Laura Friedman is the mayor of Glendale. She shares her community insight for locals on her Montrose Patch blog.
Welcome to my first ever blog!
I was invited by the Montrose Patch to cover my attendance at last week’s US Conference of Mayor’s Winter meeting. I promise not to bore you with minutia about policy discussions. Instead, I'll give you my general impressions, and share the overall themes that permeated the conference.
After the flight to Washington DC, I finally arrived at the hotel hosting the conference. The lobby was packed with mayors of all sizes, genders and colors. We are finally seeing more diversity in elected officials, but it was obvious that there is still work to do. My first thought was: “wow, those mayors are LOUD.” But it wasn’t until the following morning, when the conference began, that I realized my first impression was spot-on. The mayors gather together at this conference so that they can be as loud as possible, so that the politicians in Washington can hear the concerns of cities large and small, urban and rural.
The format of the conference shifted back and forth between smaller task forces and plenary sessions attended by all attendees. The task force meetings were workshops in which mayors discussed, in round-table format, issues such as transportation, water, education, housing, etc., with congressmen and congresswomen, representatives from the Obama administration, and experts. Each plenary session gave us the opportunity to hear from speakers such as Minority Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Aol/Huffington Post Media Group president and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington, and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
Cities all across the country are facing remarkably similar challenges. Though the details vary, every mayor expressed concern about local jobs and business, gridlock in Washington, and the reduction of funding for local programs for affordable housing, education and the poor. Another huge concern is unfunded mandates from states and Washington, which force cities to create expensive new programs, or abide by expensive regulations, with no help with funding.
It surprised me that it was nearly impossible to guess each mayor’s political party. Asking someone’s party affiliation seemed to be a faux pas – don’t ask, don’t tell. I guess I thought that like in national politics, I’d be able to discern if someone was a Republican or Democrat by their stance on issues. But instead, what I found were local leaders from every party working together to create truly non-partisan solutions to problems facing our cities. I found this shared effort refreshing and inspiring.
First and foremost on everyone’s mind, no surprise, was the economy. It was pointed out by more than one speaker that on the international stage, America no longer leads the developing world in upward mobility. In fact, even France now trumps the US in economic prosperity. Speaking to this, it was Arianna Huffington who provided the best quote of the conference: “France beating the US in upward mobility is like the US beating France in croissants and afternoon sex.” Funny, but sobering.
I’ll confess that the workshops and seminars appealed to my policy-wonk side. But I found one speaker in particular fascinating and provocative: Thomas Friedman, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times.
The overall gist of Friedman’s speech is that “average is over.” Echoing the concerns of many other speakers, Friedman stated that when he was young, “people used to say: ‘eat your food because kids are hungry in China’… now they should be saying: ‘do your homework because kids in China are hungry... for your job.'” He went on to argue that works can’t afford to be ‘average’ anymore. We must all strive to be exceptional and unique, if we can hope to compete in today’s global marketplace.
He argued that while countries like China better themselves, politicians in Washington focus on how they can stick a crowbar in the wheels of the other party’s agenda so that they can win the next news cycle. This focus on partisan politics comes at the expense of economic development and education. According to Friedman, this gridlock has lead to a downwards spiral from which American might never recover.
My own feeling is that potholes are neither Republican or Democrat. The future of America rests with the progress of its cities, and too often problem-solving takes a backseat to partisanship gamesmanship.
He ended on a note of hope: “if you want to be an optimist, stand on your head. This country looks so much better from the bottom up. This country is still full of people too dumb to quit… thank God.”
Thomas Friedman's speech can be seen here. Find the video section for the Thursday plenary session, morning.
Scroll through the tape to approx. 1:12:14, which begins the speech with Antonio Villaraigosa’s introduction.
As you can tell, I found the Conference extremely valuable. There is no manual about how to be a good mayor. There is no class we take when elected to office. Events like the US Conference of Mayors allows us to share ideas and experiences with other elected officials. More importantly, it gives cities a united voice on issues of national and local importance. If you are interested in specific programs and recommendations being pursued by the Conference of Mayors, more information can be found on the website here.
I hope that my report inspires some of you to stay engaged, or get more involved, in what is happening in your community. I am always interested in hearing from you, through email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on my facebook page. I promise that I will consider all your suggestions, and that I will continue to explore ways to make Glendale into an even greater city.