did a video-survey of big-city mayors across the US to find out what they thought about the current state of the US and its cities, the current presidential administration, and the 2008 that's now in full swing here in the States. Of the ten mayors surveyed, all have interesting things to say, but there are two issues that get an especially high level of attention. They are:

1) Urban crime problems -- or, more specifically in many cases, gun control and illegal drugs.
2) The need for a presidential administration that takes cities seriously, as opposed to the standoffish relationship established by the Bush White House, which the mayors almost universally decry, outright.

What this seems to suggest is that day-to-day life for most Americans has little or nothing to do with the "hot-button" issues that presidential candidates are so concerned about. Abortion, gay marriage, and the Iraq war, while all important in their own ways, are by no means the issues that have the greatest impact on this country, yet they receive a greatly disproportionate amount of attention in the media because they are easily polarized issues, and thus much easier to sell. Meanwhile, people struggle every day with crime, education, drugs, and economic issues that go largely unaddressed.

At least, that's what the people in charge at the local level are saying. And how many people do you know that live their lives internationally, or even nationally for that matter?

Many of the mayors interviewed in the series speak fondly of the work they are doing as a part of the US Conference of Mayors, a group that has only increased in importance as the Bush Administration as proven itself to be utterly incapable of remembering that there is an actual country full of people that they are trying to "defend" with their wars overseas. What is especially interesting is how several mayors commented explain the stark difference between the ways that the Clinton and Bush administrations dealt with the USCoM: Clinton met with each mayor individually and attended group sessions, while GW has dropped in on a handful of meetings.

The videos each run about 4-5 minutes, and the series is worth an hour of your time. If you only have a few minutes, try one of the following, which I found to be highlights:

"Frankly, the Federal government has become largely irrelevant to most of the significant work that we're doing ... My city is stronger because we have different values than the Washington values that have been pushed onto us." -- Minneapolis, MN Mayor T. R. Rybak

"You just do not get a sense that cities are a priority in the current administration, and perhaps not a priority with many of the candidates running ... [With] the lack of investment in our own country and the lack of investment in our cities, in essence we are losing the hearts and minds of the American people." -- Rochester, NY Mayor Bob Duffy

"We shouldn't take for granted that the infrastructure that we built 100 or 75 years ago can withstand the climate shifts, or the economic shifts, can withstand the pressure on that infrastructure forever ... Clearly, we need an urban agenda. We need an agenda the speaks to the issues of where people are congregating for most of their lives, working, living, and learning." -- Atlanta, GA Mayor Shirley Franklin

"Mayors have to be pragmatic, it's part of the job ... Ultimately, I think that's what any presidential agenda has to get to, is the point where we start solving problems instead of just throwing money at them."
-- Denver, CO Mayor John Hickenlooper

Campaign in the City: Mayors on the Issues (The Nation)

Drum Major Institute for Public Policy

US Conference of Mayors

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