REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND THE VICE PRESIDENT
TO THE U.S. CONFERENCE OF MAYORS
1:32 P.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for being here. And, I spend so much time touring the country with the President — at his request and with his permission — I’ve been in almost all your cities and in your states, and it’s nice to be able to welcome you here, as you’ve welcomed me into your cities. So thank you for the way you have treated us and our staff as we’ve wandered through your cities.
And I look out and see some old and good and very close friends, and some new friends I’ve made in the last year. Mr. President, these men and women have been incredibly cooperative with us in the Recovery Act. And one of the aspects of the job that I like the best is, I spend, as you all know, once a week on the phone with somewhere between 7 and 12 of you, and we’ve now had — you’ve had the misfortune of having to listen to me answer your questions, at least a hundred and, I think, 15 of you. And it’s been really rewarding to me.
And I always get off the phone with America’s Mayor, David Agnew, who is the guy that follows up on everything that I ask him to do in those phone calls — I’m not sure how well David likes the phone calls. But all kidding aside, you’ve been — it’s been incredible to work with you in implementing the Recovery Act.
As I said, I’ve spoken to well over a hundred of you on the telephone and I’ve visited a number of you in your cities. And I’ve been constantly impressed by the dedication and the common cause of rebuilding not only your cities but this country. And I must tell you, I’ve been impressed by the competence, the management skills that so many of you have demonstrated in incredibly difficult financial times and difficult circumstances. The leadership of each and every one of you in this room is the basis upon which I think we’re going — this recovery is going to grow.
We have plenty of work ahead of us, but look at what we’ve already managed to accomplish for American cities. The estimates range from 2 to 2.4 million jobs saved or created. Nearly $100 billion in tax relief has been provided to working families and businesses through the Recovery Act. And all that money has poured back into the economy of your cities, creating more jobs. More than 18 million Americans have received unemployment compensation benefits and increased benefits. Imagine what the impact on your cities would be if, in fact, we did not have that money flowing in and those people found themselves in a destitute situation.
More than 3,000 public housing authorities — 3,000 authorities have been awarded Recovery Act funding, totally $1 billion — helping create jobs retrofitting housing, supporting construction projects to improve public housing all across the country.
The thing that amazed me about these guys, Mr. President — and women — is they take advantage of this difficult situation to make improvement. It’s not just you’re spending the money; you’re actually changing the way in which the money is spent more efficiently.
More than 4,600 law enforcement officers — more than 1,000 communities nationwide have benefited from the additional influx of those 4,600 officers. We’ve sparked innovation in transportation and energy and health care and education, all of which you’ve absorbed. I know you’d rather have all come directly to you, but the truth of the matter is — (applause.) I know. I know. Constant source of our conversation, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
Well, look, a great many of the Recovery Act projects can be described in any mayor’s favorite six words — I think it’s six, I’ve got to make sure — I’ve got to count my words these days, Mr. President — six words — “ahead of schedule and under budget.” That has been the real news of the Recovery Act. And thank you all — thank you all for the management you have exercised in seeing to it that happens.
And all in all, we’re helping working men and women get through some very, very tough times today while building an economy of tomorrow. And the man making this all possible, literally, the single engine, the piston that’s driving this whole operation of making sure that we don’t walk away from our cities, we don’t walk away from this recovery, we don’t — we take the chances we’re taking to generate growth here, is a man who came from a big city himself. I see his mayor, Mayor Daley, sitting right here in front. And the President understands. He understands your distinct needs. And he knows that nothing we do around here means anything if men and women don’t have jobs — not just any job, but jobs that you can raise a family on; jobs that serve as a foundation for the 21st century economy we’re determined to build.
He also knows that, as Walt Whitman put it, a great city is that which has the greatest men and women. He knows your cities are full of great men and women. And his leadership is going to help give them the ability to overcome this difficulty, summon their greatness, and put them in a position that they’re stronger at the end as we come out of this recession than they were before they went in.
