MODERATOR: DAVID K. MARTIN, NPC TREASURER
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, WASHINGTON, DC
MR. MARTIN: (Sounds gavel.) Good afternoon from the National Press Club.
My name is David K. Martin. I am a member of the board of governors, and treasurer of the National Press Club, and I am a nationally syndicated independent journalist. Welcome, members, and your guests in the audience, and to those of you watching on C-SPAN, or listening to this program on National Public Radio.
Before introducing our head table, let's take a peek at upcoming speakers.
Next Monday, November 29th, Tipper Gore will discuss homelessness. On Wednesday, December 1st, Christopher Reeve will discuss spinal cord injury. And on Friday, December 14th, we'll hear from Hugh Price, director of the National Urban League.
Press Club members may access transcripts and audiofiles of our luncheons at our Web site, npc.press.org. Non-members may purchase audio and videotapes by calling 1-888-343-1940.
If you have questions for our speaker, please write them on the cards provided at your table. Pass them up to me, I will ask as many as time permits.
Now for our head table guests. As I introduce them I will ask them to stand briefly when their names are called, and I'll ask you to withhold your applause until all are up. All head table guests, except those invited by the speaker, are Press Club members.
From your right, Jay Ambrose, Scripps Howard and a former editor of the Denver Rocky Mountain News; Mike Ibarra (ph), assistant to the president of the United States and director of intergovernmental affairs, a guest of our speaker; the Honorable Marion Barry, the former mayor of Washington, D.C.; Peggy Robeson, editor, King Publishing; George Curry, Emerge Magazine and a guest of our speaker; Bruce Katz of Brookings Institution and guest of our speaker; Ken Eskey, chairman of the National Press Club's Speakers Committee; skipping over our speaker for a moment, Carol Ann Kell of Kell and Associates, member of the Speakers Committee who organized today's luncheon; April Taylor, Detroit News; Larry Bivins, Gannett News; Ann Schmidt, retired Denver Post bureau chief; and Bill McAllister, Denver Post. (Applause.)
Mayor Wellington Webb comes to us from out of the West, almost like Sir Walter Scott's Lochinvar. But in this case it's out of Denver, the jewel in what the Denver Post historically has called the "Rocky Mountain Empire."
Webb is serving his third term as Denver mayor, and his first as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. His latest reelection as Denver's mayor was last May when he received 81 percent of the vote. That's impressive anywhere, but -- (applause) -- That's impressive anywhere, but it was considered particularly noteworthy in that Denver still has a majority white population and an African American community that numbers no more than 12 percent of the total.
One event particularly this past year has shown Webb as a firm leader with a clear message. It was in the wake of last spring's shooting tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, south of Denver. The mayor has long been a leader in the effort to get a grip on the gun problem in America, struggling with the Colorado legislature and a new pro-gun governor over efforts to expand the rights of gun owners, even in the wake of the Columbine shootings.
Well, as it happened, one week after that tragedy last April, the National Rifle Association was scheduled to hold its annual convention in downtown Denver. Mayor Webb jumped in and asked -- indeed, demanded -- that they cancel the meeting out of respect for those killed. The NRA refused, but it did tone down its proceedings, and the NRA had to endure the taunts and pickets of anti-gun protesters, a scene that put Denver and the NRA on the evening newscasts.
In another area Mayor Webb and Denver have been praised with the revitalization of the downtown area and the general economic turnaround that has taken place in Denver in the last several years. Now, of course it has to be noted that most mayors can make similar claims for their cities in this era of a booming economy. But it happened in Denver on Mayor Webb's watch; Mayor Webb gets credit for it, for indeed he would certainly take the heat if the reverse were true.
Mayor Webb's agenda for the U.S. Conference of Mayors includes what he calls smart growth for cities, reclaiming them as places of opportunity based on public safety, education, parks and open space and economic development. These are issues that presumably he will touch upon with us today, so let's hear it from the man who is going to do it. Ladies and gentlemen, a warm National Press Club welcome for the Honorable Wellington Webb. Mayor Webb. (Applause.)
MAYOR WEBB: David, thank you very much for that warm and gracious introduction. And I also want to thank Carol Ann for organizing this luncheon and greeting me as I arrived today. And it's also nice to see some hometown reporters here that are -- some working and some eating -- that are here, both Bill McAllister and Michael Romano and Jay Ambrose. I want to congratulate them for being here. I know the last time Jay was here Miss America was here I think -- (laughter) -- that's -- I don't know what that has to do with anything, but I just thought I'd throw that in.
