Front Line Views
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JIM LEHRER: This afternoon, the U.S. Conference of Mayors ended a two-day safety and security summit here in Washington. The mayors had briefings with numerous administration officials, including FBI Director Robert Mueller; the Attorney General, John Ashcroft; and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge. Six of those mayors now join us: Scott King of Gary, Indiana; Susan Savage of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Bill Campbell of Atlanta, Georgia; Patrick McCrory of Charlotte, North Carolina; John Street of Philadelphia; and Rosemary Corbin of Richmond, California. Of the meetings you just finished, Mayor Corbin, in general, what level of confidence do you leave here with about the way the United States Government, the federal government, is responding to not only the anthrax but the entire threat of terrorism?
MAYOR ROSEMARY CORBIN, Richmond, California: One of our biggest concerns was that this is a natural problem that, to a great extent, needs to be dealt with at the local level. And we needed the assurance that this will be a true partnership, both in terms of information dissemination, in terms of training, technical assistance, the kind of help we need both in terms of respect for local authorities and giving them the tools and the information they need to be the partners that they’re counting on us to be.
JIM LEHRER: Did you hear the right things?
MAYOR ROSEMARY CORBIN: We did hear that they are looking to us as partners and now we’re looking forward to seeing it in reality.
JIM LEHRER: How about you, Mayor Campbell?
MAYOR BILL CAMPBELL, Atlanta, Georgia: Well, we heard an awful lot of information. I think we really had two primary objectives. One was to share information with each other about what we’re doing in our respective jurisdictions, but second, there are enormous costs that are associated with this 24-hour around-the-clock security that we’re being asked to provide. I think we came with a plaintive plea for help. You’re seeing Secretary Thompson and Governor Ridge and a host of others going before the Congress asking for billions of dollars, justifiably, to help secure our nation’s defenses. Well, we in the cities are at the front line. We are providing police and fire and emergency management personnel, and our budgets are strained. I don’t know if we got the kind of assurance that we’re going to get financial assistance that will help us to do the job to make America safe on the front line.
JIM LEHRER: In Tulsa, Mayor Savage, you need help to meet these alerts?
MAYOR SUSAN SAVAGE, Tulsa, Oklahoma: Absolutely. You know, each and every one of us, we’re very different cities represented here, but we come with a common theme. Emergency preparedness is something that we take very seriously because we know we are going to respond, whether a manmade or a natural disaster. We’ll be there first. This is such a unique set of circumstances….
JIM LEHRER: Meaning before the state police or the FBI….
MAYOR SUSAN SAVAGE: 911 generates a call to the local police and the firefighters. And that is where that response comes from. Certainly we’ve seen that in Oklahoma City. We’ve seen it here in Washington, D.C. We saw it in Pennsylvania. We know and we continue to be very, very concerned not only… Not as much about our ability to respond, but our ability to sustain the kind of continued level, heightened level of response that is required by the federal government, so we are saying as my fellow mayors are saying here, “Be our partners. Help support us through this.” We don’t expect to do it… Have you do it for us. We can do it, but be our partners.
JIM LEHRER: Mayor Street, did you get the impression they were hearing you today and yesterday?
MAYOR JOHN STREET: Well, yeah, I think they actually did hear us. We’re appreciative of their interest in coming and letting us know how much they are concerned about what’s going on. We do need a full partnership, but we need a partnership in sharing both the responsibility and the costs associated with maintaining the high state of alert. At our airport, we are incurring millions of dollars of additional expenses. We are losing revenue from loss of parking revenues; we are losing concession revenues. And we’re spending a lot of money that we didn’t spend in the past.
And we’re more than willing to be fair and reasonable and cooperative partners in all of this, but we need a lot of help. And we need help financially just like the airlines are losing revenue, and they needed desperately some help, and the cities need help. And we are the first responders. We do… We are the ones that have the responsibility of going out into the community and going out into the streets and responding to whatever it is that happens.
The magnitude of the commitment that we think we’re going to have to make over the long-term can’t be measured in just overtime costs for police and firefighters and other emergency personnel. We’re going to need some to make a capital investment in…in infrastructure, in technology. I will confess that I’m learning a whole new vocabulary when it comes to dealing with the problems of bio terrorism and all the rest. I mean, this is different; this is more complicated. And we are going to have to spend some serious time and we’re going to have to make an investment. We needn’t think that we’re going to get out of it simply by doing what we do a little better. We’re going to have to make an investment here.
JIM LEHRER: Mayor Lee, the whole point, the whole question about these FBI alerts, the one a couple weeks ago which said there was an alert imminent and you all… every mayor in the United States and your police chiefs and your fire chiefs and everybody, and every American, was told be on the alert, et cetera. Are those alerts helpful or harmful?
