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Mayors Meet With Obama About Economic Crunch, Infrastructure Needs

January 20, 2011 at 5:01 PM EDT
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Judy Woodruff talks to Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Anthony Foxx about their meeting Thursday with President Obama and Vice President Biden, where they addressed how to cope with the economic crunch facing cities across the U.S.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, we look at how America’s cities are faring in this economic climate. Several of the nation’s mayors met with President Obama, Vice President Biden, and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling at the White House today.

The economic crunch facing cities across the country dominated the agenda.

Joining us now are two who attended. Mick Cornett is the Republican mayor of Oklahoma City, and the Democratic mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, Anthony Foxx.

Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.

To you first, Mayor Cornett. Tell us what the message was that you and other mayors brought the president.

MICK CORNETT (R-Okla.), mayor, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Well, I think of acknowledgement that we have a lot of work to do.

Unemployment, although it may be very low in Oklahoma City, is still high across the country. And it’s not in Oklahoma City’s best interests for the rest of the country to be suffering so.

And we have got to invest in infrastructure. There’s a lot of cities, especially on the East Coast, that have a lot of deferred maintenance going forward. And they are not going to be able to get out of that mess on their own.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — and, Mayor Foxx, this is a time when the federal government is as strapped as local governments are. How did the president respond?

ANTHONY FOXX (D), mayor, Charlotte, NC: Well, we had a great dialogue with the president today.

And I would characterize it as an open dialogue that we had with the president, where he was — he was really listening to mayors talk about what we’re seeing on the ground. And, as you know, Judy, we are the backstop. There’s nowhere to go from the local level. We don’t print money.

And so, when people are losing jobs and they’re facing challenges, they look to us to help lead. So, I think what he wanted today was to — was to hear from the ground what’s happening. And we were able to talk about the challenges of jobs and the challenges of trying to get the economy back and keeping communities optimistic at a time that’s very tough.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mayor Cornett, you mentioned infrastructure, among other things. Did the president give you the sense, did he say that that was something he — he believes that the federal government should help the cities with?

MICK CORNETT: Yes, I believe he does. And, you know, it’s a competitive nature.

I think, if you travel the world, I think you’re going to see that there are airports and roads and bridges and trains that are much better in other parts of the world than they are in the United States.

And then we have our deferred maintenance, a lot of issues. And it’s transportation issues and other important efforts. So, I do think he’s for it.

Now, the question for the president and Congress is going to be, how are they going to pay for it? Because I don’t think the Americans’ appetite for increasing the debt is there, but the needs are very real.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mayor Foxx, the same thing. I mean, did you hear a positive response from the president? And, if so, how are they going to pay for it?

ANTHONY FOXX: Well, I think, clearly, there’s got to be renewed focus on managing the country’s debt. And I think the president acknowledges that.

At the same time, we have got to continue building a 21st-century country. And I think all of us walked away feeling that the president’s agenda is very much in line with our agenda across party lines from a mayor’s perspective.

I think Mayor Cornett is exactly right that infrastructure is going to be one of the key investments that the federal government is going to have to keep making to help build strong cities and things like transit and airports and roads and other investments.

So, we’re going to keep working with this administration. I think one of the opportunities is to maybe loosen some of the restrictions, since the Congress is moving away from earmarks, to administrative grants that allow merit-based projects to move forward in this new environment in Washington.

And I think, hopefully, we will see some innovative things like an infrastructure bank occur. That wasn’t discussed specifically today, but I think the president’s talked about that before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that something that can happen, Mayor Cornett, in this climate? We’re hearing from many of your fellow Republicans in the Congress that this is a time to cut spending. Even today, we heard Speaker Boehner saying, we still need to get $100 billion out of federal spending this year.

MICK CORNETT: Well, I think that was the message that the voters sent in November.

I tell you, one of my concerns is CDBG funds. Those are discretionary dollars that have traditionally gone straight from Washington to local governments. And I’m afraid they’re going to cut them significantly.

And, typically, Judy, when money goes to the states intended for the cities, it doesn’t make it there. We need those CDBG dollars, because I think mayors across the country are going to be better able to spend those discretionary dollars, to the betterment of their community and be able to put people back to work more easily.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you saying, Mayor Cornett, that your Republican friends in the Congress are going to go along with this?

MICK CORNETT: No. I just hope that the cuts are smaller, rather than larger, as specifically to CDBG funds. I think those are important discretionary dollars that mayors and local governments need.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying there will be some cuts; you just hope they’re not as bad as they might have otherwise been?

MICK CORNETT: Exactly.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mayor Foxx, one of the things the mayors said to reporters when they came out of the meeting today was that one of your principal focuses today was on jobs.

Did you hear something from the president about what he or what the two — what mayors and the federal government can do together to get jobs created in this country?

ANTHONY FOXX: Well, I think one of the things that is not a secret is that the president is reaching out to the business community and working with them.

There’s an enormous amount of private capital that is on the sidelines today, about $1.8 trillion of money that’s held by a corporation, that is not going into helping create jobs for people. And I think this administration is working very hard to cajole the private sector into pushing some of that money out, including the recent tax compromise that was approved in the lame-duck session.

And, so, those are the types of efforts that I think are going to create a climate in Washington that give the business community certainty around creating jobs. I think the president is very clear that jobs is the number-one focus for this administration. And they’re going to continue working through ways to do that.

And, again, today, I think he was listening at least as much as he was talking about how we think we can push the jobs agenda forward. And he got lots of ideas from people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mayor Cornett, do you see signs in Oklahoma and Oklahoma City that the business community is ready to step up and do this sort of thing?

MICK CORNETT: Well, we’re very fortunate. Our economy is strong. We have had double-digit growth now here for several months. We have the lowest unemployment in the country. And our quality of life is ever increasing.

So, we don’t have many of the problems that American cities are dealing with right now. Our economy is really good, which kind of helps you address all the other situations. But we’re an island in that regard. And when I come to Washington, I speak on behalf of many mayors, on behalf of all municipal issues, not just about Oklahoma City.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mayor Foxx, what about you? When you talk to the business community, do you get the sense they’re going to step up in some of the ways that you were just describing?

ANTHONY FOXX: We’re starting to see signs of it, Judy. In Charlotte, we just had the announcement of a major merger between Duke Energy and Progress Energy, two large utilities that provide energy in North Carolina, that will create the largest energy utility in the country once that merger completes itself.

And we announced 8,500 jobs in Charlotte over the last year. I think some of the ice that was there in the heart of the recession is starting to thaw, and we’re starting to see hiring activity pick up. But it’s happening at a more anemic rate than we want.

So, the federal government has to work hard. And I think, again, the tax compromise was really, really key there. But I think now it’s more of the president and all of us working together to get out and talk about some of the changes that have happened in regulatory areas, but also trying to bring the private sector along and really talking and engaging with the private sector on how to create jobs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And a very quick final question to you, Mayor Foxx. And that is, did the president give you confirmation that Charlotte is going to be the site of the Democratic National Convention next year?

ANTHONY FOXX: You know, I’m very optimistic, but I got no indications today. I did bring my basketball shorts, in case that helped.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: OK. All right. I had to ask you about that.

(LAUGHTER)

ANTHONY FOXX: That’s OK.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mayor Foxx from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Mayor Mick Cornett from Oklahoma City, thank you both.

ANTHONY FOXX: Thank you.

MICK CORNETT: Thank you.