And it's certainly an honor for me to be here. I have fond memories of Washington, and some interesting memories of Washington as well. Some of you may have heard the story Buck O'Neill (ph) likes to tell by being too inquisitive, trying to know too much, and every time you come to Washington you are always trying to gather more information.
And as the story goes, Buck had a friend that played in the Negro baseball league with him, and he was always wondering if he played baseball. And so this friend of his died, and he called back one day and shared with Buck's roommate, who was also very inquisitive about whether they played baseball in heaven. And he said, "I've got goods news and bad news." And so Buck's friend asked the person that had passed on in heaven, and he said, "Well, give me the good news first." And he said, "Well, the good news is they do play baseball in heaven." And he said, "Well, what's the bad news?" And he said, "Well, you're pitching tomorrow." (Laughter.) So that's the way I kind of feel being here in D.C. two days before Thanksgiving, and glad to see some people here, and want to thank all of you for coming out during this Thanksgiving week.
And this is a very special place and a special city, a special town. And I remember early this morning I went out to Arlington -- going out to Arlington is also kind of a -- always a special place -- and I went to the Kennedy gravesite, as obviously all of you know was the anniversary of Kennedy's assassination yesterday. And I am still struck by the words -- "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, the torch is passed to a new generation of Americans. " And every time I hear that, I don't know about you, but it just makes you want to do something as it relates to public service. And for many of us as mayors that's what we have tried to do. And today, on behalf of the nation's mayors, I am issuing a challenge to all the presidential candidates to work closely with us to fundamentally change the relationship between the federal government and America's cities. And my remarks today are predicated on the strong belief shared by mayors and local government officials throughout this nation that the basic relationship between cities and the federal government has not changed or matured over the past several decades -- this despite the fact that the management of cities, of American cities and the capabilities of local government, have undergone massive transformation over the past 20 years.
The perception of mayors and cities is far more positive than it was a decade ago. Back then urban areas were perceived as dysfunctional communities, high crime rates, high taxes, bloated bureaucracies. And now things are quite different. Mayors are being praised as new reformers. Our focus on sound governance and quality of the issues has generated national and international attention. The new conventional wisdom is that we are efficient, we are close to the people, we are results oriented, pragmatic problem-solvers. In many cities across this nation the future, as Fred Siegal (ph) has written, is "gazing back at us from an unexpected corner of the past." Cities are once again being seen as the places to live, the places to work, the places to shop, the places of centers of commerce and industry and sports and entertainment.
Therefore, as we stand at the beginning of a new millennium and a presidential election that will frame our national leadership as we move into the year 2000, this is exactly absolutely the right time to take stock of what America's cities have become, to take stock of our successes, to take stock of our capabilities, and to fundamentally change the relationship between cities and the federal government. Cities and mayors are at the cutting edge of dealing with America's problems such as guns and violence; helping also to provide working families the tools they need, such as job training and affordable child care; nurturing economic growth and smart growth.
Let's talk about one of those issues now, guns and violence. Despite good times and a vibrant economy, America's cities face an epidemic of violence and guns, even with the declining crime rate in cities nationwide, as well as throughout this nation. As long as we are not safe in our neighborhoods, not safe in our places of work, not safe on our streets, not safe in our schools, a strong economy doesn't mean much. There has been great work done in this area by mayors across this country, and I would like to think about the successes that we have had in Denver, the successes we have had all across this nation. But failure to pass reasonable federal gun control legislation during the recent congressional session of Congress is a major disappointment, and one of the several contrasts that we have in local government about what happens within the Congress.
Some of us had hoped for additional action to limit gun purchases to one a month, and to fund research into smart guns. But as the summer wore on and the attention turned to the budget, the whole issue was derailed. This is an absolute failure, and it's a classic example of how sound public policy to implement a comprehensive and balanced strategy on gun safety can be squandered by fragmented agendas -- some Republicans, playing to the NRA, and some Democrats not wanting to address the issue because it may affect the election in swing districts. I think they are reading it wrong. If this is a swing issue, it's on the side of more reasonable controls. And it's just not about urban streets. Springfield, Oregon; Pearl, Mississippi; Paducah, Kentucky; Columbine; and most other school shootings have occurred in suburban communities. Public opinion has dramatically shifted on the issue, even in Colorado, which is viewed as a pro-gun state. A recent survey of the University of Colorado shows that 73 percent of all Coloradans support a total ban on the sale of any assault weapons; and 78 percent support expanding background checks to all sellers of firearms -- this includes gun shows and sales by private individuals; 80 percent support gun licensing; and 76 percent are in favor of gun registration. This and other surveys nationwide show that the public is a very different place -- a very different place than the Congress. The federal government has an important role to play. If the proposals for expanding background checks is to achieve its objective, it has to apply to all sales, including transactions on the Internet and through classified ads. If the current ban on assault weapons is to be effective, it needs to be extended and broadened to also include assault weapons already in circulation, like the weapon so often used, the weapon of choice, Tech 9s, that were used for example at Columbine.