MAYOR SCOTT KING, Gary, Indiana: I’m Mayor King, and I’m sure Mayor Lee feels the same way.
JIM LEHRER: I’m sorry. Mayor King.
MAYOR SCOTT KING: They are not. I’ve heard police chiefs, Richard Pennington, for example, of New Orleans, and for police chiefs of cities throughout the United States to be saying, “We’re getting our information from television”. I’m not denigrating television, but that doesn’t seem…
JIM LEHRER: That’s okay. You can do that.
MAYOR SCOTT KING: It doesn’t seem in…Our position as a conference is it’s not a system that’s working. What we’ve suggested a week ago, Mayor O’Malley from Baltimore and myself, we met with some Justice officials and we said, “Look, we think first of all that we’ve got to recognize we don’t have a structure in place to deal with this sharing of information, for the merging of local as well as federal resources.” There’s 11,000 FBI agents. There’s 650,000 local law enforcement officers. We want a way to make it work. And frankly, I’m concerned. What I heard today, I think Governor Ridge, it was our first time engaging with him. I think it was a good first step, but very preliminary and very early. With respect to the Attorney General’s comments, I’m concerned twofold.
First of all, very little was said by the Attorney General germane to the topic at hand: the integration of information and service between local and federal law enforcement. But of greater concern to me is the Attorney General is using a model that he issued to U.S. attorneys throughout the United States called antiterrorism task forces. In talking to FBI Director Mueller yesterday, his model is the joint terrorism taskforce, which is a different animal, which preexisted September 11. My concern is, how are we going to coordinate with the federal from local if within the Department of Justice they’re not…
JIM LEHRER: Did you say this to them today, this isn’t going to work, this isn’t working?
MAYOR SCOTT KING: There was no opportunity to talk to the Attorney General today. He spoke and he left, presumably because of his schedule. We did share it with staff a week ago when we met in Washington with Justice. I did have the opportunity yesterday with FBI Director Mueller.
JIM LEHRER: The specific thing in each of your cities, Mayor McCrory, you had a situation today that’s still in progress, I understand, in Charlotte. What happened? What’s the deal?
MAYOR PATRICK McCRORY, Charlotte, North Carolina: Well, we’re all having circumstances where we’re having anthrax scares. We’ve had to evacuate buildings, and then you have to decide do you give medicine? We have our own local communication issues, every one of us when there is an anthrax scare or any type of scare..
JIM LEHRER: What kind of scare did you have today?
MAYOR PATRICK McCRORY: Possible postage from Washington, D.C., into one of our major buildings from the same mailing facility that is causing the problems here.
JIM LEHRER: What did you do about it?
MAYOR PATRICK McCRORY: Well, it’s being dealt with as we speak right now. I think that’s all being debated and going through the communication lines. In fact, I think we’ve got two major issues right now as mayors. One is we have to keep reassuring people and have a communication within our own cities with the Health Department people, with our fire, with our police, and we have to have concise communication, accurate communication with our public. And we have to almost have a protocol of communication to make sure we don’t have misinformation or overreaction or under reaction. We’re going through this learning process. At the federal level they’re going through that learning process, too, as the FBI alert from a week and a half ago put a standstill to a lot of… at a time when we’re encouraging our citizens to go back and be productive, get on the planes, because our other major challenge is we have got to get our economy moving during this war.
JIM LEHRER: When the alert came out, you said, oh, my goodness… You didn’t say it, but I mean….
MAYOR PATRICK McCRORY: I said just the opposite. I said, “Continue to be productive, be cautious,” and I talked to the FBI Director about this yesterday because we are…we want to be cautious, but we have got to continue to be productive because if our economy and our jobs are all being impacted, whether it be Atlanta or Charlotte, we’re all being impacted. We have to continue to be productive.
MAYOR SUSAN SAVAGE: There’s this natural, I guess, give-and-take between what the public needs to know and federal agencies feel they need to say. The alert was so very general, my police chief called me and I said, “What does this mean?” He said, “I don’t know what it means.” It is so general.
JIM LEHRER: What did you do?
MAYOR SUSAN SAVAGE: We really did nothing differently. We’re on a very high alert anyway. Early on, shortly after the September 11 attacks, we discovered some gaps and pretty serious gaps in the flow of information between the Tulsa police, local law enforcement and the FBI — we addressed that very directly with the area coordinator. And that has been resolved. It’s a very good information flow right now.
JIM LEHRER: Mayor Street, what do these alerts do to you in Philadelphia?
