- The U.S. Conference of Mayors gathered in Washington, D.C, on Wednesday for their winter meeting.
- USCM President Steve Benjamin touted his group's bipartisanship -- even on the divisive issue of immigration.
- The group has three key priorities this year: infrastructure, innovation and inclusion.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) kicked off its winter meeting in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, offering a stark contrast to the divided elected officials on Capitol Hill, where a standoff over immigration between President Donald Trump and Congress has left the federal government partially shut down for more than a month.
The local leaders convened just two blocks from the White House and emphasized their ability to work across party lines -- even on the issue that's keeping the government closed.
“We led a bipartisan group -- a bipartisan group -- of mayors to the border to dramatize a shameful condition and extol the values of America," said Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin, the USCM president. "Historically, our country has flourished by accepting immigrants and providing them with a reasonable opportunity to thrive and earn a good living in this country. This conference will continue to advocate for doing the right thing in a humane way.”
Benjamin cited “the importance of, obviously, working closely with the [Trump] administration on the plight of immigrant families and trying to work hard to keep them together -- supporting people at the most desperate times of their lives.”
Despite advocating against the Trump administration's immigration policies, the mayors expressed a great deal of optimism about the federal tax law signed by Trump, specifically the provision to trade capital gains tax breaks for investment in low-income communities. These “opportunity zones” aim to direct profits from Wall Street to places that have been left behind economically. Mayors are hopeful that the zones will fuel economic growth in their cities.
The Three 'I's
The president of the mayors' group listed three key priorities for the organization this year: infrastructure, innovation and inclusion.
“As mayors and as leaders, we’ll continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to improve the quality of life in every corner of this country,” said Benjamin. “Within the past year, so much of our work has been focused on inclusion, on America speaking to the better angels of our nature.”
The mayors’ focus on inclusion includes welcoming and integrating immigrants into their communities. They say this issue isn’t about rhetoric and political posturing, but economic and social realities.
Republicans in D.C. might want to build a border wall, but Mayor Antonio Martinez of Brownsville, Texas, says his Mexican neighbors to the south are key to his city’s economy. Matamoras, the Mexican city neighboring Brownsville, ships products north across the border, and those products are flown to cities across the Midwest.
Martinez took aim at federal policymakers who have come to his border town.
“No matter how many times we get elected officials from Washington to visit, they hear, but they don’t listen,” he said. “They look, but they don’t see.”
'Somebody Had My Back'
The local leaders also used the meeting as an opportunity to tout the benefits of being part of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Mayor Karen Weaver of Flint, Mich., declared a state of emergency almost immediately after taking office to deal with her city’s lead-contaminated water crisis. But in that moment of dire need, Weaver recalled on Wednesday, her USCM colleagues “rolled into town like some gangsters” with support and resources.
“They just embraced me,” she said, brimming with gratitude. “I knew somebody had my back.”
Similarly, Mayor James Diossa of Central Falls, R.I., described the group as a godsend for small cities like his, which spans just over one square mile.
“We don’t have enough staffing,” he said. “I’ve been able to leverage the staff of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.”
David Holt, the Republican mayor of Oklahoma City, made it personal: “The only people who love you as much as your family are your fellow mayors.”
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story falsely identified Steve Benjamin as the mayor of Charleston instead of Columbia, S.C.