CityLab surveyed a bipartisan group of mayors on how they view the stakes of the 2016 election. Here’s what they said.
It may be a great idea for mayors to take over running the world, but they don’t have that kind of power just yet. In the meantime, the opinions of local leaders are increasingly valued, thanks in large part to a global movement that recognizes cities as the source of the vast majority of the world’s innovative ideas (not to mention its economic activity). For America’s mayors, there’s no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage, or so the famous saying goes—there’s just the on-the-ground work of being an executive with an often limited budget and scope of power.
So in advance of Election Day, CityLab polled a bipartisan group of U.S. mayors on the following question:
From your perspective as a mayor, what do you want or need most from the next U.S. president?
While their responses included a range of concerns, there were also some clear themes: U.S. mayors are anxious for more federal help when it comes to infrastructure and public safety, and they see current funding mechanisms as serious obstacles toward moving their local economies forward.
Read their responses for yourself below:
Work directly with mayors
“First of all, we’re hopeful the next president is open to dealing directly with mayors or directly with regional economies. We’ve enjoyed that under the current administration, but there is often a bias toward dealing with state governments rather than cities—the level of government where partisanship takes a backseat to innovation and getting things done. The next president and Congress must address infrastructure in America. The deferred maintenance of our civic infrastructure is a ticking time bomb. We also have to look at investing in public transit and the effects of disruptive transit technologies. Finally, attention must be given to criminal justice reform and health-and-wellness efforts, including addressing mental health issues and opioid addiction.”
— Mick Cornett (R), Mayor of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and current president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors
Smarter infrastructure projects
“What we need most from the next U.S. presidential administration is increased federal support for infrastructure and infrastructure projects. These public investments improve quality of life for all residents. They also provide a solid foundation for continued economic growth and can be highly effective in combating climate change, especially if these projects are done with a smart cities-philosophy of using data and technology to create highly efficient and low-carbon footprint projects.”
— Mary Casillas Salas (D), Mayor of Chula Vista, California
Pre-K, justice reform, and government innovation
“We need a president who understands: 1) That we can solve problems through systems thinking. For example, use the repair of the nation's infrastructure to create jobs and economic activity across the nation; 2) That we must pay attention to and invest in a child's pre-kindergarten years in order to help eliminate poverty and prepare them to grow into productive adult citizens in an increasingly technological world; 3) That the perception of injustice and the reality of mass incarceration must be reversed, and 4) We must have efficient, entrepreneurial government willing to engage in bold public-private partnerships to more efficiently deliver and streamline governmental services.”
— Sly James (I), Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri
Economic growth and jobs
"As mayor of the rapidly expanding City of North Las Vegas, I hope to see our next president further policies that allow local and state economies to grow, particularly in the manufacturing, distribution and health care sectors, as those are where our city has seen the most transformative development. I want our partner in the White House to be as proactive as our city has been in creating jobs for residents and opportunities for businesses to expand and sell their products globally, in promoting economic growth to support our schools and hospitals, and in ensuring safe, quality neighborhoods for all of our citizens.”
—John J. Lee (D), Mayor of North Las Vegas, Nevada
Public safety and infrastructure funding
“Mayors and local law enforcement officials across America are currently dealing with three immediate and interrelated challenges: building trust between the police and the community, reducing violent crime, and preventing terrorism. Local law enforcement is at the tip of the spear in this nation’s responsibility to provide security, justice, and opportunity for all. We feel it. We're the ones on the ground all of the time, yet we do not have the tools needed to deliver. These are national challenges that require a national response and require major investments at home—strengthening the bonds between the police and community, expanding homeland security grants, funding mental health and substance abuse, and reforming the criminal justice system. The next president and Congress need to work with cities to secure America.
One of the things mayors want to see in a national infrastructure plan is ‘direct funding’—getting the funds directly to the local level without it getting stalled in federal and state bureaucracies. Over 90 percent of the nation's economy is generated in our city/metro areas. So we need to get the funds to where the economic activity and people live. Most of the congestion in the nation is in and around our cities. We believe the Community Development Block Grant program is an excellent mechanism. This program is often used to fund communities in times of crisis, such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and recessions. And we truly have a national infrastructure crisis. Every community has a list of much-needed infrastructure projects. We need to get the funding to them directly and in the most efficient manner possible. This will help us get the biggest bank for the buck.”
— Mitch Landrieu (D), Mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana
Tax-exempt bonds and youth employment
“Mayors use tax-exempt bonds to fund a variety of critical projects that benefit the general public. In recent years, tax-exempt municipal bonds have been under attack. Even President Obama introduced a proposal to cap the tax-exemption at 28 percent of taxable income for those who purchase municipal bonds. It is crucial for the health of our cities that the current tax-exemptions for bonds remain in place.
Mayors are also faced with the fact that many of our youth and young adults are not in school and not working. Through a popular incentive program that pays for classroom and on-the-job training for newly created jobs in expanding or relocating businesses for up to six months, we have successfully trained people to operate in laboratories and manufacturing environments. It is critical that a national policy that includes job training for the trades, especially for our unemployed veterans and disconnected youth, be developed and implemented.”
—Richard J. Berry (R), Mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Transportation, affordable housing, and workforce development
“Cities are where the economy is growing the fastest in the U.S. Mayors need a partner in our next president in facing our biggest challenges: transportation infrastructure, affordable housing, and workforce development. There are a lot of innovative things cites can and are already doing to better serve our fast-growing populations, but we can’t do it all alone. The next administration can help leverage our resources so we can do more.”
— Steve Adler (D), Mayor of Austin, Texas
Support cities directly
“Aurora needs the new president to understand most solutions to current domestic issues today come from, or are implemented by cities, and nowhere else. As a result, the president needs to help find ways to get support directly to cities and not just through states, counties, or metropolitan planning organizations.”
— Steve Hogan (R), Mayor of Aurora, Colorado