MAYOR JOHN STREET: Well, first of all, I think the alerts are important. I don’t want to discourage anyone from giving us whatever piece of information you have, no matter whether or not it is detailed or not. The first thing we did was we activated our emergency center and brought people from around the government into our facility and we put them on alert. We let everybody know that this is a special time, and we got as prepared as we could be for whatever it is that might happen. I think we need to develop a new standard of alert, and we need to be on alert all the time.
Part of my concern about the resources that we are expending is because I don’t think that they’ll go away. I think we’re going to be on a higher level of alert all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we’re going to have to be able to pay for those costs. And people expect it. It’s not unreasonable. What we have to figure out is a little bit more precisely what we should be doing, when, under what circumstances, and how it is that all of this gets paid for in a way that represents the best interests of our country and the best interests of local taxpayers who have a role but who shouldn’t be burdened with the entire cost of managing the response necessary.
JIM LEHRER: Mayor Corbin, for instance, we had story in the news summary a while ago about the food supply. Senator Frist said there may be a problem with the food supply. The U.S. Government is stockpiling smallpox vaccine now. There are all kinds of things in the air about possible terrorist-type acts. Is Richmond, California, ready for all of these?
MAYOR ROSEMARY CORBIN: We’re on a high level of alert as I think anyone is.
JIM LEHRER: I don’t mean the alert. I mean, do you have the facilities and the resources to take care of these things if something like this should happen?
MAYOR ROSEMARY CORBIN: We have been assured that they can get us through… The Centers for Disease Control can get us what we need within a short length of time. We work very closely with the Health Department. We feel that we can handle it with the partnership of the federal government. We are depending on the federal government to partner with us. And they have told us that they will do that. So the important thing here, I think, is the issue of communications. The information that we give out needs to be the same information that anybody else is giving out at any other level of government and that all of the levels of the federal government are saying the same thing, and we are, too. My worry about information and alerts and… is that we all get them in a timely manner so that we can deal with them in a timely manner.
JIM LEHRER: What’s the level of fear in Atlanta, Mayor?
MAYOR BILL CAMPBELL: Well, first of all, we are fortunate in that we have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that gives us….
JIM LEHRER: Right there in your city.
MAYOR BILL CAMPBELL: In Atlanta. And that gives us a sense of comfort with regard to bioterrorism. They’re the preeminent facility. They work very well with us on protocol for how we should respond, and that is a resource that’s invaluable. But we have something else, and that is our Olympic preparation. As we went into the 1996 Olympic games, we, in essence, prepared for terrorism. We were the victims of terrorism with the Olympic Park bombing. Subsequent to that, there were two other bombings at an abortion clinic and a gay nightclub. So, in a sense, what we have done is shown a resiliency that I think America is showing right now. There was a time of caution and anxiety, but we were able to move forward. As you may remember, the games went on in very spectacular fashion. That’s what I think both those in Atlanta as well as Americans are trying to do, but it’s difficult.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. What are the special concerns, Mayor King, in Gary?
MAYOR SCOTT KING: I think they’re twofold. First of all, it’s our immediate proximity to Chicago and trying to erase the sort of state barrier. Mayor Daley’s been a very good partner and very effective in attempting to do that because we’re very intertwined. The second is, we’re the host city for “Miss U.S.A.” and preparing and learning from Bill Campbell’s and others that do this to be as prepared as we can be for these special events. But at the end of the day, it’s what I think all of my colleagues have echoed is doing our best. We have a management problem here. We have a system that didn’t exist that has to exist to facilitate a constant and accurate two-way flow of information. And I think if federally and locally we can really sit down and roll up our sleeves and get that system in place, we’re going to be a lot further along to give any comfort level to the American people.
JIM LEHRER: Mayor McCrory, one of the things that’s also been talked about is cyberterrorism, attempts to damage the financial system. Your city, of course, has some of the biggest banks in America. Are you doing special things?
MAYOR PATRICK McCRORY: Well, we’re the second largest financial center in America right behind New York City, so that was of concern to us. We, as mayors in our emergency operations center, are prepared for anything.
JIM LEHRER: For that, too? You have special things…
MAYOR PATRICK McCRORY: Again, we have special training that we went through three years ago to deal with all types of terrorism. Our financial institutions have backup computers, which, by the way, helped the situation in New York. Some of that computer work actually was transferred down to Charlotte due to the World Trade accident for temporary means regarding record consumption and record keeping, so there is good backup work in that area.
But we, as mayors, I think, are going to have to be ready for anything since we are the second largest banking center. We have four nuclear power plants within ten miles of our city limits. We have a large airport like Atlanta. We’re going to have to be flexible, but at the same time we have to continue to be productive and reassure our citizens and continue to move on. That’s the positive message that Mayor Giuliani is sending in New York City, and we have got to send that message to our own citizens in Charlotte and Tulsa and Atlanta and elsewhere.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mayors six, thank you all very much.