Criminals aren't the only people that kill people. Innocent, law-abiding people sometimes kill people. Let me give you an example.
My wife and I were sitting on a porch one day speaking to my daughter-in-law's father on a warm July 4th day in which all the kids were out celebrating the Fourth of July. And you know on the Fourth of July what do some people decide to do as part of the celebration of our independence and holidays? Some people that -- innocent people, law-abiding -- some time decide that one of the things they'll do is go out in their backyard and take the handgun out of the house and fire their handgun in the air, because it obviously is part of our celebration -- celebration of fireworks, celebration of our independence --- not knowing that sometimes what goes up must come down.
Well, during the course of a conversation with James Thompson, my daughter-in-law's father, we heard a thud, and then all of a sudden the sentence that he was invoking about how happy he was to stay in Denver that summer, to spend with his grandkids and not driving to Florida, the state in which he was born and raised, all of a sudden Wilma and I looked at him and his eyes began to roll back, and then he bent over and fell. We thought initially maybe he had had a heart attack. He hadn't had a heart attack, because then we saw blood coming out from the back of his shoulder. Well, unbeknownst to us until we turned him over, somebody -- some innocent, law-abiding person -- decided to fire a handgun in the air, and not thinking that bullets go up, come down. This bullet came down and went through the roof, through the awning, and lodged directly in his heart and killed him in front of myself, Wilma, his daughter, his four kids, nine grandkids out in the yard.
The question for me has become we don't know how to handle -- and obviously this person never stepped forward to say that they killed somebody -- it's just another person that passed on that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He happened to be on his back porch in the yard celebrating the Fourth of July.
The moral of the story is that we have to do something about guns in this country. The moral of the story is: How many guns do we really need. The moral of the story is: Do we know how to handle the guns that we even have? How much protection do we need? So I implore the journalists here at this Press Club, keep the gun issue alive in your known newspapers, radio and television. Keep it alive, regardless to what the NRA says or what the polls say. Keep it alive because the lives you say may be your own or your family -- not because it's the smart thing to do, but in this estimation of this mayor it's the right thing to do. Let me also share with you another strong compassionate concern I have, and that's the success of American cities. America's cities have been unmistakable -- it is no coincidence that the changes have driven our strong vibrant local economy that is talked about on a national basis is central city and metropolitan driven. In Denver we revitalized our downtown by fundamentally changing the way we allocate our resources. Our strong economy has changed our 30 percent vacancy rates to less than 7 percent; unemployment rate 3.1 percent; a vibrant, thriving 24-hour downtown; a general fund balance triple what it once was, upgrading our bond rating double-A plus; and reducing violent crime by more than 44 percent. And this is a story that goes on all through America.
But our agenda has been based upon public safety, kids and schools, parks and open space. And my point is that when we look at these metropolitan economies, if we look at the study that was done by Standard and Poor's for the U.S. Conference of Mayors and National Association of Counties, we found 317 metropolitan economic engines compromised of core cities and neighboring surrounding suburban areas. Businesses within these metropolitan areas address four out of every five Americans. And the ten largest city and county metro areas in the U.S. exceeds the combined output of 31 states. It is the mayors and the CEOs of these cities and counties -- they are the ones promoting economic development, building arenas, enticing businesses, creating jobs throughout this nation. We must begin to look at where the real work is being done. And while much progress has been made, the health and welfare of the American people has never been stronger. The rising tide of a strong economy has not raised all ships and it has not benefited all Americans. It has served us to look at how we can as Americans prepare an agenda, a new agenda for America that will serve all of our communities and all of our cities and all of our metropolitan areas.
And so I would say to all of you here today, both paid and unpaid, that if I had an opportunity to share this message with Al, with Bill, with George W., with John, and even Steve, I would say that the mayors have a plan, and I would encourage you to embrace this plan as part of your agenda. It's a new agenda for America that talks about making the federal government more responsive to local priorities and metropolitan economies. It says to establish within the White House a domestic policy czar with sweeping authority over federal agencies to promote the economic well-being of cities and metropolitan governments. Can we do less for our own local economies than we do for those in the international arena?
