TOPICS > Politics

Are U.S. Mayors the New Leaders of the Democratic Party?

September 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles and chair of the Convention, talk to Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill about the boom of city migration in the last few decades, how major metropolitan centers drive the U.S. economy and how local governments resolve major conflicts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, local leaders are playing a big role at this year’s Democratic Convention.

And we are joined now by representatives of three major cities, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of the city of Los Angeles and the chair of this convention, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

Thank you all for being with us.

KASIM REED (D), Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia: Glad to be here.

ANNISE PARKER (D), Mayor of Houston, Texas: Great to be here.

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), Mayor Of Los Angeles: It’s great to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I do want to ask you about city issues, but, Mayor Villaraigosa, to you first on what happened at the very beginning of this convention earlier this evening, when you gaveled it to order and tried to add language in the platform by voice vote that would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

You had to take the vote three times, because the no’s were almost as loud as the yeas.

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Well, actually, the first time, I knew we had a majority. The second time, I was pretty sure. By the third time, I was absolutely sure. So, that’s what I opined.

And there’s 10 — you have 10 minutes to object. And nobody did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what was that all about?  I mean, the party has already been receiving some criticism about taking that language out of the platform this year.

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: I will tell — I will tell you what it was about.

We have a president who expects the platform to reflect his values and his sentiments. And he made it clear that he wanted that language back in it, and that’s what we did.

GWEN IFILL: It should be said we were sitting here at the time that that vote was being taken, and it wasn’t a slam-dunk that the nos didn’t — outweigh the nays, which is why you took it three times, right?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: By the third time, I was sure.

And, again, under party rules, they — someone, anyone can object, and no objection was made in that 10-minute period of time.

GWEN IFILL: Let me turn to the question for which we have some of you here for. And I want to start with you, Mayor Parker.

We have seen a parade of mayors on the stage at this convention taking big — making big keynotes and becoming the rising stars. The keynote speaker last night was a mayor. Are mayors the new leaders of this party?

ANNISE PARKER: Well, more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy and 80 percent of the population is in major metro areas across the United States.

We’re where jobs are created. We’re where people are migrating to create their future. And you will find that, across America, the vast majority of major American cities are headed by centrist, very pragmatic, Democratic mayors.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to ask — just picking up on that question, Mayor Reed of Atlanta, what difference does it make to American cities who is president, because we know federal dollars are shrinking, whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican in the White House.

KASIM REED: Well, there’s no question it makes a difference.

Cities are where hope meets the street. We don’t get to make excuses in cities. So having a president like Barack Obama, who understands that cities really do drive our economy, has allowed us to get a much greater share and distribution of resources.

So, it’s a matter to our bottom line. Every single mayor that is sitting here right now has a budget that is stronger because of the direct support of this administration. It makes a huge difference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you answer that question?


I have said many times — I get asked the question a lot because I have been on the campaign trail for the president. And I will tell you, I tell people, it matters — it matters to Angelinos who is in the White House and who — what majority is in the Congress.

We have got $600 million in our funding from the federal government under this administration. We got more money for foreclosed homes than virtually any city in the United States of America. We were able to get a $546 million loan.

It was this president and the — beginning with the majority, the Democratic majority, and then we got bipartisan support for America Fast Forward, which I have talked to you about in the past, the surface transportation bill. All of this happened because we had a very sympathetic president and Democrats who understood that cities are the lifeblood of the nation; 89 percent of the GDP is generated in our cities.

If you took just the top three cities, we have an economy the size of France. If you took the top 10 cities, we’d be a $5 trillion economy. My metropolitan area has an economy larger than 42 states. That’s also true for New York and Chicago.

GWEN IFILL: And yet, Mayors, one of the interesting thing when we were in Tampa last week, one of the big applause lines was the idea that the federal government is running our lives, and mayors, many of them Democrats, don’t mind it and that Republicans do.

ANNISE PARKER: I received money from — we’re going to jump all over this.

