Mayors seeking more federal funding in the post-Reagan era aren't just begging for money, they are asking for a federal partnership, Arthur J. Holland, mayor of Trenton, N.J., said Wednesday.
Holland was named the new president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors on the last day of the group's 56th annual convention in Salt Lake City."What we as an organization do in the next six months may be more important than anything we will do in the next four years: We must begin now to shape the debate on the federal budget in a new national administration," Holland said in a speech in the Red Lion hotel.
"When it comes to problems like housing or transit or clear air, greater resources than any individual mayor can command are needed to get the job done."
Holland said federal funding to cities has been cut by more than a third in the Reagan era, while the general revenue-sharing program was eliminated.
City leaders were told the cuts were made to reduce the federal deficit, but the deficit has continued to rise.
Holland told mayors they face another threat because the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday eliminated the Urban Development Action Grant program, and a Senate subcommittee is also considering eliminating the same program.
"Ours is not a `great annual whine' and never has been. If anything it is a cry of outrage. And it is not the outrage of mayors at a handout being denied. It is the outrage at a basic principle of good governance being violated."
In Tuesday sessions mayors heard that the American dream of home ownership is elusive.
Mayor Jessie Rattley, of Newport News, Va., urged her colleagues to lobby congressional support for expanded federal housing grant programs, incentives for public-private partnerships, renovation of existing units and increases in homeless and transitional shelters.
"Let us make sure that housing is at the top of our national agenda," Rattley said.
The conference, which was to conclude Wednesday, has given mayors an opportunity to adopt a united front on urban issues, to influence the presidential campaign and the new presidential administration, as well as Congress.
After Tuesday morning sessions on housing and AIDS policies, mayors heard from presidential hopeful Jesse Jackson, then took an afternoon tour of Salt Lake's homeless shelter.
Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode said solving the AIDS crisis is one of his city's highest priorities. "Our first priority is prevention. It is our only hope and our only weapon against this disease. Surely, local government cannot be expected to continue to shoulder such a large portion of the AIDS burden."
Philadelphia has implemented a range of programs to educate residents and to control the cost of AIDS care, which threatens to bankrupt health and social service programs.
"It will not go away. It is time we stand for the right of people to live. AIDS kills. It is time to stop the killing," Goode said.
Mayors gave a standing ovation to a moving speech given by David Sharpton, an AIDS victim who lives in Salt Lake City. Sharpton talked about dealing with the death sentence he was delivered with the diagnosis. "You have no choice. You will be faced with AIDS in your lifetime."
Charleston, S.C., Mayor John Riley told fellow mayors that the homeless need better housing, because for the first time since the Depression, the number of Americans who can afford to buy homes is shrinking. "The result is that this, the wealthiest nation in the world, has a growing number of homeless. In short, our goal must be to provide fit, livable, affordable housing for every American by the year 2000.
"The homeless are human beings. We tend to see them as numbers and faceless people. They have been robbed of their dignity, and they have no place to call home," Riley, a member of the National Housing Forum, said.
Riley praised Salt Lake City's homeless effort after a Tuesday afternoon tour of the family and single-men's shelters under construction west of downtown, at 210 S. Rio Grande. Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis has led a $4.2 million public-private fund-raising effort.
"This is a national example of how to care for the homeless. It's better than anything I've ever seen throughout the United States," Riley said.
"I could never do this; I'm already catching hell in my city," said Mayor Ronald Blackwood, of Mount Vernon, N.Y., a suburb of New York City.