We applaud Mayor Michael A. Nutter for delivering a powerful message about ending homelessness in his final speech as President of the United States Council of Mayors. Full text of his speech is below.
Mayor Michael A. Nutter
USCM Departing Presidential Speech
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Thank you Tom for that wonderful video. And thank you to every mayor who has worked with me over the course of this past year. Working together to get things done When I took over as USCM President in Orlando from our great Past President Antonio Villaraigosa, who is now finishing his term in Los Angeles, I knew that the road ahead for our organization would be bumpy at times. We were 5 months away from a major national election that was strongly dividing the country. And while this organization—and mayors in general—work very hard to be non-partisan, national elections and political conventions tend to bring focus to the issues that divide, taking focus away from the unifying priorities we all share. But the national election was also an opportunity for this Conference of Mayors. Perhaps more than ever before, mayors were highlighted as leaders and innovators. Whether it was Mayors Cornett and Smith speaking to the conventions or media in Tampa, or Mayors Villaraigosa, Castro, myself and others speaking in Charlotte - it was very clear that the political parties and the national media were extremely interested in the leadership mayors provide across the country. At this time when Washington finds compromise so difficult to achieve, the work that we as mayors do on a daily basis--–with our partners and constituents—seems almost incomprehensible to those who only focus on national issues and discourse. It’s also notable that when mayors meet with national politicians from different parties and ideological backgrounds, they are able to find common ground quickly and without Washington’s typical high drama. Democratic mayors meeting with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Republican Mayors meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi receive a very similar reaction. At the end of these meetings, it almost seems like the Members of Congress don’t want the discussions to end, even as their staff rush them off to meetings with others whom I suspect are a little less thoughtful and a lot less practical than our mayoral delegations. As mayors, we won’t agree on all issues within either party’s platform. The Democrats might have some concerns regarding our thoughts on unfunded mandates or protecting municipal bonds, and the Republicans might not see eye-to-eye with us on the best ways to reduce gun violence. But we always speak with respect and passion for the people and ideas we represent. And we almost always find solutions that unify rather than divide.
Marketplace Fairness Sales Tax Bill
Think about what we have done this year. After almost a 20-year fight, we are on the verge of passing the Marketplace Fairness sales tax bill with a level of bi-partisan leadership and support almost NEVER seen in Washington. Due to the bi-partisan coalition we built along with the business community, this vital legislation received a vote of 69-27. That does not happen every day in the U.S. Senate. And we have good friends - from both parties - fighting to get this bill approved in the House.
We are also making progress on our campaign to protect tax-exempt municipal bonds, which are critical for jobs and infrastructure. This is an issue that is important to all cities, and we will continue to lobby for it despite resistance. Let me be clear: I am very proud of our organization’s strong working partnership with President Obama and his Administration. On issues ranging from transportation investment to immigration reform to gun safety, the priorities of mayors and the Obama Administration have been very consistent and the access for dialogue has been exceptional. But we have also been very clear, both in private meetings and public discussions, that on the issue of capping municipal bonds we simply disagree with the Administration’s position. But this shows yet another strength of our organization. We don’t call people names. We don’t pick up our ball and go home. When faced with a challenge or disagreement, we respectfully state our case, and then we get to work. And work we have. I want to thank Tom Cochran for working so closely with Clarence Anthony and the National League of Cities, and Matthew Chase and the National Association of Counties to build a coalition of more than 60 organizations fighting to protect our bonds. Because of our shared efforts and this organizations’ leadership, Senator Begich organized 14 Democratic Senators to put their names on a letter saying they opposed capping municipal bonds, and Majority Leader Cantor made the same statement after meeting with our leadership in February. But the campaign to save our bonds is far from over, so we will stay diligent and we will stay strong.
We are also seeing vigorous, bipartisan action on comprehensive immigration reform, something that this organization has long championed. Mayors from cities of all sizes know the energy that new immigrants bring to our communities. Yes, there are challenges that must be addressed as we bring those not-here-legally out of the shadows. But the benefits that will come from fully integrating immigrants into the American dream will far outweigh the challenges - and Washington must not delay in passing immigration reform.
Mayors have been leading the charge on investing in our infrastructure. Every day, we travel roads, cross bridges and face water main breaks. Fixing and upgrading infrastructure used to be a bipartisan issue, but now it’s becoming more difficult to secure funding from the federal and state governments. Last weekend, many of you joined me and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, whose leadership is to be commended, at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in Chicago. With President Clinton, we discussed what we can do to build political capital and create successful public-private partnerships that will allow us to upgrade and invest in our infrastructure. We need to continue pushing this issue because it’s critical to creating jobs and increasing long-term economic growth. And I know that our very own, Mayor Anthony Foxx, will do that as the next Secretary of Transportation.
Now, having pointed out some of the highlights of the past year, I have to be very honest about some disappointments.
This year, Congress did not act and as a result, devastating sequestration cuts took place. I know I don’t need to reiterate how much these cuts affect our constituents and the services we can provide them. As mayors, we could never get away with this kind of reckless action. Last year, many of us signed an open letter to Congress, calling for balanced and responsible cuts. But it seems our words of measured, fiscal prudence were not heard. I urge members of Congress to figure out a way to work together across the aisle and do their job so that Americans are not so gravely affected by inaction.
