How to Push Local Issues to the Top of the Presidential Agenda
The National League of Cities has created a task force to make presidential candidates aware of local concerns — and to forge relationships with officials who'll move from the campaign into the next administration.
Some things about the 2024 presidential race are already predictable. The candidates will talk about the economy, international affairs and their plans for the next four years. What typically gets less attention, however, are the issues that matter to cities.
To fill that gap, the National League of Cities has created a 2024 presidential election task force, an effort to bring local issues to the forefront of the presidential campaign. The task force is co-chaired by David Sander, the mayor-elect of Rancho Cordova, Calif., and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome of Baton Rouge, La. The two also serve, respectively, as NLC’s president and first vice president.
Governing spoke with them about what they hope to achieve. The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
Governing: Why and how did the National League of Cities develop this task force?
David Sander: This is something we have done every presidential election cycle. This is my third time on it. It allows us to talk about things that are important to cities and allows us to try to establish relationships with the candidates — relationships that don't only last for the campaign, but that last into the administration, regardless of who is elected. And we hope that the next president will appoint some people with city backgrounds to deal with those issues that are most important to us.
Governing: What are the challenges that local government have usually faced when it comes to getting that seat at the federal table?
Sharon Weston Broome: We're fortunate to have federal advocacy groups as part of the fabric of NLC. But with this task force, our priority, as you said, is to ensure that local government has a seat at the federal decision-making table. Cities, towns and villages across America will play a critical role in the 2024 presidential election. I believe that that, in and of itself, gets us a seat at the table.
Sander: More than 200 million Americans live in cities. And those are Democrats, those are Republicans, those are independents. We represent the largest slice of the population if we start dividing by some sort of regional criteria.
For the federal government, dealing with the states — because there are just 50 of them — is easy, but it doesn't get the job done. What we've proven is that the direct-to-us relationships are really valuable. You saw that with pandemic funding, the way that local governments can act quickly. Also, a lot of local intelligence makes a huge difference in how the federal government is able to achieve its aims in partnering with us.
Governing: Looking back at 2020, what did NLC learn from the work of its task force?
Sander: Every time we do this, it's a little different because the election dynamics are different. [What matters are] who we can talk to in a campaign, and where those people end up when the administration is formed. Those relationships end up being really critical. Sometimes presidential campaigns will actually pick up our issues and say, “Yeah, we're for that.” That's a bonus from our perspective. The really important thing is how we interact with that new administration. We want to be sure we have a good relationship with them, that they understand our issues, that we understand their priorities and that we have people who have met each other and can communicate with each other.
Broome: NLC believes that no matter who holds the highest office in the nation, that person should be committed to regular communication with local officials, placing leaders with local experience throughout their administration.
They should be working with us to ensure that the federal government works well for cities, towns and villages. We believe that most folks on the federal level know that cities are already hard at work tackling challenging issues, but we want to partner with the new administration to develop their platforms and to work together on the same issues we're all facing.
Governing: How will this task force collect and convey the needs and values of local government to the presidential candidates?
Broome: As you look at the task force members, you see that we have a really broad representation from across American cities. And because we are so diverse on this task force, undoubtedly we're going to receive information that is representative of the areas that many of our members come from. But we are very data driven. We've already talked about surveying our membership to get additional information and about specific agenda items.
Governing: How are you going to get not just the presidential candidates but journalists, the media and the public interested?
Broome: Communication, at every point, is going to be essential as we move forward with this task force and our goals. We do have infrastructure already in place, with our task force members. But in addition to that, this is not our first rodeo. We have been very strong when it comes to our advocacy groups. So, we do have conduits, we have people that we communicate with on a regular basis, from not only the election task force to our board members, but to our general membership.
At the end of the day, I believe they will certainly be part of our communication network, especially our task force members, in reaching out to local journalists. I feel very confident that we do have the infrastructure in place where we can accelerate and elevate communication about what we are doing with the task force.