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Washington Blitz Mayors Demand Senate Action on Parks Legislation

By Tom McClimon
July 17, 2000

Pressing for Senate action on parks legislation, mayors transcended on the halls of Congress July 12 and the White House to call for passage of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act. Led by Conference President Bosie Mayor H. Brent Coles, the delegation of mayors met with key Administration and Congressional leaders to argue for federal support for local parks and recreation programs.

The Conservation and Reinvestment Act has passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting action by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The bill, known as CARA, would provide permanent annual funding of $450 million for the state and local assistance program of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and $125 million for the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program (UPARR).

Mayors who came to Washington for "Local Parks Lobbying Day" included the Conference of Mayors top two officers, Conference President Mayor Coles, Vice-President and New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial, along with Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill, North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays, Meridian (MS) Mayor John Robert Smith, Laredo Mayor Elizabeth Flores, Euless (TX) Mayor Mary Lib Saleh, Hope (NJ) Mayor Tim McDonough, and District Heights Mayor Jack Sims.

In leading the ten-mayor delegation in meeting at the White House with Presidential Chief-of-Staff John Podesta, Mayor Coles stressed the importance of the legislation in providing places that people can go for enjoyment, for kids to play and learn, to provide an alternative to possible criminal behavior, and to help build self-esteem. "This is a good bill for America and it can have an impact on every person's life." stated Mayor Coles. "We want the federal government to once again be a partner with us in providing neighborhood parks and recreation programs." Mayor Morial commended the Administration's efforts to date, but stressed the importance in any future negotiations between the Administration and Congress that the maximum level of funding be given to the UPARR program. Other members of the delegation also stressed the importance of parks and recreation programs to their communities, especially in providing opportunities for their young people. The mayors also pressed for a reduction in population eligibility for UPARR funds. In responding to the mayors, Mr. Podesta assured the mayors that the Administration was in the "same choir" as the mayors, that passage of parks legislation was high on the President's priority list, and that the Administration would be working to meet the mayors' needs. He encouraged the mayors to use the time during the Congressional August recess to press the issue both in the press and before their Senators.

The mayors then proceeded to Capitol Hill where they had a luncheon meeting with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, one of the chief sponsors of parks legislation on the Senate side. In her remarks to the mayors, Senator Landrieu thanked the mayors for all their hard work and for their leadership in getting the bill through the House. The Senator stressed the importance of keeping the issue on the front burner and she pledged her cooperation to work with the mayors on organizing activities and meetings.

As part of the day's activities, members of the Conference of Mayors leadership, Mayors Coles and Morial, along with Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith and Conference Executive Director, J. Thomas Cochran, met with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (MS) to press for his support on pushing for Senate action. The Majority Leader indicated that while personally supports the bill, there were a number of potential trouble spots that might derail the bill. He was hopeful that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in its deliberations about the bill would try to reconcile those differences.

In addition to the group meetings, the mayors met individually with Senators from their states to seek their support for the parks legislation. The mayors also met with members of the press including USA Today where they released the results of a 200 city survey on local parks and recreation needs which showed that cities are not able to meet local parks and recreation needs which has increased over 10 percent since the past year.

A second round of "Local Parks Lobbying Day" will be held July 26th and will be lead by past Conference president and Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe and Advisory Board Chair and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. Mayors interested in participating on July 26th should contact Tom McClimon on the Conference staff at 202-293-7330.

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