TOPICS > Politics

N.Y., L.A. Mayors Discuss Cities’ Challenges, Successes

June 20, 2007 at 6:40 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: I talked with them about the challenges of running big cities and what they can do that the federal government isn’t. And this was before Mayor Bloomberg announced his change in party affiliation. And for the record, I host a monthly interview program for Bloomberg Television, part of a multimedia company of which Michael Bloomberg is majority owner but, as mayor, does not involve himself in its operations.

Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Villaraigosa, thank you both for talking with us. We appreciate it. You both represent the two largest cities in the United States, 3,000 miles apart. In many ways, you’re polar opposites. One of you comes out of the international business financial community. You come out of Latino politics. And yet, when you look at your views on the issues and on the things, the problems you’ve got to solve, it’s very similar.

How do you explain that, Mayor Bloomberg?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, Mayor of New York City: Because cities all have the same problems. Big cities have the same problems, whether it’s immigration, or education, or crime on the streets, or creating jobs, balancing the budget, helping our cultural institutions competing for tourists. We do exactly the same thing for virtually identical markets. We just happen to be 3,000 miles away.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you explain it?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, Mayor of Los Angeles: I think mayors of big cities and small cities are much closer to people. They’re not as distant from people as elected officials in Washington might be, for instance. And I think there’s — you’re more practical, because you have to be. You recognize that people want you to get things done and that you can’t just focus on ideology, but ideas and, more importantly, results.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk about some of those issues, the environment. Mayor Bloomberg, you first. You’ve launched this big problem, cut carbon emissions by, what, 30 percent by the next quarter of a century. Were you really forced to do this because the federal government wasn’t doing anything?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, the federal government is not doing anything. I was forced to do it because it’s the right thing for the people that live in New York City.

We have neighborhoods where the kids go to hospitals with asthma attacks at four times the national average. We have an economy that can’t expand because the roads can’t handle any more cars. We have a place where people aren’t comfortable breathing the air, or don’t get enough power in the summer, or the sewerage system overflows.

It’s those kinds of environmental things that I have to address. There are reasons to do it, to stop global warming or mitigate the problems. But for the local needs of our city, I have to do it. And what I’ve tried to say is, we’re not going to do it, as you point out, for 20 years from now or 30 years from now. We’re going to try to do some of it a lot quicker, get the things going. And the city, the city government, as opposed to the city, is going to get it done while I’m still in office.

The business perspective

JUDY WOODRUFF: As somebody who comes out of the business community, you're not worried about the cost to the economy and to growth?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Oh, quite the contrary. It's a net benefit. And I think that's one of the secrets of addressing these issues for companies, and for cities, and for the country. It is a net positive.

You have to make investments, but from our point of view, a better environment is great for business, less traffic is great for business, fewer hospital visits is great for the taxpayer. Forget about the cost. Just take a look at the benefits, and they overwhelm the cost.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mayor Villaraigosa, with all due respect, the smog in Los Angeles has been something I guess the late-night comedians have talked about for a long time. Is what Mayor Bloomberg is doing a model for you? Where are you getting your ideas for dealing with the environment?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Well, you just said it. Los Angeles has the dirtiest air in the United States of America, and yet we've reduced our carbon emissions over the last decade, but we still have a long way to go.

Yes, nobody reinvents the wheel. You look to other great leaders. You look to people who are getting things done. New York is one city. Mayor Bloomberg is certainly a great leader who's getting things done in this area.

But you should know, with respect to this issue of greening the environment, California is leading the way. We're moving to 20 percent renewables by the year 2017. L.A. is moving to 20 percent renewables by the year 2010.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But that in a way raises, again, this question of what local and state governments can do versus the federal government. No matter how good a job you do here in California, here in Los Angeles, if Bakersfield, California, isn't do its part, or Las Vegas, or other cities, can you really make a difference, if the feds are not involved at the same time?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Absolutely. Well, first of all, let's be clear about this: More than 500 cities have signed onto the Kyoto accords, even though the federal government hasn't approved those accords.

