By Michael H. Cottman
Urban News Service
PHILADELPHIA — Birmingham Mayor William Bell said the nation’s mayors have a message for the next occupant of the White House.
“We are calling on the next administration to reinvest in the infrastructure of this country, to support programs that will give people the skill sets to get jobs and empower cities to grow,” Bell said. “Cities are the life blood of this country.”
Bell said there are many residents in the inner city with “an entrepreneurial spirit.”
“They just need a chance,” he said.
Bell’s statement was part of what mayors from across the country call the Urban Agenda.
They were at the Democratic National Convention and touted their ambitious campaign to rehabilitate America’s inner-city communities and help bridge the deep divide between police and black citizens.
Using the heading “The 2016 Compact for a Better America: A Call to Action,” the mayors are facing an uphill struggle: to persuade a Republican-controlled Congress to pay attention to a myriad of problems plaguing the nation’s metro areas, and, most important, fund programs to revitalize crumbling neighborhoods.
But after the fatal police shootings of two African American men in June, followed by the murders of several police officers in Texas and Louisiana, mayors have expanded their priorities.
“We are absolutely committed that any urban agenda must address the strain and erosion of trust between our law enforcement and the communities they’re sworn to serve and protect – particularly our communities of color,” said Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbus, Ohio, who also serves as vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“Like with so many of the issues facing our nation, mayors are leading the way,” Benjamin said.
“In fact, two years ago,” he said, “we launched our own ‘Justice for All’ initiative in Columbia which has not only provided new and better training in conflict de-escalation and cultural sensitivity, equipped all of our uniformed officers with body cameras and instituted serious new accountability and transparency reforms, but also focused on hiring more minority officers and creating new incentives for all of our officers that help them buy homes in the city so that live in the very neighborhoods they patrol.”
More than 85 percent of residents in the United States live in the nation’s cities and metro areas and experience similar challenges: unemployment, affordable housing, immigration, crime and illegal guns, access to adequate health care and subpar education, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Democrats maintain that because many Republican congressional leaders represent rural and suburban districts, that they are disconnected from urban America and can’t relate — or won’t relate — to inner-city concerns.
“They have been stonewalling [the urban agenda] for eight years,” Bell told Urban News Service.
Bell said he is frustrated by congressional Republicans who have blocked much of President Barack Obama’s legislative agenda and he hopes the 2017 Congress will embrace an urban agenda, which he said would benefit the entire nation.
“The pressure is there,” Bell said. “Congress needs to move forward.”
The mayors held a press conference about their urban agenda early during the DNC sharing their thoughts on overhauling inner cities. It was a good place to do so. According to a 2015 study by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia has the highest rate of deep poverty among America’s 10 biggest cities.
Philadelphia’s deep-poverty rate is 12.3 percent, or around 186,000 people – 60,000 of whom are children, according to the Inquirer, which used figures from the U.S. Census 2014 American Community Survey.
Democrats aren’t alone in discussing an urban agenda. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, has also talked in general terms about an urban agenda but some Republicans leaders say they are confused because Trump still has offered no specifics.
“This presidential election is our opportunity to make sure that our nation is focused on the very people we represent,” said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Cities play a fundamental role in shaping America’s future.”