Washington must also address the pressing issue of climate change. This organization came together, with more than 1,000 mayors, to work for local action on climate protection. In cities of all sizes, and in all regions of the nation, innovations are going on that are reducing carbon emissions and our reliance on foreign oil. But the work we are doing as mayors does not let Washington off the hook when it comes to the national policies that are needed to help encourage energy efficiency and climate protection. Our children, and their children, will judge us based on how we address this issue. And it is my hope that Congress and the Administration will return to this priority and find common sense solutions, just as mayors do every day.
Another tragedy that confronts all of us as Mayors, but one that has new hope of being solved is homelessness. Recently, Philadelphia and other cities have had the opportunity to implement a federal intervention program called Rapid Re-Housing. It’s based on the idea that the best way to keep families from experiencing repeated bouts of homelessness is to provide permanent housing as quickly as possible through short-term rental assistance. In other words, don’t keep them in homeless shelters any longer than absolutely necessary. Thanks to the Recovery Act, communities across the country received $1.5 billion in funding, and the impact was extraordinary. This large-scale, targeted invested prevented an increase in homelessness during the Great Recession, and from 2010-12, homelessness among veterans dropped more than 17%. There is no reason that any person who has served our country should sleep on the street or in a shelter. Ever. Earlier this month, HUD Secretary Donovan joined me in Philadelphia, and we met a former Marine who had lived on the streets for 20 years struggling with heroin addiction. He now lives an apartment and is getting the services he needs thanks to the Rapid Re-Housing program. I’ve said that I want Philadelphia to be the first large US city to end homelessness, but I welcome competition from all of you. Homelessness is a challenge, but it’s a challenge that can be solved.
And I cannot talk about the challenges we face as cities without talking about gun violence. As a life-long resident of Philadelphia, nothing has caused me more emotional pain than the violence on the streets and in the neighborhoods of the city I love so much. I often wonder if Congressmen or Senators can understand what it is like for a Mayor to comfort a mother who has lost her child to senseless violence, or stand with the widow of a slain police officer as they lower a casket into the ground. I really thought that after our nation witnessed the tragedy of 20 children and 6 educators gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Congress would finally do something. Following the shooting, more than 200 mayors from cities across the country signed a letter calling on the President and Congress to take immediate action and make reasonable changes to our gun laws and regulations. We worked closely with Senator Dianne Feinstein on her legislation to ban assault weapons and large-capacity magazines – I testified before Congress and proposed the creation of a National Commission on Domestic Terrorism, Violence and Crime in America. The President’s gun violence prevention task force – led by the Vice President – proposed a comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence which we and many others across the nation supported. USCM and the NLC, along with organizations like the Knight Foundation and Casey Family Programs, joined forces to create Cities United, an initiative designed to address urban violence and reduce deaths among black men and boys. And I announced the formation of the Sandy Hook Principles – a corporate code of conduct and investment strategy designed to encourage responsible behavior among businesses involved with the gun manufacturing industry. The City of Philadelphia Pension Board voted to adopt the Principles, and I am encouraging other cities, universities, banks, hospitals and any organization with investments to do the same. I am pleased that the Conference adopted as policy the Principles, as well as the Commission I proposed before Congress because we need to start seeing gun violence and crime on our streets as what it is: domestic terrorism. As a nation, we stood with our friend Mayor Menino and the people of Boston in the days and weeks following the attacks at the Boston Marathon. We have been, and must ever remain, united and vigilant in our fight against terrorism of all kinds. In the wake of 9-11, we spent billions of dollars and created an entirely new cabinet position to root out and destroy terrorists from overseas. I am proposing that we deal with people that want to destroy our sense of security and safety, and who happen to be right here in America, exactly the same way. Cities need support to do this effectively. I’d like to specifically thank Mayor Bloomberg for his leadership around reducing gun violence. It is my hope that we can unite in order to address the violence that impacts so many communities across the nation on a daily basis. But I know how hard this issue is. Many people just don’t agree when it comes to gun policy. Many within our own Conference of Mayors have different views on this issue—views I fully respect. But when the U.S. Senate cannot even pass a bill to strengthen background checks designed to keep criminals and the mentally ill from getting guns—despite national polls showing support in the range of 90 percent—something is very wrong. I don’t know where this issue is heading. But I do know this. There is so much that can be done to reduce violence in our nation. Some of it has to do with guns. Some of it relates to helping those with mental illness. And yes, a lot of it relates to family, education, jobs, opportunity and a collective sense of hope that the future can be better. There is no one answer. And the discussions will be difficult on many levels. But doing nothing is simply unacceptable.
Being President of The U.S. Conference of Mayors has been a wonderful honor for me and the City of Philadelphia. When I became President, I made a commitment to have mayors become more involved in USCM. It’s important that we engage more with each other—sharing advice, best practices, hopes and fears. USCM is an organization that fosters a unique community of mayors from cities and towns across America. Its strength should never be doubted. In the next year, I would like to see mayors collectively improve relations with Congress. These relationships are critical to conveying our needs as municipal leaders. We can all contribute here. We all know members of Congress. And I do want to acknowledge the Congressmen and women who have opened their doors to USCM. Thank you. We must continue to work with our partners at the federal level to move this country forward. With great leaders like our Vice President Scott Smith, Second Vice President Kevin Johnson, CEO Tom Cochran, and each and every one of you, we can and we DO make a difference. Our power is our collective voice. When we use it, we can bring about great and needed change. Thank you very much for this opportunity to serve.