So, ladies and gentlemen, it’s my great honor to present to you the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Please sit down. Thank you very much. Please have a seat. Have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House, everybody. And let me, first of all, say what a outstanding job that the Vice President has done not just on a whole range of issues in this administration, but in working with the mayors to make sure this Recovery Act works the way it should. So please give Joe Biden a big round of applause. (Applause.)
A couple of other acknowledgements I have to make. First of all, I want to say congratulations to Elizabeth Kautz, the new president. Congratulations. Give Elizabeth a big round of applause. (Applause.) I have to acknowledge my own mayor, Mayor Richard Daley, for the outstanding work he’s done in Chicago. (Applause.)
I want to say thank you to Joe Riley of Charleston not only for creating one of the greatest — helping to make one of greatest cities in the country bloom, but also for giving us David Agnew. So give him a big round of applause. (Applause.)
Mayor John Hickenlooper of Denver, who also is running for the governor of Colorado. I hope you all talk to him still even when he becomes governor. (Applause.) And I’ve got to acknowledge Mufi Hannemann because he was such a great host for me and my family when we were there in Honolulu. (Applause.)
I have to say, Rich, the weather was a lot better — (laughter) — in Honolulu. I just want to let you know. (Laughter.)
Now, I know all of you met the First Lady yesterday to begin an important — (applause) — begin an important national discussion on our national childhood obesity epidemic. I hate following my wife. (Laughter.) She’s more charming, smarter, tougher, better looking. But I am looking forward to a productive discussion with all of you on the urgent need to create jobs and move our metropolitan areas forward.
I always enjoy meeting with mayors because it reminds me of where I got my start — working with folks at the local level, doing our best to make a real impact on the lives of ordinary Americans — and that’s what each of you does every single day. You’re the first interaction citizens have with their government when they step outside every morning. The things that make our cities work and our people go — transit and public safety, safe housing, sanitation, parks, recreation — all these tasks fall to you. It was President Johnson who once said, “When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor.” (Laughter and applause.)
So it’s why we organized this meeting today. I look at all of you and I say I’m doing fine. (Laughter.) It’s just not easy being a mayor. But rarely, if ever, has it been more difficult than it is today. Your constituents are feeling the pain of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression — not to mention an economy that wasn’t working for a lot of them long before this particular crisis hit.
Many have lost jobs; many have lost their health care; some maybe even have lost their homes. And they’re looking to you and all of us to regain some sense of economic security. And just when they need more from you, you’re stuck with falling revenues, leaving you with impossible choices that keep mounting up — putting projects on hold or having to furlough key employees. I know some of you have had the heartbreak of laying folks off. I also know that each and every one of you is 100 percent resolved to pick your city up and move it forward.
And that’s why, even as we worked to rescue our broader economy last year, we took some steps to help. We cut taxes, as Joe mentioned, for workers and small businesses. We extended unemployment insurance and health benefits for those who lost their jobs. We provided aid to local governments so you could keep essential services running and keep cops and firefighters and teachers who make your cities safe places to grow and to learn on your payroll.
We invested in proven strategies like the COPS program and the Byrne Grants that you rely on to bring down crime and boost public safety. We funded and awarded more than 1,800 of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants that you conceived — flexible products that reduce energy use, put people back to work and save taxpayers’ money.
We increased funding for the Summer Youth Employment Program, helping more than 300,000 young people hit especially hard by the recession. That did more than just give them a chance to earn money — it gave them the critical chance to gain experience in good jobs that build good skills, so that they can come out of this crisis in a better position to build a life for themselves.
And we’re working every day to get our economy back on track and put America back to work. Because while Wall Street may be recovering, you and I know your Main Streets have a long way to go. Unemployment in your cities is still far too high. And because our metropolitan areas account for 90 percent of our economic output, they are the engines that we need to get started again.
Last month, I announced some additional targeted steps to spur private sector hiring and boost small businesses by building on the tax cuts in the Recovery Act and increasing access to the loans they desperately need to grow. I said we’d rebuild and modernize even more of our transportation and communication networks across the country, in addition to the infrastructure projects that are already scheduled to come online this year. I called for the extension of emergency relief to help hurting Americans who’ve lost their jobs. And you can expect a continued, sustained and relentless effort to create good jobs for the American people. I will not rest until we’ve gotten there. (Applause.)