I believe that cities in this nation are as important as the amount of emphasis that we pay attention to foreign capitals. National security is important, but I believe in this era of the Cold War being over, not only have we addressed that issue with the national security staff person in the White House, we need to have the same authority within the White House for domestic policy.
Number two, we need to continue to provide support for cities to make America's even safer. Support comprehensive gun safety measures to help keep guns away from kids, the mentally ill, and criminals; include flexible funding to support local police officer; ensure that every person has access to drug treatment on demand, and support drug- free prisons and drug treatment for prisoners, and require that every prisoner pass a drug test prior to being released back onto our streets and in our neighborhoods, since more are more addicted to drugs after they get out of prison than before they went in prison. And we need to follow the support of mayors like Richard Daley in Chicago and Tom Menino and Michael White in Cleveland, investing in public schools, supporting world-class teachers, providing support for technology investments, class size reductions and increased school safety.
And we need to follow the support of other mayors by addressing the next issue, which is affordable housing. It is my view that the growing challenge facing working families is perhaps our nation's most important unfinished business on the domestic front. And this is why I say you can't pigeon-hole mayors into a narrow category of traditional urban programs -- forces that we have no control over -- state and federal policies which have a huge impact on our citizens. We have to deal with the decisions that other people are also making. We need to be able to bring our expertise and experience on national issues.
We need to put the affordable housing issue and an affordable housing crisis back on the national agenda. This means we need to stimulate the supply of affordable housing by expanding the low-income housing tax credit and by creating a new affordable housing trust fund. As Senator Kerry of Massachusetts has pointed out, we have a highway trust fund, we have an airport trust fund -- why can't we have a housing trust fund? I think it's way overdue. HUD's voucher program is the most cost-effective housing program in the country, and yet every year we argue whether to increase it by a nominal amount. Let's talk about using effectively the dollars that the federal government already allocates. There are already significant investments that go to states. If the states are passing on using those dollars, send it to the counties. The counties will use it. I know I will use it. I know Wayne Curry will use it. I know others will use it.
Number five, promote art, cultural and sporting amenities.
Number six, direct tax cuts to challenging neighborhoods and working families. Every city is not distressed, but every city has distressed neighborhoods. We talk about urban markets and creating tax incentives to assist first-time home-buyers and help leverage private investment in distressed and older areas. We need to work hard on that to continue to build up our cities.
Number seven, help communities grow smarter by recycling America's land and preserving open space.
Number eight, to build a competitive work force for a global economy, the work being done by Dennis Archer in Detroit, Susan Savage in Tulsa, Kirk Watson in Austin. We need to modernize our infrastructure while protecting our environment for future generations. We need to create a 21st century high-speed rail system for America. Ensure that taxpayers know how states are expending federal funds; expand and invest in our nation's airports and ports -- critical assets for our nation's future; and follow the work and lead of mayors like Bill Campbell in Atlanta. We need to invest in the nation's water and water infrastructure.
And, lastly, we need to increase access to affordable health care. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the issues that need to be addressed, but it is a list of those issues that affect local government and cities. And we need to think in terms of places as opposed to programs. We need to think in terms of outcomes as opposed to process. We need to think in terms of how we see the big picture in terms of how we fix only part of the picture. We need to look in terms of how we can work with mayors and work with cities in terms of making this city and this nation the great nation it is. And if we do that -- and I think we can -- the same way that all of us have become stimulated by the phrases that got so many of us into public service in the first place, "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike. The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans to carry and help this nation go forward." They are mayors and county commissioners. Don't deny an opportunity for the best players you have on the team to give them an opportunity to play. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MR. MARTIN: Thank you very much, mayor. We have quite a number of questions, and so let's get right to them on various topics. Is the West more prone to violence by gangs and armed anti- government militia than other regions? If so, why?
MAYOR WEBB: No, we have less of it, so when we print it you think of it as being more. (Laughter.) No, I don't think so. I think that the West is not prone. By and large, if you look at rates of homicides of Western cities, they are predominantly low. If you compare that with other parts of the country, our highs tend to be other parts of the country's low. But because we tend to be so low -- for example, for us a year with 68 homicides would be a high year -- 68. So if we have a scattering of several that come together, then it is -- the thought is there is more taking place, and so it is reported more. So I think the phenomenon that's different is it's reported more because we have less.
MR. MARTIN: Denver was at one point confronted with a mounting gang problem, and yet within a year's time the threat seemed greatly diminished. What happened?
