Mayors to Trump: We can be great partners

Members of the non-partisan US Conference of Mayors, which represents 1,408 cities with a population of 30,000 or more, say they seek solutions based on results – not ideology.

Matt Orlando/TCSM
Three members from the US Conference of Mayors speak at a Monitor Breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington on Aug. 2, 2017. Speakers include (l. to r.) Mayor John Giles of Mesa, Ariz.; Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin of Columbia, S.C.; and Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, La.

A delegation of America’s mayors is visiting Washington this week, meeting with senators and arguing that a bipartisan, problem-solving approach is the only way forward on health care, tax reform, and infrastructure.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, president of the non-partisan US Conference of Mayors, said his group searches for policy answers based on results, not ideology. “We want to model good behavior for how you get solutions for people on the ground,” Mr. Landrieu said at a Monitor-hosted breakfast with reporters. The Conference represents the 1,408 US cities with a population of 30,000 or more.

America’s cities got off to a rocky start with the Trump administration. During his campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump said, “Our inner cities are a disaster … You get shot walking to the store. They have no education. They have no jobs.”

Landrieu, a Democrat who has been mayor of New Orleans since 2010, said, “That is certainly not reflective of cities throughout America.” An estimated 85 percent of the US population lives in cities. Mr. Trump’s remarks “kind of communicated to the mayors of America that the president was perhaps uninformed at best,” Landrieu said.

'We are builders'

Mayors’ concerns about Trump administration policy proposals go beyond issues of language. “Tone is important,” said Democratic Mayor Stephen Benjamin of Columbia, S.C., at the Monitor Breakfast. “The challenge is when that tone then makes its way into policy … talking about eliminating [community development block grants] or maybe wrong-headed tax policy.”

The Trump administration budget calls for eliminating community-development block grants, a $3 billion Housing and Urban Development Department program that provides money for housing and economic development needs. Mayors also worry about the Trump administration’s preliminary plan to reform federal taxes, which eliminates the deduction for state and local taxes.

“We believe that repeal would represent double taxation,” said Mr. Benjamin. “Taxpayers are not a special interest. Cities and state and local governments are not a special interest.”

While concerned about specific Trump administration policy proposals, Landrieu stressed the mayors’ desire for consensus and moving forward on issues of importance to citizens.

“We are not here to resist. We are here to construct. We are builders. We are not destroyers and [the president] will find great partners in the mayors of America if we are engaged in a constructive and thoughtful way,” Landrieu said.

Thoughts on policing, abortion

At the breakfast, John Giles, the Republican mayor of Mesa, Ariz., was asked about President Trump’s Aug. 28 remarks telling police, “Please don’t be too nice” when loading suspects into vehicles. The president added, “You can take the hand away, okay?”

Mayor Giles responded, “As a mayor, I don’t think there is anything he could have said that would have been more disturbing.  He may have said a lot of things I disagree with over the course of his tenure but that has got to be close to the top.”  

The White House later said the president was joking.

Earlier this week Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D) of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the organization would not withhold funds from congressional candidates who oppose abortion rights. It is a move that angered some abortion-rights supporters.

Landrieu was asked whether support for abortion rights should be a litmus test for Democratic candidates. “It is a bad mistake. On issues like that, both parties should be big-tent parties,” he said.

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