US mayors' hearts belong to Jimmy
They came. They saw. But in large measure they failed to conquer. In the last major political gethering before the national party conventions this summer, challengers Ronald Reagan and John Anderson this week each tried to convince America's mayors that he would be a better friend of the cities than Jimmy Carter has been during his first White House term.
The two were politely received at the annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors in Seattle. But their presence largely served to underscore the fact that the vast majority of the country's most powerful local elected officials solidly support President Carter.
By contrast, President Carter was warmly received when he arrived June 10 to address the conference. In his speech, the President reviewed his urban policy program and its accomplishments.
When Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts tried to appear before the convention on the same as the President, he was rebuffed by the organization. Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors, criticized Senator Kennedy's apparent attempt to "sandbag the President" by giving the appearance that a face-to-face debate occurred in Seattle.
Beyond what is seen here as an irritating intraparty flap, Mr. Kennedy's name has hardly been mentioned except by the press. There is no outspoken support for his continued candidacy. The policy statement of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors, to be issued at the final convention session, June 11, is "a paean to Carter," in the words of a mayors' conference staff member.
Some 80 percent of big-city mayors are Democrats. While there is some muted criticism here of White House efforts to balance the federal budget, tighten up on some urban programs, and accept increased unemployment in order to fight inflation, President Carter's national urban policy is seen by many mayors as the best thing to happen since creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 15 years ago.
"President Carter has been very good to my city," said Mayor William McLaughlin of Wilmington, Del. "If there's one place I don't believe he's in trouble, it's in the cities."
"On balance, and compared with past presidents, he done very well," said Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier. "It's been a very open White House. . . . Even Republican mayors have told me that."
For his part, Ronald Reagan has formed an "urban advisory task force" of 15 mayors. All but one are Republican and almost all represent relatively healthy Sunbelt cities. At his brief appearance here, Mr. Reagan promised to return funding sources from Washington to local government and remove federal restrictions from aid programs. But he left the mayors with little idea about how this would be done.
"Ultimately, he's going to have to focus in on some specifics," conceded Republican Mayor Richard Carver of Peoria, III., who heads the Reagan advisory group. Following Mr. Carter's speech, Mayor carver said, "I think the President is very concerned with the cities, I think his speech today was good. It was not a political speech."
Of Mr. Carter's probable challengers, Congressman Anderson has been more precise about how he would help American cities. He suggests earmarking 90 percent of federal exercise taxes on alcohol and tobacco for urban investment and mass transit. He also proposed a "permanent standby stabilization program" for cities particularly hard hit by recession. And he suggested that a White House council of urban advisers be formed along the lines of the Council on Environmenttal Quality.
While the mayors are happy to hear Mr. Anderson say that "our cities need more money," there has been no subsequent rush to endorse him.
"I believe he established some credibility with the group," said Mayor Vincent Thomas of Norfolk, Va. But Mayor Thomas also Appears to speak for many other mayors when he says: "President Carter has made a determined effort to formulate and put into place an urban program."