MAYOR WEBB: That's a Denver question. Nineteen ninety-three we had what we called an era of violence. We had gang members shooting gang members and drive-bys, and we came back here and we asked the Congress, we asked the president, we asked the Justice Department, through the support of President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno -- they stepped up to the plate. We lobbied the Congress with mayors and police chiefs to get community policing and more police officers on the street. And we also on our own provided job opportunities for young people. And I think if you have strong jobs, opportunities where if a young person wants to go to work -- and have the capacity to arrest those who commit crimes and don't, and provide sentencing, appropriate sentencing for those that have committed crimes and the ability to apprehend those individuals, then you have the ability to have a safer city. I don't believe anyone will live in any city that's unsafe. It's not an ethnic issue, it's not a gender issue. It's not a class issue. If people feel safe (sic), they're going to move. And they're not going to have a town meeting to discuss it. They're just going to pack up and move somewhere else. And so we've addressed that issue. And I think mayors across this country have been addressing that issue. And that's why in many cases the first issue of municipal governance is to be able to keep a safe city, in order to keep neighborhoods and public and commercial infrastructure working at a good rate.
MR. MARTIN: You said that the rising economic tide is not lifting all boats. But what specific ideas do you have for reducing the widening gap between America's wealthy and America's poor?
MAYOR WEBB: Well, let me -- let me give you some examples of -- well, I'm going to take a chance and do something I normally don't do and talk about something I don't know a lot about. (Laughter.) Denver's unemployment's 3.1 percent. If we apply for a federal grant and we have gained 50,000 people and 50,000 jobs and we compete against a city that lost 100,000 people and 50,000 jobs, normally the grants go into the other city. But what we're saying is that federal assistance has to come to distressed neighborhoods as much as it comes to distressed cities. We have cities -- we have neighborhoods in Denver with an unemployment rate of 15, 16 percent. Now, this is what I don't know about. But I'd be willing to bet -- since I couldn't find a taxi to take me there -- I'd be willing to bet the lack of investment in Anacostia is less than it is in other parts of D.C. And if you're able to put government investment in neighborhoods that are not being served, private investment will follow. Private investment is not going to lead the way. I think it's in Harlem, someone found out that in some neighborhoods, there's much more of a cash economy. And I think the Social Compact's talked about that. Bruce Katz at Brookings has talked about that -- that there's a cash economy, and that sometimes, you can't get it off government Census data. But everybody in the neighborhood knows people are spending cash for things. So what they found out is that a lot of black people can't go to the show 'cause it's too far, maybe we ought to put -- a lot of black people rent videos, maybe we ought to put a Blockbuster in Harlem. Lo and behold -- that's the biggest-selling Blockbuster video in the state of New York. Now they're going to do a retail center. Because what they found is when you go outside the box -- and we have to think outside the box -- is that many things can be accomplished if, one, we think outside the box and say that we can do it, and two, we say that not only do we want to have policies that affect distressed cities, but we also have to affect distressed neighborhoods. Because no mayor in America is going to want federal assistance if they have to become distressed to get it. (Laughter.) (Applause.)
MR. MARTIN: Well said, well said. How do you explain the failure of brownfields legislation in the just-ended session of Congress? That legislation was a major focus of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
MAYOR WEBB: Well, I can't explain brownfields, minimum wage, gun safety, CARE, African Trade bill -- I can't explain why none of that passed. But again, the issue is -- the issue is your view of the world. My view of the world is that -- and I think, Bruce, this is one of your terms, isn't it? -- you tend to tilt towards places that have never been built? We tend to fund new areas without ever taking care of the old. I mean, have you ever thought about if we started taking our resources, and take those resources and fill in the city and the older suburbs attached to the cities, and then go out, you'd address three issues. And this is -- this is going to be a long answer to the question. This is why I think there's also an opportunity for a new coalition. In the Congress, there are 57 Congress members that have come from urban districts. So politically, most people don't listen to people if you say "urban agenda" and you say "cities." But if you look at a policy that says "These mayors of cities are concerned about the loss of farmland and green space, and those 67 rural Congresspeople are concerned about the loss of farmland, and those rural legislators think that part of that farmland can be saved if the government begins to fund and take care of existing infrastructure," now you have 110 Congresspeople. And if you look at the suburban areas around central cities that are driving the economy, I'd be willing to bet -- and again, I don't know this area as well -- I'd be willing to bet that there was probably a suburban area around D.C. that had large shopping areas. And it began to deteriorate, because someone decided to run highways out further, and then they probably even built a new shopping center out in someplace that no one ever heard of, like Tyson's Corner. (Laughter.) And then they went -- and then people began to move and drive further out, and so then the highway spending went further out, and the money for infrastructure for inside the city and the older suburbs tends to get less and less. And then Tyson's Corner begins to get too far, and then the development tends to go further and further out. The question is: when are we going to fix what we have before we spend money on what's new? (Applause.)
