Leading mayors have mapped plans to meet with White House officials next week in an effort to salvage key urban aid programs, but they are not looking to New York's Edward I. Koch, Detroit's Coleman A. Young or Chicago's Harold Washington to lead the delegation.
Instead, George V. Voinovich, the Republican mayor of Cleveland, is the man the National League of Cities is depending on to set up the White House meeting, and not just because he was elected president of the league here Wednesday.
Voinovich is one of the few mayors who can pick up the telephone and call White House chief of staff James A. Baker III, and that is the kind of access the league needs right now.
The Cleveland mayor said he would "try to get our foot in the door on the administration side and get our point of view on the table. Some of us [Republican mayors] have been looked upon as constructive critics."
But the effort will not end there. With the urban development action grant (UDAG) program and community development block grants targeted for extinction by some White House aides and with the Treasury Department proposing to eliminate tax exemptions for local revenue bonds and deductions for state and local taxes, city officials say they are under assault from all sides and will take their case to Capitol Hill.
"I think this is one of the most effective lobbying organizations in the United States," Voinovich said of the organization he now heads. But he added that he "wouldn't jump off a cliff" until he sees what the administration finally proposes.
Other Republicans cautioned that party affiliation may not count for much in this battle.
"Moderate Republican mayors like myself are sometimes regarded [by the White House] as not true believers," said William H. Hudnut III of Indianapolis.
City officials came to the Hoosier Dome prepared to accept further cuts in urban aid, and the league gave final approval Wednesday to a resolution urging President Reagan to convene a bipartisan commission on reducing the federal deficit. But many officials said the White House is threatening to remove their remaining economic development tools, such as the $440 million UDAG program, while urging cities to be more self-reliant.
"It's an investment program that returns taxes to the federal government," said Seattle Mayor Charles Royer, a Democrat, referring to the private money that the grants have attracted for downtown development and other projects. "The administration ought to read its own rhetoric about the program."
"I have a real feeling of deja vu," Hudnut said, recalling the administration's 1981 effort to abolish UDAG. "It's a good Republican program, even though [President Jimmy] Carter started it, because it involves the private sector. You can look at city after city that would be absent a hotel or a retail mall without UDAG."
San Antonio Mayor Henry G. Cisneros, a Democrat, said the proposed elimination of tax-free development bonds would hurt the most.
"There's a tendency to view the cities as just one more lobby group, like the American Petroleum Institute or the Realtors," he said. "But the people who get hurt are in the communities where 75 percent of Americans live."
While calling for action on the federal deficit, the league also approved resolutions urging more federal aid for housing, mass transit, education and the UDAG program, prompting a mild rebuke from Hudnut.
"We have to be willing to impose more discipline on ourselves," said Hudnut, who supports a freeze on domestic spending.
That approach was echoed by Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who warned city leaders that Congress was "drifting toward deadlock" on the deficit and that the problem could not be solved if "all of you tore into the city of Washington to save your programs."
Gingrich said he would exempt only Social Security, Medicare and a 4 percent rise in defense spending from a two-year budget freeze.