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With a crowd of mayors attending the Institute of Politics’ new mayors conference in the audience, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke in the Kennedy School Forum about the partisan bickering in Washington, the lack of federal leadership during and after Hurricane Katrina, and the critical role that mayors must play in cities and towns across the country.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
“The tragedy of New Orleans is the watermark we should all observe in any discussion of the challenges and opportunities we face as mayors,” he said. “Behind the graphic images of people stranded on rooftops and abandoned to the filth and violence of the New Orleans convention center, we saw conditions that prevail in almost all of our cities, especially the big cities. We were reminded that here in America, we still live in a society where opportunity remains a grim function of race and class for too many of our people and the dramatic gulf between the rich and poor is widening by the economic quarter.”
Still, he said, little has changed after Hurricane Katrina. “Despite these reminders, despite the hasty promises delivered in the emotional eye of the storm, despite the doubts those scenes raised for all of us about whether we’re still moving toward a more perfect union, just three short months have passed and we see our collective resolve receding with the flood waters,” he said. “We see a federal policy concerned more with providing mobile homes than insuring upward mobility for more of our people. We even see the Congress, in the name of tax breaks for preserving the investor class, voting on a $50 billion package of cuts in child care, food stamps, and medical coverage for the elderly.”
What’s become clear, he said, is that cities need to step up. “These are not challenge of the left or the right. They are America’s challenges. As mayors, we need to meet those challenges creatively, flexibly, and without partisan rancor.”