MR. MARTIN: Reverend Jesse Jackson has accused American cities of building new stadiums and new jails first, and affordable housing and new schools last. How does Denver plead to this charge?
MAYOR WEBB: Well, we build them both. I think -- Denver's a city. Washington's a city. Cleveland, Detroit. You expect certain things in a city. You expect to be able to go to a football game and a basketball game, a baseball or a hockey. You expect to be able to go to the symphony or the ballet. You expect to be able to have a downtown that's thriving where there's an energy and a synergy and people feel good about being in a downtown. You expect to have choices. You expect to have suburban living or rowhouse living or lofts or condos -- that's what city life's about. Now, if you don't want that, then -- and traffic and people. Now, if you don't want that, you move further out. I don't think there's a correlation between building one versus the other. You have to build the schools to provide an integrated workforce to provide for the jobs in the city. But at the same time, you also have to build stadiums to enhance sports teams to be there with bills that work for the people in the city. The question Jesse should have asked: Are the people building the stadiums have investments in the city, and are they getting part of the action to help build up the local economy, or are they people that have no investment in the city that are building the stadiums? That's the question that should have been asked. (Applause.)
MR. MARTIN: Changing to another subject. Are you expanding Denver's trolley system? And if so, how extensively would you like to see this public transportation system grow? And where would the money come from?
MAYOR WEBB: Yes, we should have a mass transit system so that Denver doesn't become or look like the congestion that L.A. presently has. And it ought to be a federal, state, local match -- that everybody's participating in that. The problem is that there's some people that believe that everyone wants to be only in automobiles. But we again have to give people a choice, where you have automobiles or transit. Transit is going to provide opportunities to decrease air pollution, decrease highway congestion. And if you decide that you want to live in a location that takes a 45- to 60-minute commute, then you can do that. But you also have an option if you want to be able to take transit. I think it's -- one of my concerns is that this Congress is more highway-dominated than it is willing to spend money equally on transit. It's not that highways are bad, but highways contribute to more congestion. We should have highways and transit. They go hand- in-hand. And you can't have one without the other.
MR. MARTIN: What role can the nation's mayors play to restore public confidence in public education?
MAYOR WEBB: Well, I think mayors are doing that. I think mayors are doing that all across the nation. Let me tell you one of the things that the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News are doing in Denver. Let me tell what they used to do and they stopped doing. Jay (ph), you may remember this. It used to be that if there was a drive-by shooting, the kid's pictures would be all in the paper and they'd even have the gang affiliation. And the newspapers stopped putting the gang affiliation in the paper. They also stopped putting in the paper what sometimes was thought to be a gangland slaying and wasn't. The question I think is: What can we do to enhance the image of kids that are doing well in school? Why don't we -- what we've done in Denver is say let's highlight these kids. Let's make 'em "Mile High Scholars" with a certificate signed by the mayor and tickets to whatever sports team at the time is winning -- (laughter) -- and give them tickets to whatever kind of -- where they want to go -- to the zoo, the aquarium. And then print their names in the newspaper, and give then a reinforcement to those parents that these kids are doing well in school. And then put the parents' name in there, because sometimes it's hard -- parents also have to be part of that equation. And I think we do that. And I think when we do that, and mayors across this country -- some are taking on the school district overall to run it. But I think we have to continue to reinforce that it's okay to be smart, it's okay to be good, it's okay to be a leader. And that you can have your picture in the paper not because you robbed somebody or shot somebody. You can have your picture in the paper -- maybe just because you had to get up and live in a dysfunctional family, and you went to school every day, you kept your grades up, you worked part-time, and you are probably more successful than people that have had a lot provided for 'em. (Applause.)
MR. MARTIN: How do you feel about city mayors, as in Chicago, who take over their public schools?
