02/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

U.S. Mayors: Groping for Hope in the Grip of Reality

Our mayor had some advice for his colleagues at the ever-so-aptly-named Mayors Winter Meeting in Washington earlier this month.

"Tell your employees that there's going to be layoffs," Richard M. Daley said. "Tell your citizens there is going to be cutbacks of services, tell your citizens that we can not grow like we did for many years in this country. The housing crisis is there, the mortgage crisis is there and it all falls on our steps."

Of course, Daley had already showed 'em how it was done back in November, telling his flock here in Chicago, "Huge layoffs are coming in November and December. And next year, there's going to be [even more] huge layoffs. All the corporation CEOs have come in to tell me. That's just the beginning."

Just the beginning of the end, that is.

As I discovered while putting together an article for a newsletter I write called The Influential Executive, some mayors followed Daley's lead in a record number of state-of-the-city/-village/-hamlet addresses delivered month. Other mayors took slightly fancier approaches.

In suburban Bolingbrook, mayor Roger Claar didn't fall far from the tree. During his state of the village address, Claar told it like it is. "Nothing," he said flatly, "is trending in a positive manner."

"Unfortunately we're not sure it's the bottom," said Reno mayor Bob Cashell in his state of the city address, "and that's what we have to look at."

"I can't tell people that everything is coming up roses," said Jim Plakas, mayor of Garden City, Mich. "This is the longest recession since World War II."

"I wish there was a way to wave a magic wand," said Nampa, Ida. mayor Tom Dale, "but it's not going to change overnight."

If those were sober assessments, Martinez, Calif. mayor Rob Schroder's was a suicide note.

"2008 has been a difficult year for all of us in Martinez and the entire country," said Schroder. "We lost Sgt. Paul Starzyk while protecting the people of Martinez. We also lost the first lady of Martinez, my wife, Carole Schroder. The mortgage crisis has caused our economy to nosedive. Foreclosures are all around us. The stock market has reacted with a 33 percent drop in value, unemployment is increasing and businesses are failing. The state still does not have a balanced budget and will soon run out of money. Capital projects are at a standstill causing even more jobs to be lost. In fact, the governor did not even give his traditional State of the State address noting that the state is incapacitated and in a state of emergency."

It was Napoleon who said, "A leader is a dealer in hope." Well, we know how things turned out for Napoleon.

Some mayors tried to couch their dim outlooks as "light black."

"In short, the state of the city is good," said John Harper, mayor of Rowlett, Tex. "Considering the state of the economy in our nation, in the state of Texas, and locally, the state of the city is especially good."

Economically put. Would that Roswell, Ga. mayor Jere Wood had left it at that.

"You can't talk about the state of the City of Roswell without talking about the state of the economy," he said. "Roswell has not escaped the recession but I believe we have fared better than most cities."

For instance? Wood acknowledged that foreclosures reached an all-time high in Roswell. "In December there were 57 foreclosures in Roswell," he allowed. "But there were 83 in Alpharetta."

Other mayors tried to swaddle their citizens in comforting clichés. "There are storm clouds on the horizon," said Harper of Rowlett. "There are many challenges to forecasting those storm clouds and there will be many challenges to dealing with the issues they will bring."

It was pouring platitudes in McAlester, Okla. During mayor Kevin Priddle's state of the town address. "As a city, we have had many changes, many challenges and many opportunities in the last twelve months," Priddle began. "This evening, I would like to review those changes, challenges and opportunities and to look forward together to the future, united for the betterment of our community."

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg didn't seem to know what to think. "We don't know how bad the recession will be, but we know it will be bad enough," he said. "There's no question that the temporary state of our city is shaken. But I'm here today to tell you it's not broken."

Shaken but not broken, and I helped!

Actually, Bloomberg sounded a lot like the mayor of Tallmadge, Ohio, who called all the townspeople together in order to boldly proclaim, "We're not doing bad, but we're being cautious."

Couldn't you just thank God for leadership like that?