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In many ways, the nation’s mayors may feel the hardest hit by the current state of the economy. As President Barack Obama told 85 of them who gathered at the White House Friday, they are often forced to make some of the most difficult choices during an economic crisis, such as whether to raise taxes, close schools, or cut back on essential services. For them, the $787 billion economic stimulus package is an opportunity to not only save vital programs and services, but to also attract new business and jumpstart projects that have fallen by the wayside due to lack of funding.
But even as the made clear to the mayors that they do indeed have a friend in Washington, he also warned them to spend the money wisely and that he will not hesitate to “call them out” if they do otherwise or to use the full power of his office to stop any waste.
To help mayors manage the funds as well as the growth of their cities beyond the stimulus package, Obama has established by executive order a White House Office of Urban Affairs that will focus on federal investment in urban areas and serve as a liaison between the administration, federal agencies, and the nation’s mayors. Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion Jr., an urban planner by training, who is also president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, will head it. Obama has tapped Derek Douglas, director of New York Gov. David Patterson’s Washington office, to serve as special assistant to the president for urban affairs.
The move signals the key role that Obama believes mayors and cities — home to 80% of Americans — will play in restarting the economy, building sustainable growth, and the ultimate success of the stimulus package. Carrion has also been tasked with creating an advisory council made up of mayors and other urban leaders to develop and share best practices and policies that impact urban life.
“Vibrant cities spawn innovation, economic growth, and cultural enrichment; the Urban Affairs office will focus on wise investments and development in our urban areas that will create employment and housing opportunities and make our country more competitive, prosperous, and strong,” Obama said in a statement about the executive order.
Douglas Palmer, mayor of Trenton, New Jersey, believes the federal government has neglected cities during the past several years, focusing more on issues of homeland security than hometown economic security.
“I think [the executive order] is a true sign and commitment by Obama that he wants his administration and himself to partner with America’s mayors who are responsible for about 80% of the gross domestic product in our country,” Palmer says. “It also shows a realization that in order to get this stimulus package moving, and getting people back to work and helping cities be sustainable, they need an individual who has direct access to him who will work with all of the