MAYOR WEBB: Well, I think Mayor Daley's done a great job on that. And I think you need -- (off mike) -- remember one size doesn't fit all. That what works in Chicago may not work in Denver, what works in Denver may not work in Dallas, what works in Dallas may not work in Bridgeport. And what works in Bridgeport -- There needs to be the flexibility so that if it's required and you need to take it over, as what's been the case in Chicago and Detroit and Cleveland. In Baltimore, Kurt Schmoke -- from the beginning, Baltimore's had in their charter that you can appoint people to the board. The same way in Boston. In some other cities that are western, like in Austin, they need support, but they don't need someone to run the district, because it's a different set-up. The issue is whether the mayors are going to be involved in providing support directly or indirectly for the education of the kids in that city, because they're going to get the blame for it, whether they do or not. If a kid gets shot -- and the mayor would know when he was mayor -- they're going to send police cars and police work for the city. If the kids aren't producing, then they're going to raise that issue with the mayor as well. But if we believe that we have to have an integrated workforce and kids coming out of that system for the workforce, the people that ought to be the most concerned are the business community that wants to have an integrated workforce to take those jobs within that city. And they need to do that hand in hand, public and private sector together.
MR. MARTIN: In an effort to curb the epidemic of violence among the nation's youth, many citizens appear to be advocating more "Get Tough" laws against minors who commit crime. What are your thoughts on minors being tried as adults?
MAYOR WEBB: Well, just having a "Get Tough" law is not going to change the violence issue in America. There is one area I agree with NRA. I found one. That it does take a certain kind of human being to take a gun and point it at another human being and pull the trigger and kill him, with it being an inanimate object. I think that there has to be a sense of what core values are and what the difference between right and wrong. And I think prosecuting these kids for what they did wrong and holding them accountable for their action is appropriate. But it's not going to change other kids doing the same thing. That has to be a restructuring at the basic family level, in neighborhoods that are getting positive role models and are working with parents and are working with cities by anchoring by neighborhoods so that they don't become distressed to provide the kind of support necessary so that you can build up the entire neighborhood at one time. This country's never going to solve its domestic problems with a top-down philosophy of "one-size program fits everybody." Each city has to be looked at separately, and each neighborhood and each city has to be looked at differently.
MR. MARTIN: You talk about people having a choice. There is an escalating debate about providing inner-city kids the choice of attending public schools or private schools through the use of vouchers. Many mayors oppose vouchers. How do you feel about the issue?
MAYOR WEBB: Well, I'm more clear with what the real question is. Many people want a funding stream to send their kids where they want to, 'cause they can't tell the difference between the voucher and the other school. And the people that are -- many individuals that are promoting vouchers are looking for a funding stream. My belief is this. I support public education, I oppose vouchers. I believe that if you want to enhance the public school system -- and the public school system can't be afraid of competition. The competition comes from charters. You create as many charter schools within the public school system so that if someone wants to create a school for black males, or if someone wants to create a school for girls, if someone create a school for -- and I know HHS won't like it -- but people over six four people under five ten -- whatever. However you want to dissect it. There's got to be competition within the district. But vouchers is not the solution, because if you take it to its natural conclusion, what it suggests is by giving everybody a choice that then all of these kids are then going to go to all of these private schools. That's not going to solve the public education debate. The public education debate should be about how do we put more money into education, how do we improve the public schools, how do we make the public schools more competitive, and if people want a private education, it was always my sense that you pay for private education. Now, I'm aware that some people -- the group from Milwaukee that has a pilot program of vouchers came to Denver, and they want to do -- and I know with some this is not the correct answer, but it's my answer. Some people said "Well, we think that we ought to be able to do vouchers on a limited basis." Well, a limited basis is obviously going to show results. The question is: are you going to have the whole district go that way? And most of the people that were looking for a private education were using vouchers as a vehicle by which to get there. I also would suggest that if private schools had the money that they needed, they wouldn't be as apt to be looking for vouchers as a funding stream to bring in more students either. (Applause. )
MR. MARTIN: What incentives can cities provide to encourage private investment in distressed neighborhoods?
MAYOR WEBB: Well, I like to share with the private sector: "Care about me as much as you do when the economy is poor as you do when the economy is good." I think our obligation is to provide incentives for private investment by helping to anchor through public support for distressed neighborhoods in order to get private investment in those particular neighborhoods, where the neighborhoods would be safe, those neighborhoods will have trash collection, those neighborhoods will have city services. And that we will work with those investors who put in whatever they want to do -- in terms of whether it's a job training program, or whether it's what. I think the question is whether there's skilled labor to provide for those employers that want to work in those -- have businesses in those particular neighborhoods. And I think most mayors are going to work with whatever private sector groups they are to work with particular neighborhoods in part of their cities.
MR. MARTIN: Here's a chance for you. Do you feel the media does a good job in portraying both the good side and the bad side of living in our nation's cities? Why or why not?
