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Front Line Views of the Economy

December 7, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: How the economy and the war on terrorism are changing life in American cities and the people who run them, we hear from four mayors: Bill Campbell of Atlanta, Beverly O’Neill of Long Beach, California, and Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City. They are attending a National League of Cities Conference in Atlanta. And joining them is Sharpe James of Newark, New Jersey. Mayors, we heard that there are regional differences in the unemployment picture. We had another big popup in the number. How is it going in your city, Mayor Campbell?

MAYOR BILL CAMPBELL: Well, Atlanta has the busiest airport in the world. It’s our largest employer. The attendant businesses that support the airport and the airlines have all been decimated based on September 11. And of course there was the softening of the economy even before that. We also are feeling the effects in our hospitality and convention industry with hotels and restaurants and taxi drivers. So there’s no doubt that the national figures are reflected here in Atlanta. It is a very difficult time. And, as you heard in the report, many of the people that are losing their jobs, there is no real hope of recovering those anytime soon. I think it’s a very dire time for America and the recession I believe will be very deep. And America’s cities will face the brunt of that.

RAY SUAREZ: Mayor James, how are things in Newark?

MAYOR SHARPE JAMES: Well, we find it very difficult. I think the response to terrorism is an American response which means at the local level we hire more police, more fire personnel, more emergency medical service personnel, and we have increased costs adding all kinds of security measures at city hall and all of our local building, public buildings have to have metal detectors and reconfigure the doors. I think we have a challenge that to end the practice of winning the war abroad and losing the war at home, of having American soldiers raise the flag in victory on foreign soil and come home to unemployment, high taxes and unable to purchase a home. I think we need to have also have a stimulus package here at home as we all join in the war against terrorism.

RAY SUAREZ: Mayor O’Neill, the employment picture in Long Beach?

MAYOR BEVERLY O’NEILL: Well, Los Angeles County is 5.9%, which is a little higher than the national average. The city of Long Beach is at a 5.5 but that was October figures. It’s certainly up from what it was a year ago when it was 4.7. So we are feeling it also, mainly in the hospitality area.

RAY SUAREZ: And Mayor Anderson, any changes in Salt Lake City?

MAYOR ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, there have been, actually, Salt Lake City is at 3.5% unemployment, which is better than a year ago. We think that that’s probably very much Olympic related. We may be getting a good boost because of the Olympics. Statewide throughout Utah, our unemployment rate numbers that came out today, the unemployment rate is 4.4%, which is a nine-year high statewide in Utah.

RAY SUAREZ: Could the Olympic construction and preparation for the games totally insulate you from this swoon, or is it just something that might hit you later?

MAYOR ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, we know that we’re getting a good temporary boost here and we’re hoping that that continues certainly after the Olympics, that we can keep that going. But I don’t think there is any doubt that we’ve got some good significant employment that’s Olympic related that’s helping us out city wide, but state wide we’re still obviously hurting with the rest of the nation.

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier this year the director for homeland security, Tom Ridge, talked about cities being the front line in the defense against terrorism. Has this also meant a lot of added costs for a lace like Atlanta, Mayor Campbell?

MAYOR BILL CAMPBELL: When Mr. Ridge came and spoke to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, there was virtual unanimity by all of us to say that we are the front line defense forces. In fact, when you call 911, you don’t get the FBI, you don’t get the Defense Department. You get your local police, and fire and emergency medical personnel. What we saw on September 11 was the first responders were our local elected officials and our local police and fire. Since September 11, through the end of this year, Atlanta will spend almost $15 million in additional security costs. Now that is a tremendous cost increase, but that’s also coupled with the decrease in sales tax revenue and hotel and motel tax. And, of course, all of this is not even configured with the additional cost on fighting the war on bio-terrorism. So this is a very, very difficult financial time for cities. And what we’ve asked here at the National League of Cities and what we ask with the US National Conference of Mayors, is we want to be a financial partner with the US Government. We’ve got to get some help because these enormous costs cannot be borne by our citizens alone or we will risk in essence prolonging this recession by putting an undue burden on the taxpayers of our cities.

RAY SUAREZ: Mayor James, you’ve already talked about your added costs. Is there anything on the plus side of the ledger that’s going to help you, or are you going to have to cut city services?

MAYOR SHARPE JAMES: Well, right now we are looking at cutting city services, laying off people, reducing services. And we think that’s wrong. And we think that’s the whole philosophical question. Congress, rightfully so, rallies behind the President for a war mandate to fight terrorism and any other enemy. We agree with that. What we do not understand is that why not have Congress rally to have a war against poverty, a war against unemployment, to improve the quality of life in our cities? They’re the same dollars whether we’re dropping bombs on the caveman in Afghanistan, or saving some of those bombs and turn them into an infusion of federal dollars into our cities. We think it would help. In fact, what we consider this response to terrorism is a federal mandate that every city in America has the resolve to fight back. And therefore, as a federal mandate, we think a federal check should come to local government in order to do the things we’re doing for America.

