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Mayors Meet with President Obama, Vice President Biden, Key Cabinet Secretaries at White House on Implementation of Economic Recovery Plan

By Elena Temple
March 9, 2009

Led by the U.S Conference of Mayors President Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, a delegation of 80 mayors from across the country were invited to the White House February 20 to learn specifics about how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will be implemented.

Held a day before the National Governor’s Association annual meeting, the mayors’ session included Presidential Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and five Cabinet heads – Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr.

Meeting with Cabinet Members

The mayors began the day with a continental breakfast at the White House, and then were welcomed into the East Room for official presentations from the Cabinet. Each cabinet member gave individual presentations about the ARRA and the process for funding distribution in their respective agency before opening for questions.

Donovan focused on HUD’s goal of moving funds quickly to communities in need via the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, Section 8 Program, Community Development Block Grants and programs to help homeless families. He also indicated that he would be working with the Department of Energy to make public housing energy efficient.

LaHood focused on highway funding and stressed that Department of Transportation State Directors have promised they will work with cities to ensure their projects are on the state lists. Chu focused on rising home utility costs and his goal of expanding weatherization programs across the country.

Duncan focused on how to break the cycle of poverty and end the high school dropout epidemic. He also discussed that “pockets of excellence” in cities should be identified and serve as models for the rest of the country. And Holder focused on the recent uptick in crime across the country, revitalizing the COPS (Community Oriented Police) Program, and the budget shortfalls experienced by many urban police departments.

Several mayors asked questions on a wide range of topics, but the majority of questions were directed to LaHood about the mayors’ lack of access to the state highway transportation lists and not having projects included on state spending lists.

President Obama, VP Biden Join Mayors

After a break and a brief question and answer session with reporters, President Obama and Vice President Biden were escorted into the room. Before introducing President Obama, Vice President Biden welcomed the mayors back to the White House, admitting that, “Too often in the past, America’s cities have been neglected, and our mayors haven’t been able to be heard on the question of national policy. But we know how important cities are,” he said of the current Administration.

During his remarks, President Obama explained that the country’s future depended on the Administration’s relationship with the mayors. “To lift the country out of recession, there must be a true partnership between mayors [who are] ‘on the front lines,’ and the White House. … That partnership has to begin right now,” he stated.

President Obama also announced that he was keeping his promise to the mayors by establishing a White House Office of Urban Affairs and naming Adolfo Carrion as Director. “You shouldn’t have to succeed … despite Washington; you should be succeeding with a hand from Washington, and that’s what you’re going to get now,” the President said.

Mayors couldn’t agree more. During a 45-minute question and answer session with President Obama and Vice President Biden, the leadership of the USCM – President Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Vice President Seattle (WA) Mayor Greg Nickels and Second Vice President Burnsville (MN) Mayor Elizabeth Kautz – opened with praise for the Administration’s commitment to cities and mayors.

President Obama and Vice President Biden then shook hands, took pictures, and mingled with the mayors before going outside for a group photo.

The last stop at the White House for the mayoral delegation was a press conference at the West Wing Stakeout to stress that investing in MainStreet metropolitan economies, which comprise 90 percent of our gross domestic product and drive the national economy, is the most direct path to creating jobs and stimulating the business that can begin to reverse the economic downturn.

“If we want to move this country forward, we need to move urban areas forward,” said Diaz.

Nickels stressed that cities could be the best incubators of a new green economy because mayors are the leaders in this country in the area of energy innovation. “Four years ago, the nation’s mayors decided that even if the United States refused to adopt the Kyoto Protocol, we would take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in cities through local initiatives. Since then, over 900 mayors have signed the Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement and are actively working to ‘green’ cities in every region. It is heartening that this Administration ‘gets it’ and acknowledges that mayors are leaders in developing a green jobs toward a green economy.”

When asked by reporters if mayors really believed it was realistic to achieve the millions of new jobs estimated possible by the Obama Administration as a result of the ARRA, Kautz responded, “Yes, definitely. You must consider the broad economic impact of investing in our nation’s infrastructure. Small businesses such as concrete companies, steel companies, paper companies, technology companies, even coffee shops, will benefit – and the list goes on and on. As mayors, we are very pleased to finally have the tools we need to put our people back to work made available to us.”