MAYOR WEBB: Well, you guys are like everybody else. Some do, some don't. It depends on who it is. I think if you report every day that a city's unsafe and people leave, and then you start promoting that the city's safe again, I think it's hard to get people to move back into that city. I think you have to show stories on both sides, both good and bad and be objective in the reporting, because newspapers are a business. And I've always looked at that it wants to sell newspapers as a commercial enterprise. And that as that commercial enterprise that hopefully your obligation is to demonstrate that there is a lot of good news that goes on as well. And I think the general public is also interested in good news as much as they are in finding the "I gotcha" stories. The "I gotcha" stories is good for a day. But in reality, most people want the same thing. They want to know if they can move in a city that's safe. They want to know if they can move into a city where their kids are going to receive a quality education. They want to know if they can live in a city that is going to provide them the choices of being able to go into a park and for recreation and have green space and a place where they will have people, as well as a place of solitude. They want to move into a place that gives them options in terms of their social life -- in terms of whether they support arts or support sports. They want choices of what city life is about. And if we provide those things, if we provide those things, then those things should be reported. And sometimes it's okay about reporting that the plane did take off for the 50,000th time without accident, as opposed to only reporting that a plane didn't take off today as the negative. That sometimes the good has to be rewarded, because if we don't do that, then what we also share with young people is the only way you get attention is by what you don't do, as opposed to what you do well.
MR. MARTIN: And leading right into the next one. Many say that the nation's troubled youth do not have enough role models. Who were your role models when you were growing up, and why?
MAYOR WEBB: They changed. And I think with most kids they change. At certain points in life, I think it's someone in the neighborhood. Then, when you get older, it's someone that you read about. And then, later on in life, it's -- you look at what your parents gave you, and then they become your role models. I think they change. I don't think role models is a static thing. Let me share this one story with you. To me, one of the most awesome experiences I ever had was spending the weekend at the White House at the invitation of the president. And I asked -- Ernie, I asked what I could take out of there so they wouldn't ask me the next day what was missing. (Laughter.) And so, you know, I was in there and I looked around, and I said: "Here I am, the son of a Pullman porter who never finished high school. My mother was a homemaker." And I'm looking in this one room with this picture of Lincoln and seeing the Emancipation. And I thought about how far we've come. But I also thought about how far we still have to go. But I was struck by the moment, because I was thinking that my family put me on the right track of saying that staying in school even when I wanted to drop out, getting the education that was necessary to allow me to move to a different place than with friends of mine that were dropping out. And so for me, it took on a much more -- later in life, a deeper appreciation for what my parents gave me that I didn't appreciate as much when I was younger when I thought, you know, there's always a June Bug down the street or Johnny down the street hat you thought was a bigger person than they are. And then, you grow up -- and if you're like me, you grow up six four and June Bug's five nine, you'll be wondering what happened later on. So then you have a whole different perspective on life. And I think that role models is for everybody tends to be different. And I think in some cases, we look for what's further away from what's closest to us.
MR. MARTIN: Now I've got to slip this in before we run out of time. What's your reading of how Gore and Bradley are doing in Colorado? And what is next for you politically in your career?
MAYOR WEBB: Gore and Bradley are both doing well in Colorado. And that since I've endorsed the vice president, I think that he'll probably do better because of me. (Scattered laughter.) (Applause.) But I also think that -- (laughs) -- not being cavalier about it -- I think that for anyone running for public office, is a monumental decision. And I've always respected people that run for office, whether they be Republican or Democrats. And that it means giving up their life to the public as a whole, and I wish all of them well. And if there is one message that I want to leave with you today, the best managed part of the government of the United States is at the local and county level. Mayors and county commissioners are doing it day in and day out. And we need to change the structure by which the relationship with the federal government -- that there is more of an inclusion of what is happening at the local level. And if governors, and the National Governors Association doesn't want to participate in child health insurance program, they don't want to participate in TANEF (ph), and they don't want to participate in these other areas, send it to local government. Send it to counties who are willing to do it, and they're not doing it for process' sake. They're doing it because it's a different commitment at the local level. It's about saying we're not reducing the welfare load. We're trying to make people and integrate them back into workforce, because there's a different sense of urgency at the local level. And that's what you get with mayors and county officials across this country. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MR. MARTIN: Thank you. And thank you all for coming. Y'all come back here. And thanks for coming today. Thanks to National Press Club staff members Leigh Ann Macklin, Pat Nelson, Melanie Abdow Dermott, Howard Rothman for organizing today's lunch. And also thanks to the NPC library for their research. Bye-bye. (Applause.)