Mayors from across the country met with President Obama at the White House’s Roosevelt Room Friday morning to discuss their role in job creation and building the nation’s infrastructure.
The group also discussed with the president the importance of education, the role of research and development, and the difficult budget choices that will need to be made to reduce the deficit, among other subjects, according to mayors who attended the meeting and spoke to Governing.
“He said, ‘we have to put this country back to work,’” Tucson, Ariz., Mayor Bob Walkup says.
In addition to President Obama, other officials who joined the mayors include White House Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs David Agnew, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.
About 14 mayors spoke directly to the president, including Walkup, Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joseph Riley; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Walkup said.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said that he briefly exchanged words with the president, as did Tallahassee, Fla., Mayor John Marks; Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and Burnsville, Minn. Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Walkup, an aerospace engineer by training, says he emphasized to the president the need for job training programs that can help companies in communities across America remain competitive. “I said, ‘there’s a great opportunity for us to help the movement of technology from the hands of people who have it to the hands of people who need it,’” Walkup recalls. He says he was encouraged by the president’s response to his ideas.
Slay says that the meeting lasted about 30 minutes, and President Obama spoke for about 10 minutes before engaging in discussion with the mayors.
Though the president didn’t make any promises regarding funding for the CDBG program -- which mayors fear could be hit with big cuts -- he assured mayors that he is their ally. “‘You’ve got a partner in the White House,’” Obama said, according to Slay.
Setti Warren, mayor of Newton, Mass., also says that the president didn’t get into the details of how much funding CDBG will get in his budget, which will be released next month. But, Warren says, President Obama “really made a point to underscore the importance of what we do as mayors.” The president also said he recognized that mayors are on the front lines of government, Gainesville, Fla., Mayor Craig Lowe says.
After the speech, President Obama walked around the room to shake hands with mayors, listen to their individual concerns and sign autographs, Lowe says.
Afterwards, Schenectady, N.Y., Mayor Brian Stratton joined the president aboard the Marine One helicopter, Kautz says, and the two departed for Schenectady. Obama spoke at a General Electric plan in Schenectady today about the importance of expanding exports to China.
Several mayors updated their Twitter accounts with photos and comments about the meeting throughout the morning.
Lowe says he thanked President Obama on Twitter for repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake posted a shot of the helicopter departure. Bridgeport, Conn., Mayor Bill Finch posted a photo of him and his colleagues posing in front of a portrait of George Washington. And Flagstaff, Ariz., Mayor Sara Presler apparently snapped a photo of the presidential pooch, Bo.