Mayors offer agenda to confront `Tale of Two Cities' in the US

Education, housing, drugs, AIDS, transportation, the growing elderly population. The urban agenda for the 1990s, as put forth by five mayors in a New York City forum last week, includes some tough problems. The Republican and Democratic mayors agreed that the federal government cannot continue to distance itself from urban issues. But they also noted that the problems are not solely federal ones and that cities, states, and the private sector must shoulder their share of the burden.

The mayors - from Newark, Indianapolis, Dallas, Hartford, and New York - also pointed out that much good has happened in cities in recent years and that the country's general anti-city bias is disappearing. The task now, they say, is to confront the ``tale of two cities'' dilemma - a growing disparity between the rich and poor - that exists in many urban centers.

Hartford Mayor Carrie Saxon Perry said at the forum, sponsored by the New York University Urban Research Center, that the recent metamorphosis of her city has been striking. Growth is unprecedented, office space is expanding, and the downtown economy is robust.

But, she said, ``I cannot in earnest and candor stand before you and parlay the image that everyone's fortunes in Hartford have skyrocketed. ... When I cite growth and development, I am alluding to downtown development and regional growth. When we turn to the central, the inner city, we see people and human services that are in stark contrast to the boomlet less than a mile away.''

Mayor William Hudnut III of Indianapolis said he hopes urban issues will occupy a more prominent place in the upcoming presidential campaign. ``We need a coherent national urban policy,'' says Mayor Hudnut, a Republican who suggests the next administration form a national council of urban advisers similar to the already active Council of Economic Advisers.

Mayor Sharpe James of Newark says the federal and state governments have to be active partners in making cities attractive and viable. That also means, he says, that governments have a responsibility not to ``gerrymander'' cities through projects. Newark gets necessary regional programs such as AIDS centers and methadone clinics, but it should also get more upscale projects like the state performing arts center that is planned for the city. More often, he says, suburbs get these kinds of projects.

Dallas Mayor Annette Strauss spoke of the housing and transportation problem her city faces, adding that if these services continue to decay, the nation will suffer greatly. She tells of increased support for urban issues from the private sector in Dallas, but she says there is still great need for federal aid. She and other mayors say that inter-jurisdictional, or regional, cooperation is needed for such problems, and any federal aid will receive better management of funds through greater control at the local level.

New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch spoke of the need for city, state, and federal involvement in creating new environments for the elderly. One example: modest apartments offering varying degrees of assistance for the elderly.

There was some debate over the kinds of programs that are being offered in response to the AIDS crisis within the minority community, where drug use has contributed to the growing problem.

Mayor Perry says that there is serious denial within Hartford's black community of the extent of the AIDS problem. But she resists some of the alternative ideas for slowing the spread of AIDS, such as distributing clean needles to drug addicts. She does not like routes that ``exasperate, continue, or substitute for'' the real problems of drug abuse.

Mayor James agrees that society needs to be ready to attack the real causes of drug abuse, such as the lack of good education, jobs, and the ensuing breakdown of families.

But James Knickman, an NYU professor who co-presented a paper on the AIDS crisis at the forum, said that it may be hard to get at the root of the problem quickly.

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