When asked about President Obama’s admonition for mayors to spend stimulus funds efficiently, Diaz said, “Mayors don’t mind being called out. We welcome that kind of accountability. The residents in our cities hold us accountable for our decisions every day.”

Leaving the White House, the mayors then met at the Capitol Hilton for a working lunch with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Director of the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Programs Gil Sperling, Acting Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, and Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Program Acting Director Tim Quinn. This working session provided the perfect opportunity for mayors to clarify how ARRA funding will be spent for the programs these officials administer, which serve cities directly, and the process mayors need to follow to access those funds.

Participating Mayors

Manny Diaz - Miami FL

Greg Nickels - Seattle WA

Elizabeth Kautz- Burnsville MN

Jerry Abramson - Louisville KY

James Baker - Wilmington DE

Thomas Mark Barrett - Milwaukee WI

Ralph Becker - Salt Lake City UT

William Bell - Durham NC

Terry Michelle Bellamy - Asheville NC

Juan Carlos Bermudez - Doral FL

Marty Blum - Santa Barbara CA

J. Christian Bollwage - Elizabeth NJ

Robert Bowser - East Orange NJ

James Brainard, - Carmel IN

John Brenner - York PA

Kevin Burns - North Miami FL

John Callahan - Bethlehem PA

Martin Chavez - Albuquerque NM

Jun Choi - Edison NJ

David Cicilline - Providence RI

Matthew Claman - Anchorage AK

Michael B. Coleman - Columbus OH

Joy F. Cooper - Hallandale Beach FL

T.M. Franklin Cownie - Des Moines IA

Richard M. Daley - Chicago IL

Ronald Dellums - Oakland CA

Robert Duffy - Rochester NY

Jill Duson - Portland ME

William Euille - Alexandria VA

Michael Fahey - Omaha NE

Lois Frankel- West Palm Beach FL

Shirley Franklin- Atlanta GA

William Gluba - Davenport IA

Phillip Gordon - Phoenix AZ

Mufi Hannemann - Honolulu HI

Patrick Henry Hays - North Little Rock AR

Darwin Hindman - Columbia MO

James Holley - Portsmouth VA

Heather Hudson - Greenville MS

Frank Jackson - Cleveland OH

Kevin Johnson - Sacramento CA

Brenda Lawrence - Southfield MI

Thomas Leppert - Dallas TX

Mark Mallory - Cincinnati OH

Dannel Malloy - Stamford CT

Willie Marin - Caguas PR

Patrick McCrory - Charlotte NC

Rhine Mclin, Rhine - Dayton OH

Thomas Mcmahon - Reading PA

Maita Melendez - Ponce PA

Thomas Menino - Boston MA

Arlene Mulder - Arlington Heights IL

C. Ray Nagin - New Orleans LA

James Newberry - Lexington KY

Gavin Newsom - San Francisco CA

Douglas Palmer - Trenton NJ

Ed Pawlowski - Allentown, PA

Donald Plusquellic - Akron OH

David Pope- Oak Park IL

Miguel Pulido - Santa Ana CA

Luke Ravenstahl - Pittsburgh PA

Robert Reichert - Macon GA

Joseph Riley - Charleston SC

Ramon Rivera - Bayamon PR

Randall Roach - Lake Charles LA

Raul Salinas - Laredo TX

James Schmitt - Green Bay WI

David William Smith - Newark CA

John Robert Smith - Meridian MS

Mark Stodola - Little Rock AR

Underhill Stratton - Schenectady NY

Ashley Swearengin - Fresno CA

Kathryn Taylor - Tulsa OK

Charles Tomlinson - Corvallis OR

Antonio Villaraigosa - Los Angeles CA

Brian Wahler - Piscataway NJ

Elaine Walker - Bowling Green KY

Jonathan Weinzapfel- Evansville IN

Bill White - Houston TX

Jay Williams - Youngstown OH