NEW York Mayor David Dinkins hopes to build a strong new lobbying force for cities that will reverse a 10-year pattern of federal fiscal neglect. In response to his invitation, more than three dozen mayors from major US cities will meet in New York for a three-day-summit starting Nov. 11. They will talk about their problems and map plans for partnerships with businesses, suburbs, and other groups. Focusing on their strengths as centers of culture, commerce, and jobs, they intend to draft an urban agenda that could once again make them strong partners in the national political debate.
A privately financed nationwide survey commissioned by Mayor Dinkins shows a willingness in the United States at large to help cities solve some of their toughest problems. More than two-thirds of those living outside the limits of major cities say they would be willing to pay more taxes to help with housing for the urban poor, AIDS treatment and prevention, education, and drug rehabilitation facilities. Many see the value of their homes as closely linked to the fiscal well being of nearby cities.
The conference, first suggested by the mayor last June and planned in cooperation with the National League of Cities and the US Conference of Mayors, comes at a moment when many cities are particularly hard pressed. New York City and nearby Philadelphia expect significant shortfalls in current budgets. Yet Dinkins spokeswoman Catie Marshall insists that the summit's purpose is ``much, much broader than just going to Congress with a tin cup.''
Many federal urban programs began or grew during the Nixon years. The drop in federal urban aid began late in the Carter administration and accelerated rapidly in the Reagan years. The effect, says Mayor Dinkins, was to drain the cities of resources while leaving them with the burden of caring for the neediest citizens. He argues that the concern that used to prevail for the welfare of cities has given way to disdain.
Most federal money for cities and states now passes through them as aid to individuals. ``Cities were left to fend for themselves - there's not really much [in federal urban programs] left to cut,'' says Jeffrey Esser, executive director of the Government Finance Officers Association in Chicago.
Yet, Mr. Esser notes, property and sales taxes, the revenue staple of most cities, were never designed to cope with such major urban problems as homelessness and drugs.
``Dinkins is on the right track,'' says Norman Glickman, director of the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University. Yet these are tough fiscal times for Washington as well as for cities. Many urban analysts, including Dr. Glickman, say they doubt that Capitol Hill will help.
Mitchell Moss, director of New York University's Urban Research Center, says he applauds Dinkins's attempt to form a coalition but doubts it will yield any short-term gains. ``We're going to see cutbacks at the federal level, not spending,'' he says.