In his inaugural speech as president of the United States Conference of Mayors, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Monday called on the nation’s municipal leaders to form a bipartisan bulwark against White House turmoil and congressional lethargy.
Mayors should lead a vocal resistance to polarization in American politics and implement bipartisan solutions to problems in the nation’s city centers, Landrieu said.
“In these most uncertain, chaotic, and sometimes frustrating times, the families that we represent cannot look to Washington for answers,” Landrieu said. “In this political climate, we mayors must fight to occupy ‘the radical center,’ where idealism meets reality, and where we put people over politics. And so we need to speak with one voice, with courage, conviction and honesty. If we do, America will follow.”
Landrieu gained national prominence this year by championing the removal of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans. Last month, he delivered a rousing speech in support of racial inclusion, fueling speculation about his political ambitions on the national stage.
Landrieu became the 75th president of the conference, an organization with a significant voice in Washington. The group played a role in securing federal food and job aid during the Great Depression, and in the 1960s and 1970s, mayors in Atlanta, San Francisco and Detroit used their place inside the establishment to advocate for greater civil rights.
The organization also pushed federal officials to invest in community-level security resources after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In his speech, Landrieu said city leaders can be oracles for the nation, bold truth-tellers in describing the effects of federal policies advanced by both parties. Mayors have an obligation to warn Americans in their communities and others to beware of American “demagogues” and the futility of strictly partisan combat, he said.
“As the government closest to the ground, mayors are leading the way on issues both big and small,” Landrieu said.
He did not mention any politicians by name, but Landrieu did raise the Senate Republicans’ health-care bill, saying that it “will only cause more confusion and anxiety in the people of this country.”
The Congressional Budget Office on Monday said 22 million fewer Americans would be insured by 2026 under the bill.
“In my opinion, it will make us sicker and hurt the economy,” Landrieu said. “It is a basic and fundamental reality that less coverage means more burden on our cities, on our hospitals, in our ERs and in our emergency response.”
Washington should listen to mayors to “help them get beyond Democrat and Republican politics,” Landrieu said in his speech at the organization’s annual gathering, this year in Miami.
“We cannot stay quiet when there is injustice, even if it is being perpetrated by people with great power,” Landrieu said. “Might does not make right.”
Mayors who heed Landrieu’s call will have at least one large resource: a $600,000 fund created by the Bloomberg Philanthropies, a charitable organization established by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a former New York mayor. The fund, also announced at the Monday gathering, will be used to help promote city experiments and solutions to the nation’s challenges, and help the nation’s mayors become go-to guests on cable TV discussions on national politics.
In addition, Bloomberg’s charity pledged $200 million in grants over three years through the American Cities Initiative to underwrite “the delivery of technical expertise, and opportunities for city leaders to share insights and best practices with one another.”
Landrieu described Bloomberg, who advocates for city-level action on climate change and gun violence, as his mentor.