In the case of Los Angeles, by the year -- as you know, by the year 2012, you have to, according to Kyoto, you have to reduce your carbon emissions by 7 percent of 1990 levels. We'll have reduced our carbon emissions by 17.5 percent two years before that, by the year 2010. New York will be doing something similar.

Cities across the nation coming together are solving many of these big challenges because there's a vacuum left by a federal government that has been in gridlock and partisan warfare and refused to address many of these problems.

Local versus federal government

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this question, Mayor Bloomberg, of local-state versus the federal government, it spills over into so many other areas that you're now involved in?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, guns on the streets of our big cities, illegal guns, are clearly another good example. But I think, Judy, that just because the federal government isn't doing it or perhaps another country isn't doing it, it doesn't take away the responsibility that Antonio has or I have to make our cities better. And some of the things that we do would be better off if done at a national level, would be better off if others followed us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, again, if you make a difference in New York, and you make a difference in Los Angeles, and the federal government doesn't do anything, in the end, have you really changed anything?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: This is New York and Los Angeles, the two most vibrant, economically powerful cities in the United States of America. As we do it, Chicago, Houston, Miami, San Francisco, Detroit, all of these cities begin to do many of the same things.

You force the federal government to act. That's what's occurring currently. You're seeing that cities and states are leading the nation, but the nation is following. And to the extent that we're doing that, we're creating a force to move us beyond the inertia that we currently are in.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: If you take a look, President Bush proposed some goals or objectives rather than some requirements. I think that's nowhere near strong enough. But in all fairness, a year ago, he probably wouldn't have done that. Clearly, he's trying to do that...

JUDY WOODRUFF: So do you think you're influencing the federal government, influencing the president?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I think they can't help but see the press, they can't help but listen to their constituents. And the more constituents say, "I want it," they are responsive, and they will follow along. They should be leading, but they'll be there anyway.

Potential bipartisanship

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to bring up the conference. You're here together in Los Angeles conference, looking at potentially bipartisan -- it's called Bridging the Political Divide. Both of you govern cities that are largely Democratic. You're a Republican; you're a Democrat. Why can bipartisanship or working across political differences, why does it seem to be easier to do in cities than in Washington?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, because I think mayors are held to results. If Antonio makes a decision this afternoon, people see it on the streets of L.A. tomorrow, and they have a chance to get directly to him to tell him whether it works it or not, whether they like it or not.

He is being held accountable all the time, and so he's got to focus on the issues and the merits of ideas rather than whether they come from one party or another, whether they'll help one party, the next election cycle in raising money or getting votes. He doesn't really have much choice, if you think about it.

And if the public doesn't like what he does, they can know that it's his fault, and they can throw him out, or if they like it, they know it's because of him, and they can re-elect him. Same thing for New York. That's the fundamental difference.

In Washington, I think it's very hard to pin blame. They vote for things nobody can understand what the real impact is, and it's down the road. They vote for things that have both sides of any issue in the bill so that they can say to both constituencies, "I was in favor of it, and I was against it."

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Mayor Villaraigosa, in Washington, they're also dealing with some issues where there are very, very deep divisions, over the war in Iraq, for example. Isn't that a completely different universe, if you will, if you're dealing with something like that, where you have intractable differences?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I don't think so. I mean, look, reasonable people, patriotic Americans can disagree on whether we should be at war in Iraq. Reasonable people can disagree about how we bring back our troops.

I think the problem with the partisanship that we see in Washington is that it's a one-upsmanship. You're a warmonger if you're for the war. You're not a patriot. You're an American if you're against it. This lack of civility in our debate, this attempt of one-upsmanship that you see, that's what's wrong with the partisanship.

It's not that we disagree on issues. I dare say that if Mayor Bloomberg and I were to discuss 80 issues, there may be a number of areas of disagreement. The problem with the partisanship is they're not focusing on the commonalities. They're not getting enough done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mayor Villaraigosa, thank you very much. Mayor Bloomberg, thank you both very much for talking with us. We appreciate it.