Mayors Conference Off To A Rocky Start

Injured Piggy Bank WIth Crutches

The United States Conference of Mayors is underway in Washington DC. Mayors from across the US are attending the event to outline policy goals and learn about successes and failures from other cities. But so far, the conference has been dominated by crises happening in Flint, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois. Protesters interrupted the conference earlier today to call for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign over the death of Laquan Macdonald. During afternoon sessions, the Mayor of Flint, Michigan called for help solving the city’s water crisis after it came to light that residents had been poisoned with lead. Flint was under the control of an emergency manager, which makes it nearly impossible for the Mayor’s office to have any impact on city operations. The emergency manager oversaw Flint’s change over to water from the polluted Flint River.

Despite all of that, however, the conference has released a new report detailing policy priorities for our nation’s cities. The 2015 Menino Survey of Mayors shows that a majority of mayors surveyed reported that aging and underfunded physical infrastructure is the greatest shared challenge facing their city. This is the second year in a row that infrastructure has topped the list of mayoral challenges. Ranked according to importance, mayors said that improving mass transit and road systems are the key infrastructure issues they would devote the most dollars to if funding becomes available.

In addition to improvements in infrastructure, Mayors said that they are looking for better ways to protect cyclists while on the road. More than 70% of mayors supported the tradeoff favoring improved bike accessibility in their city, even if it comes at the expense of parking and driving lanes. Not surprisingly, however, support for cyclist friendly design was largely divided across party lines. 44% of Republican mayors and 81% of Democratic ones endorse improved bike accessibility.

When it comes to hot-button issues like policing, survey results show support for change. Mayors overwhelmingly support an array of proposed reforms, including body cameras (with 93% strongly supportive/supportive), independent investigations for all police related shootings (87%), publicizing arrest and crime statistics by demographics (85%), evaluating police departments based on arrest and crime statistics (74%), and civilian review boards (65%).

Poverty, inequality, and housing also made it high on the list of areas that need improvement. But, respondents also noted that they face a wide range of constraints when it comes to improving civic life in their municipalities. Mayors, regardless of party affiliation, are feeling increasingly constrained by state regulations and the aggressive efforts of some of their state legislatures to limit local autonomy. They also express frustration with the current funding environment, notably the lack of financial support available at both the federal and state levels. As CivSource has reported, there have been coordinated efforts led by ALEC and other special interest groups to pass laws in several states limiting municipal broadband, municipal level environmental protections, and municipal prevailing and minimum wage increases. Those same organizations are also pursuing federal measures to limit state-level autonomy where possible.