I received a little bit of money from the federal government, but I fund my city, and I have invested my local tax dollars in infrastructure. We — you don’t turn a city over to someone who doesn’t believe in government. We believe in the power of government to do things because we have to do things every day.

Cities have to function 24/7. We don’t have time to worry about, you know, debating this theory or that theory. I have to pick up the trash.

KASIM REED: We’re also taking on issues they’re failing to take on in Washington in a serious way.

First of all, we balance our budgets every single year. When I got elected, we had a $1.5 billion pension crisis. We worked with labor. Every single union had a 15-0 vote to balance and pay down that $1.5 billion liability.

So issues that you all talk about with regard to Washington every single day that never get resolved, we don’t have that choice. We resolve them in cities. And that’s why I think that we’re going to be a model for the nation, despite Republican talking points.


You know, in our Conference of Mayors — and the three of us are members of the Conference of Mayors — in our Conference of Mayors, we passed comprehensive immigration reform unanimously. Last year, we took on the issue of nation-building at home and say that it’s time to accelerate the withdrawal of our troops. We passed that with an overwhelming majority.

This year, we passed as a framework — Simpson-Bowles as a framework to solve the deficit. We have taken on seniority and tenure, parent trigger. Across the board, this is a practical group of people. We’re not married to orthodoxy and ideology. But we do understand that Democrats have been more focused on cities and on investment in those cities than Republicans have.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, are you saying the president was wrong not to embrace Simpson-Bowles?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: Well, actually, the president has proposed a balanced effort to reduce the deficit along the lines of Simpson-Bowles.

It’s a $4 trillion cut. The only difference between the president’s plan to reduce the deficit and Simpson-Bowles is that he doesn’t raise taxes on the middle class. He raises it on the top 2 percent of America, and he doesn’t cut defense to the level that he does.

Simpson-Bowles is a balanced approach. In the Ryan plan, they just cut $4 trillion and want to give a $5 trillion tax cut to the upper income.

GWEN IFILL: You are all…

KASIM REED: We also have no partner. We can’t balance the budget with no revenue raised. And both Mitt Romney and his running mate have said that they will offer zero revenues.

GWEN IFILL: But let me ask you this, Mayor Reed and Mayor Parker especially.

This is a convention where everyone is talking about — an election everyone is talking about battleground states. And your state is not one. Your state is not one. Your state is not one.

How do you know that the things you’re interested, your priorities are even being heard in an election like this, Mayor Parker?

ANNISE PARKER: Well, again, cities are functioning very well and at a very high level. People continue to move to cities.

Cities are where you go to find a job, to find a mate, to find an education and to build your own future. Cities are thriving with or without help from the government. We just need — actually, in large instances, to stay out of the way.

One of the things that you see mayors united on is that we’d like to see direct funding to major U.S. cities so that it doesn’t get routed through the state. While I work professionally with my governor, I’m still waiting on Ike funding from four years ago…

GWEN IFILL: What is Ike funding?

ANNISE PARKER: Hurricane Ike.


GWEN IFILL: Ah, Hurricane Ike.

ANNISE PARKER: For recovery that is sitting in Austin.

GWEN IFILL: Mayor Reed.

KASIM REED: Well, the same is true.

If the United States wants to see our economy really move, we will find a way to stop block granting funds through states and send them directly to mayors.

We received the largest TIGER II grant in the United States for around $47 million.

GWEN IFILL: What is a TIGER II grant?

KASIM REED: It is a grant from the Department of Transportation. We’re building light rail in the city of Atlanta. We matched it dollar for dollar.

KASIM REED: We put hundreds of people to work. We let the contracts and got it out on the streets.

The point I’m making is, we know how to do complex projects to get our economy moving fast.

ANNISE PARKER: We have raised revenue and we have cut spending at the same time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we are going to leave it there.

We want to thank all three of you. Mayor Villaraigosa, Mayor Reed, thank you, all three. Thank you.

KASIM REED: It’s a pleasure to be here.