This year's presidential campaign has not involved the "urban decline" rhetoric that rallied politicians - and policymakers - to the cause of cities in the mid 1960s and late 1970s. Instead, as Alex MacGillis pointed out in Sunday's WaPo, Senator Obama
"has adopted the framing increasingly favored by many mayors and urban-policy types - promoting America's cities based on their strengths, not their failings."
This framing involves a slight shift of perspective from urban cores to metro areas. In many ways, this optimistic view of cities as nestled within metros (which aren't as politically, or racially, charged as cities) is productive. Economics backs up the sunny view, as MacGillis notes, with the majority of the nation's GDP generated and of its population and jobs located in metro areas.
But the champions of the metro perspective fail to defend the political relationship - the partnership - that is necessary between the federal government and cities. In interviewing mayors from cities across the country, I have consistently heard that cities will not truly prosper until mayors are provided more substantive opportunities to influence federal policy. This influence would extend beyond calls for more funds for the CDBG and COPS programs to provide mayors and other parochial officials occasions to highlight model local policies and coordinate with state officers and, indeed, with other officials inside their metro area.
Mayors have already joined together in ad hoc groups to meet Kyoto Protocol targets and in official organizations like the Conference of Mayors, but they have little formal means to influence federal policy. If mayors are heard at all, they are heard to be begging for money; if they receive money, they often receive too little or are constrained in its use. Providing mayors a platform for influence, exchange, and coordination -similar to Senator Obama's White House Office of Urban Policy - would capitalize on the economic power of metro areas while restoring urban policy to its proper place in national discourse. At its best, this would mean strengthening the power and authority of mayors at the federal level--something that Obama's transition team should embrace.
In today's WSJ, June Kronholz points out that few mayors become president. They have often been overlooked when they should be empowered. Today, mayors nationwide overwhelmingly want the next presidential administration to reverse that trend.
A recent interview DMI"s MayorTV did with Mayor Dannel Malloy of Stamford, CT explores the much-needed political partnership between cities and the federal government. Check it out.
For similar video interviews, visit MayorTV.