RAY SUAREZ: Mayor O’Neill, do you share with your fellow mayors some of the budgetary problems?

MAYOR BEVERLY O’NEILL: Absolutely, Ray. I think that when we find and we know that we’re the first responders, you do whatever it takes to make sure that your city is safe and secure. And so if it takes additional personnel, if it takes additional security, if it takes additional precautions, you have to absorb that. We may be all right in very short-term, but long term, absolutely we could not continue at the high level that we are without some assistance. And I agree with the mayors that have spoken. We need to partnership with the federal government. We need to know that we are working with the federal government in making sure that our particular cities, specific cities, are safe for the citizens of our communities.

RAY SUAREZ: And, Mayor Anderson, when it comes to cities being safe, I mean the world’s eyes are turning to Salt Lake City in a few weeks. Anything to report on what you face as far as added costs, security personnel, the kinds of things you have to do?

MAYOR ROCKY ANDERSON: Yes. We’ve actually had very good relationship, a good collaboration with the federal agencies along with our state and local law enforcement as well as FEMA, the CDC, in preparations for the Olympics. Since September 11, we have added on what was already a very intense security planning and intelligence effort. We are hardening some of the perimeters, putting up fences and using magnetometers where these areas were going to be open before. We’re going to be clearing the airwave over Salt Lake City during the opening and closing ceremonies and imposing major restrictions during other times. And we’ll have upwards of 7,000 both law enforcement and National Guard troops in the city and around the venues to help out for the security efforts. So it is a very expensive effort. Since September 11, we’ve had an additional approximately $35 million contributed by the federal government to help out with our security effort. But, of course, it gets more expensive for local and state law enforcement as well because we’ve got to make up for the increased needs throughout the rest of the community.

RAY SUAREZ: Will you be hit something targets that or airport, Mayor Anderson, that Secretary of Transportation Mineta had implied other cities around the country may not be hitting?

MAYOR ROCKY ANDERSON: We’ve actually been– first of all, in terms of airport security, we are going to have gateway airports outside of Salt Lake City so any private aircraft general aviation will have to clear through the gateway airports. And I think that’s an excellent idea for making certain that we know what is going to be coming into Salt Lake City’s airport. We’re also moving toward our goal of 100% screen-loaded luggage, which I think absolutely has to be the goal for the rest of the nation. And we all need to get moving along a lot faster in that regard. Congress has got to come up with the funds so that we can get the equipment, get the personnel, and I’m very pleased that they’re finally, after a lot of partisan bickering, that they finally were able to federalize the screening, the security personnel at our airports. Now the next thing we need to do and we need to do it immediately is put in place systems– whatever it takes– to make sure whatever we put on our planes and our airports has been screened. Just like we’re screening everybody going through and their carry-on luggage — certainly ought to be doing that — should have been doing it a long time ago with our loaded luggage.

RAY SUAREZ: Mayor James, earlier in the year there was some complaints from mayors that the coordination with the federal government over some of these new nationwide alerts left something to be desired. Have they been getting better? We’re under a new alert now for the month of Ramadan. Do people on your staff talk regularly to federal branches?

MAYOR SHARPE JAMES: Oh, I think it’s been a wonderful partnership. Now I think we’ve all grown close to one another after the crisis of 9/11. We’ve had incidents like if you’re at the airport and you take a picture, a National guardsman snatches your camera and steps on it. You have to iron out little things like that. You can’t take pictures at the airport and certainly people are just not aware of that. But we have a tremendous relationship. In fact we’re very proud that the FBI have relocated the investigation of the World Trade Center disaster to the city of Newark, and in fact we’re protecting them, escorting them and have 24-hour security around the FBI and Federal Bureau of Investigation here in the city of Newark. We jokingly say the FBI and the federal government have an unlimited budget. We at the local level have a limited budget and the state of New Jersey is facing a $4 billion deficit. We are trying to turn that around and maybe help us at the local level.

RAY SUAREZ: Let me get a quick response from Mayor O’Neill to what Sharpe James had to say. What about your federal coordination?

MAYOR BEVERLY O’NEILL: Actually our federal coordination has really been excellent. We have local agencies representing the federal government such as the FBI, that we work with very closely. I think more still needs to be done because Homeland Security Director Ridge, when he made his announcement, we heard it on the news, and then we got the news from the federal government a little bit later. But we do have good local federal agencies that we work very closely with.

RAY SUAREZ: Mayors, thank you all for joining us this evening.