By Tina Barseghian
City leaders from across the country convened last week at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, pledging to work together in a bipartisan fashion on the most critical issues that affect the communities they serve.
Over the course of three days in Washington D.C., more than 250 mayors addressed a broad range of issues, including immigration, broadband access, public safety, racial equity, infrastructure, and the upcoming census count. They often spoke candidly about their challenges as they shared tactics and best practices with each other.
Many of the solutions being discussed focused on innovative approaches to engaging community members and fostering cross-sector collaborations.
“Mayors must govern in real time, in spite of what’s happening in Washington D.C.,” said USCM President and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “We have a united group of bipartisan mayors, modeling how public service can impact communities to help working people’s lives.”
These are some of the highlights from the conference that most inspired and motivated our team.
At a press conference on January 24, mayors standing together at a podium pledged to boycott their scheduled meeting at the White House to protest the Administration’s threat to serve cities with subpoenas for information on their policies related to undocumented immigrants.
“These threats are nothing short of a distraction,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, adding that mayors are too busy working on the day-to-day challenges that affect their communities to engage in rhetoric.
After Landrieu noted that not all mayors will boycott the event, some of those who were at the podium took the opportunity to speak against the Administration’s measures, citing the importance of building trust between public safety officers and immigrant communities for the benefit of the general population.
With the help of Los Angeles’ immigrant communities, for example, Mayor Garcetti said the city worked with federal safety officials to take down dangerous gang leaders.
Likewise, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel emphasized the importance of community policing, which requires building relationships between law enforcement and residents to increase public safety. “We can’t do that if you drive a wedge between the community and the police,” Emanuel said. “It’s contrary to the ideals of law we established.”
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait added that “just about every mayor agrees with us on reform for this issue,” he said. “It’s a bipartisan effort.”
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo made a public announcement at a session on January 25 stating that he would be stepping down from the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband advisory board, because he believed that industry concerns were being prioritized over the needs of municipalities and citizens. In particular, he noted that the FCC was cutting out low-income communities for whom broadband access can have a significant impact in their education and employment opportunities. “Deployment of broadband infrastructure goes to the heart of the digital divide,” he said. “It’s not about who can go fast or slow on the information superhighway, it’s about whether you can even get on the onramp.”
Shireen Santosham, San José’s Chief Innovation Officer described her city as living in two realities. “We’re the tech capital of the world, and companies are telling me they need 5G access for autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things for their products and services, and we want to help,” she said. “But there are 95,000 residents who don’t have access to the internet, especially Latino and immigrant communities. If we don’t oblige industry to serve everyone, they won’t do it.”
Building Police-Community Trust and Empowering Youth
Mayors shared the tactics they’ve been employing to build and cement trust between their police forces and communities.
OTHER CRITICAL ISSUES
Mayors and civic leaders discussed other challenges they’re facing, which are largely still in need of solutions yet to be developed.
The event closed on a high note, with mayors and community leaders pledging to continue working on these challenges and more, together with a unified front. The next USCM will take place in Boston in June.
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