The incoming Bush administration needs to give cities more help in dealing with AIDS, drug abuse, homelessness and job training, New York Mayor Edward I. Koch has told the nation's urban leaders.
In a speech to 2,000 delegates at the close of the annual National League of Cities conference, Koch said the federal government must no longer "slough off its responsibilities" onto states and cities.Also Wednesday, President-elect George Bush sent a letter to the conference promising to act on its concerns. "I want to assure you that your needs are my needs," Bush said.
Koch said the letter was an encouraging sign, and he promised his cooperation.
"Our job is to make him a really great president - until his fourth year," said Koch, a Democrat.
The mayor said he had asked for a meeting with Bush after the inauguration and had invited the president-elect and his wife, Barbara, to visit Gracie Mansion, the mayor's official residence, to discuss urban problems.
"We need help and we need it desperately," said Koch.
He argued that cities by themselves cannot fight the national drug problem, cure acquired immune deficiency syndrome or house the homeless. And he said urban issues were discussed only superficially during the presidential campaign, so urban leaders can only guess at Bush's intentions.
"I really can't read his lips. I am not a lipreader," he said, drawing laughter and cheers from the audience of mayors and other city officials in reference to Bush's "read my lips" pledge not to raise taxes.
New York City now has 55,000 prisoners, compared to 40,000 in all federal prisons, and spends close to half its $1 billion annual police budget on drug enforcement, Koch said. He said 80 percent of those arrested for violent crimes in New York City are found to have drugs in their systems.
"We cannot deal with it," Koch said. "I have doubled the number of jails and it's not enough."
And while New York has earmarked $5.1 billion to build housing, the federal government provides "only a pittance" to support elderly housing, he said.
"George, read my lips: Homeless!" Koch quipped.