What U.S. Mayors Care About Most

A review of the year's State of the City speeches details their top priorities.
by | July 14, 2016

Mayors across the country delivered State of the City addresses this year outlining their most pressing challenges and top priorities.

To gauge the direction that cities are headed in, the National League of Cities (NLC) compiled transcripts of speeches from 100 jurisdictions of varying sizes. A report released Thursday details some of the major areas that mayors are focusing on and highlights a few of the more recent trends.

Speeches were considered to devote “significant coverage” to a topic if they included at least three paragraphs on a subject. The following list summarizes a few of the more prominent themes from the mayors' addresses.

Job Creation

Economic concerns served as the top agenda item in mayor’s speeches, as has been the case in prior years. Three-quarters of all speeches featured significant mention of economic development.

Some mayors highlighted efforts to boost manufacturing. Others discussed the “maker movement” among small businesses. Thirty-five percent mentioned economic development opportunities around arts and culture. Mayors John Tecklenburg of Charleston, S.C., and Andrew Ginther of Columbus, Ohio, spoke about attempts to assist entrepreneurs in growing or starting businesses.

Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James said his city has focused on improving digital literacy to better prepare the workforce for an economy that places a greater premium on tech and computer skills.

“In order for those folks who have been displaced to compete, they have to relearn skills,” said James on a conference call. “We have to recognize that we have pockets of the city that are digitally left out.”

Public Safety

NLC’s review of speeches found 70 percent included significant coverage of public safety issues.

Community policing served as one of the most common themes. Buffalo, N.Y., Mayor Byron Brown highlighted monthly meetings held at each of the city’s district stations to provide for an ongoing dialogue between law enforcement and the community.

A quarter of mayors also mentioned body cameras as more police departments seek to adopt the technology. Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser was among the mayors pledging to outfit all patrol officers with cameras by the end of the year.

Energy and the Environment

One trend around energy and environmental issues is that they’re receiving more attention from mayors of smaller cities.

Duluth, Minn., Mayor Emily Larson announced plans to restart an environmental advisory council and emphasized a need to fix water leaks and inefficient energy systems.

“My priority will be to look for every way to cut energy waste and shift to cleaner, more efficient energy alternatives,” she said. “Duluth loses millions of dollars each year because of these inefficiencies.”

Some mayors took an opportunity to highlight their role in combating climate change. Mayors of at least 129 U.S. cities have signed on to participate in the Compact of Mayors, a global effort around climate issues. Across all cities, just over a quarter of mayors devoted significant time to energy or environmental topics in their speeches.

Housing

Housing issues were featured more prominently in mayors’ speeches compared to prior years. Forty percent of speeches included significant coverage of housing, focusing on areas such as affordable housing, blight and homelessness.

“We need to build more housing. Period,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

More than a third of mayors cited efforts around affordable housing, often talking about reducing costs for seniors and veterans. Following the lead of other cities, places like Eugene, Ore., are attempting to effectively end homelessness among veterans. Leaders of a few smaller cities discussed alternatives to put an end to tent cities where the homeless are living.

Utilizing Data and Technology

One-fifth of mayor’s speeches devoted significant coverage to data or technology.

Columbia, S.C.; Escondido, Calif.; and Nashville, Tenn.; all committed to becoming Smart Cities, which encompasses various initiatives leveraging data or technology to enhance quality of life.

Several mayors also highlighted efforts to better integrate data into policing. Jersey City, N.J., Mayor Steven Fulop cited the city’s open data portal as a way to provide residents with timely information on crime and police activities.

Five speeches mentioned open-data initiatives, while another three mentioned drones.