But I also know that each of you worries about the longer-term effects this economy might have on your children, on your families, and on workers. You worry about what shape everything will be in once we emerge from this crisis. So you’re focused on addressing the pressing problems we face today, but you’ve got a vision for your city. And no matter what party you belong to or where you’ve traveled here from, that vision is one I share — of vibrant communities that provide our children with every chance to learn and to grow; that allow our businesses and workers the best opportunity to innovate and succeed; that let our older Americans live out their best years in the midst of all that metropolitan life has to offer. All of us have an obligation to make sure that even as we work to rescue and rebuild our economy, we don’t lose sight of that. Because job creation and investing in our communities aren’t competing priorities — they’re complementary.
Two years ago, I addressed your gathering and I outlined a new strategy for urban America that changed the way Washington does business with our cities and our metropolitan areas. And since taking office, my administration has taken a hard look at that relationship — from matters of infrastructure to transportation, education to energy, housing to sustainable development. My staff has traveled around the country to see the fresh ideas and successful solutions that you’ve devised. And we’ve learned a great deal about what we can do — and shouldn’t do — to help rebuild and revitalize our cities and metropolitan areas for the future.
So the budget that I’ll present next month will begin to back up this urban vision by putting an end to throwing money after what doesn’t work — and by investing responsibly in what does.
Our strategy to build economically competitive, environmentally sustainable, opportunity-rich communities that serve as the backbone for our long-term growth and prosperity — three items: First, we’ll build strong regional backbones for our economy by coordinating federal investments in economic and workforce development — because today’s metropolitan areas don’t stop at downtown. What’s good for Denver, for example, is usually good for places like Aurora and Boulder, too. Strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America.
Second, we’ll focus on creating more livable and environmentally sustainable communities. Because when it comes to development, it’s time to throw out old policies that encouraged sprawl and congestion, pollution, and ended up isolating our communities in the process. We need strategies that encourage smart development linked to quality public transportation, that bring our communities together. (Applause.)
That’s why we’ll improve our Partnership for Sustainable Communities by working with HUD, EPA, and the Department of Transportation in making sure that when it comes to development, housing, energy, and transportation policy go hand in hand. And we will build on the successful TIGER discretionary grants program to put people to work and help our cities rebuild their roads and their bridges, train stations and water systems. (Applause.)
Third, we’ll focus on creating neighborhoods of opportunity. Many of our neighborhoods have been economically distressed long before this crisis hit — for as long as many of us can remember. And while the underlying causes may be deeply-rooted and complicated, there are some needs that are simple: access to good jobs; affordable housing; convenient transportation that connects both; quality schools and health services; safe streets and parks and access to a fresh, healthy food supply.
So we’ll invest in innovative and proven strategies that change the odds for our communities — strategies like Promise Neighborhoods, neighborhood-level interventions that saturate our kids with the services that offer them a better start in life. Strategies like Choice Neighborhoods, which focuses on new ideas for housing by recognizing that different communities need different solutions. And, by the way, we’re also expanding the successful Race to the Top competition to improve our schools and raise the bar for all our students to local school districts that are committed to change. (Applause.)
That’s what we’re doing to bring jobs and opportunity to every corner of our cities and our economy — focusing on what works. And that’s what all of you do each and every day. You’re not worried about ideology. Obviously all of you are elected so you think about politics, but it’s not in terms of scoring cheap political points; you’re going to be judged on whether you deliver the goods, or not. You focus on solving problems for people who trusted us with solving them. And that’s a commitment that all of us who serve should keep in mind.
As long as I’m President, I’m committed to being your partner in that work. We’re going to keep on reaching out to you and listening to you and working with you towards our common goals. And I want to start that right now by taking some of your questions. But first I think all these cameras are going to move out, so you can tell me the truth. (Laughter.) All right? Thank you. (Applause.)