President Obama Meets with America's Mayors

Fresno, CA, USA President Obama and Vice President Biden met with over 60 mayors from Honolulu to Boston today in an effort to explain the implications of the stimulus bill to those who are "on the front lines of where the economy lives and dies," as Vice President Biden put it. The meeting took a somewhat ebullient tone, as both the President and the Vice president showed off the spoils of a hard fought battle on the stimulus. Vice President Biden exclaimed that they had managed to expand children's health insurance coverage, sign the Lily Ledbetter bill, and pass the largest economic recovery plan since World War II, all within a month.

It was not all handshakes and pats on the back however. A critical eye was focused on the struggles that lay ahead, as all in attendance seemed to realize that the stimulus bill will not solve all, nor will the solution come overnight. President Obama, taking a sterner tone, stated that "we cannot tolerate business as usual," claiming that he will "call out" those federal agencies and local governments which engage in wasteful spending. "The American people are watching," he said, calling on mayors to use the federal money that will be sent their way wisely, efficiently, and without the entanglements of fraud. The mayors did not seem perturbed by this statement, indicating that they monitor their own spending every day.

The President outlined some of the areas to which funding will be allocated, which include infrastructure development, which should create 400,000 jobs alone, the COPS (Community Oriented Policing Service) Program, education, and support for creating a more efficient electricity grid. Putting the spotlight on education, President Obama noted that the stimulus package will include "the largest investment in education in our nation's history." In an interview after her meeting with the President, Fresno's new mayor, Ashley Swearengin, focused similar attention on education, highlighting the fact that she had the opportunity to speak with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. She noted that she expressed her concern about Fresno's public schools to Duncan, adding that she invited him to pay a visit to Fresno.

President Obama also mentioned that the stimulus package includes the most progressive tax cuts in American history, measures to improve healthcare, and reformations of the banking sector. In all, the President and Vice President stated, the stimulus package should create or save 2 to 3 million jobs.

The mayors, despite representing a wide range of political perspectives and geographic areas, presented a unified front in welcoming the passage of the stimulus bill, expressing gratitude for the much needed funds that will be sent to their largely cash strapped cities. Mayor McCrory of Charlotte, North Carolina admitted that he did not agree with the entirety of the stimulus package, but hopes to see it succeed now that it has passed.

Some concerns remained about the way in which the money will reach the cities, however. Mayor Nagin of New Orleans intimated that most of the money reaches the cities only once it is allocated to the state. Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles further explained that 2/3 of federal money typically goes to the state government and only 1/3 to the municipal government, while 90% of the state's GNP is generated in cities and most of the population inhabits cities. He maintains hope that the stimulus package will help to create jobs in Los Angeles.

Mayor Swearengin, who has devoted much time and effort to job creation as the co-founder and CEO of the Fresno Regional Jobs Initiative, concurs that the stimulus package will succeed in creating jobs in the Fresno area. She indicated that the stimulus money will not be used to plug any budget holes, but will be put towards capital projects which will be "important in the long term in Fresno and also create jobs." Such projects include energy efficiency projects which will allocate money directly to the city and public transit development. She did, however, caution that it is up to the municipality to use the money prudently and transparently, indicating that the stimulus money will not be cure-all if implemented without accountability.

The mayors expressed a sense of relief, feeling as though they will finally have a partner in the White House, a partner they had lacked in the previous administration. This sentiment was echoed by President Obama in his announcement that he has just, last night, established a White House Office of Urban Affairs, to be headed by Bronx Borough President, Adolfo Carrión Jr. Looking to drive the message home that mayors and the cities they lead will have a newly amplified voice at the White House, Vice President Biden told the mayors in attendance, "You can have our phone number and you know where we live."


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