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The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) held its 75th annual meeting last weekend in Los Angeles and according to some of the participants, it was very successful. Many African American mayors played prominent roles—the most prominent being the organization’s president, Douglas H. Palmer, mayor of Trenton, New Jersey. Kwame M. Kilpatrick, the two-term mayor of Detroit, Michigan, and the youngest mayor in his city’s history, also played prominent roles as chairman of the Nominating committee and a member of the International Affairs committee. Shirley Franklin, the first African American woman mayor of Atlanta, Georgia was not able to stay for the duration of the conference, however, she serves on the USCM Advisory Board and is a member of its Environment committee. And, Ron Dellums, the recently-elected mayor of Oakland, California is a member of both the Tourism, Arts, Sports and Entertainment, and the Energy committees.
The focus of the meeting was to introduce the full membership to the 10-point plan, and to formally adopt policy positions and resolutions on a range of issues affecting the nation’s cities. Though one of the pre-arranged topics—as spelled out in the conference’s written material—was climate protection, environment and global warming, the situation in Iraq took equal billing with the pre-arranged agenda.
Mayor Kilpatrick was interviewed on an array of issues and as one of the major participants he said, “As you bring together a collection of mayors, you get common perspectives on local communities—what they are doing about housing, safety, economic development, homelessness—it’s information sharing, it’s idea sharing, it’s camaraderie because it’s hard being a mayor. So the significance of this conference is people from all over the country coming together for a common goal and that goal is to help the people they serve.”
The discussion among the mayors became very heated when a resolution about the war in Iraq was presented for a vote, and Kilpatrick offered his viewed on the matter. “The resolution was about sending a message from America’s mayors (to Washington) saying that we would hope that our federal government would use every prudent measure possible to bring home our troops and we should also expeditiously improve our timeline for training the Iraqi people (troops) to establish stability in their country, he said. “So I voted for the resolution.” After the vote was taken one of the mayors got up, stated his opposition to the majority vote, and immediately resigned and walked out of the conference.
“The USCM allows mayors from small towns and large cities to get together and collaborate on initiatives that we have on arts, culture, homeland security and economic development,” said Mayor Franklin whose city is a prominent gateway to the South. “We are pleased to be in Los Angeles to discuss the national agenda so that it might include in the election year (2008) the issues of people of color as well as the people who live in cities and towns across America.”
In outlining her specific role at the conference, she followed with, “I am the president of the Democratic Mayors (organization) and the former chair of the women’s caucus of the USCM. So I come primarily as a mayor but I have served in several leadership roles. And while I’m here I expect to learn about things for Atlanta.”
Mayor Dellums was quick to elicit that he is the “new kid on the block” describing his recent ascension into the mayor’s job. However, as a seasoned elected official—having served almost three decades as a U.S. congressman—USCM was not a new phenomenon to him; it just had a different name. When he was asked about his vote on the Iraq resolution, he replied candidly with a smile saying, “You already know the answer to that.” Then he stepped outside the meeting room and continued, “Before the United States went to war with Iraq, I was asked to come to the Democratic caucus to give my perspective. What I said to them was, ‘to go to war in Iraq would be counter productive, unnecessary, dangerous and unpredictable,’ and I believe history has exonerated that analysis. We are spending approximately $2.5 billion a week in Iraq at a time when our cities desperately need help. It was not a difficult reach to support this resolution, which in essence says let’s end this (the war in Iraq).”
As the president of the USCM, Mayor Palmer was responsible for putting the entire conference together and he began doing that earlier in the year when he convened a special mayoral leadership meeting in Washington, D.C. to develop an action agenda which resulted in the 10-point plan.