If They Came Here . . .
Mayors from around the country suggest questions that would likely come up if they were hosting tonight's town-hall-style presidential debate. Below are contributions from Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, Miami Mayor Manuel A. Diaz, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Bowling Green Mayor Elaine Nogay Walker, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.
L. DOUGLAS WILDER
Mayor of Richmond
As one of America's oldest cities, Richmond has aging public utilities and other infrastructure that frequently break down and need to be replaced. Our City spends millions each year to repair or replace old water pipes, some of which date to the 1850s. When you consider the billions of dollars that are being spent on the war in Iraq and the billions being committed for the country's economic bailout, what hope is there for helping to restore cities like Richmond that are being neglected by the federal government?
Richmond was once a thriving railroad commerce center. This economic activity has slowed at the same time our country has sent billions of dollars to assist our allies abroad. Why isn't the federal government making any real effort to improve our railroads and other means of mass transit that could create new jobs in our city and benefit our community by reducing our dependence on costly oil and gasoline?
MANUEL A. DIAZ
Mayor of Miami and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors
Four years ago, a foreign policy debate between George Bush and John Kerry was held in Miami, a city whose population is over 60 percent foreign-born and that is truly a cultural and commercial hub to Latin America and the Caribbean. Throughout the debate and the campaign, events in the Western Hemisphere were never mentioned. In the current campaign season, this has not changed.
Anti-American populism is expanding in our back yard. Venezuela's Hugo Chávez holds joint military exercises with Russia and expels U.S. diplomats. Evo Morales of Bolivia and Manuel Zelaya of Honduras follow suit. In Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega decries American imperialism. Regional economies continue to falter while Chinese investment greatly increases. Meanwhile, Haiti disintegrates under crushing poverty, and a military dictatorship continues to rule in Cuba.
We worry about events half a world away while we generally ignore the world to our south.
What will your comprehensive policy be toward this hemisphere? Will you support existing and proposed free-trade agreements, and what impact might these have on our economy and that of the region? Which countries would you add to the visa waiver list, thus increasing tourism and economic ties? How will you address the underlying causes in the region that drive migration to the United States?
Finally, what do you propose to assure that anti-Americanism is replaced with neighborly mutual understanding and the spread of democracy in this hemisphere?
Mayor of Phoenix
For Phoenix, border security and immigration reform must be the first order of national business. Due to federal neglect, the Phoenix Police Department has arrested or turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement more than 15,000 illegal immigrants in just the past two years. Phoenix is paying $2 million a year in booking costs to house them. But here's a bigger cost: Phoenix Police Officer Nick Erfle was killed by a man who had been arrested before, found to be in this country illegally -- and deported to Mexico by our federal government. Because Congress and the president have yet to find the time to secure our borders, this man had no problem reentering the country and robbing our community of a hero.
I head the U.S. Conference of Mayors Task Force on Immigration Reform and plan to recommend a comprehensive program that includes:
· Increased border security and enforcement.
· More support for city and state governments.
· A workable guest-worker program for unfilled jobs.
· Eliminating current obstacles to citizenship or legal-resident status for the 10 million to 12 million undocumented residents living in the shadows.
· Protection of the human and civil rights of both citizens and noncitizens being detained.
As president, will you support these recommendations? What are your own proposals for border security and immigration reform? What will you do to get realistic and practical immigration reform back on the front burner? And when will you start talking to the American people about this?
Mayor of Annapolis
This country is made up of a network of communities, large and small, that sometimes feel forgotten on the federal level. We frequently hear the question "What about Main Street?" relative to the financial crisis. But what about Main Street outside the context of here today, gone tomorrow economic stimulus? Specifically, how will the next president factor Main Street into his economic plans? Recent federal decisions lumped the Annapolis Department of Transportation into the Baltimore region, changing it from the stand-alone system it had always been. This seriously cut funding to a vital transportation link that our residents and visitors use every day. How would the candidates address this issue and broader transportation funding concerns for my city and other cities? How do they plan to make sure that important capital projects that are already on the books and that would improve the infrastructure and provide jobs in Annapolis are actually funded?
Mayor of San Francisco
Approximately 46 million Americans lack health insurance. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation report showed that health-care premiums have risen 5 percent over the past year -- and have more than doubled since George W. Bush took office. Many elected leaders say we can't afford universal health care. But in our city we cannot afford not to have it. San Francisco is the first American city to offer universal access to health care, enrolling 30,000 residents in the groundbreaking Healthy San Francisco program. Do you agree that it should be possible to replicate this program's success, and provide universal coverage in cities and states across the nation? If not, how would you address the problem of America's uninsured?
U.S. dependence upon oil, especially foreign oil, affects our economy and our national energy security. In San Francisco, we are requiring city government to be carbon neutral by 2020, investing in biodiesel conversion of food waste, and developing new ideas such as solar incentives and a local carbon offset program. We are creating and promoting green jobs so neighborhoods that were locked out of the pollution-based economy are part of the new "green" economy. As president, how will you address the issues of alternative fuel, and what will you do to lead our nation to greener energy and a more sustainable future?
ELAINE NOGAY WALKER
Mayor of Bowling Green, Ky., and chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Women Mayors' Caucus
How will the next president address the growing list of local government needs that have been consistently ignored or underfunded the past eight years? Since 1993, when the federal Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program was instituted, Bowling Green has grown by more than 25 percent, to nearly 53,000 residents, yet funding has been slashed for this and other programs that put police on the streets. Every year, the administration has attempted to eliminate the only local discretionary funding program we have, Community Development Block Grants. We're left scrambling for dollars to provide low-income housing, social services and other programs to serve our poor. Congress passed but has yet to fund the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program. That money would help Bowling Green, in cooperation with Western Kentucky University, appoint an energy and environmental conservation coordinator and provide incentives for local businesses and residents to reduce energy consumption and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. How would you help us expand our police programs and social services, repair crumbling infrastructure and take steps to increase energy conservation?
Mayor of Seattle
Seattle depends on hydroelectric power. Global warming, whether it is through melting snow caps, rising sea levels or other effects, matters greatly to my city. The day after federal leaders failed to ratify the Kyoto treaty, I launched an effort to get our cities to do what our national leaders had not. To date, 884 U.S. mayors have signed the Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement to meet the Kyoto Protocol standards by 2012. How will your administration partner with these mayors to cut U.S. greenhouse emissions, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and promote alternative energy sources and sustainable practices?