Many of the country's mayors--including our own Mayor Jennifer Hosterman-- are hopping mad over being snubbed at their recent convention in Providence, R.I. by Vice President Joe Biden and others in the Obama administration. This top-level delegation that had been given top billing on a meeting dealing with stimulus funds and other federal aid desperately needed by many cities thought that a group of firefighters waving signs across from the city's convention center were pickets, so they refused to cross the lines. As Hosterman learned, and what Biden's aides should have told him, this fringe group of protestors was part of a bargaining unit that was having a labor dispute with the convention's host, Providence Mayor David Cicilline. Because the union is in binding arbitration over its contract, it's barred from picketing or striking, and the sign wavers were simply among many others who use the U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual meeting to demonstrate for their causes.
Hosterman sits on a number of the U.S. Mayors conference committees that support Obama and Democratic Party platforms and positions. Thrilled by the election of a Democratic, big-city oriented president who's already created a new White House Office of Urban Affairs, she felt the administration's decision to boycott the mayors' conference came as a bracing rebuke. The timing couldn't have been worse with many mayors disappointed already by concerns that their cities are being short-changed on receiving stimulus funds for transportation and housing. Along with mayors and representatives from other Tri-Valley cities, including Livermore and Dublin, Hosterman has traveled to Washington, D.C. to seek funds for local projects. Mayors from the larger cities, including Democratic strongholds of Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami, told Hosterman and others at the convention that they are facing the most troubling economic times since the Great Depression. They had looked forward to meeting with the Obama team to develop programs and approaches that would enable all cities to provide and maintain services for their residents.
Hosterman said this was the first time in 77 years that a president's team has not joined the mayors at their conference and said the snub sets a dangerous precedent. The mayors' meeting is a magnet for any organization or agency that has a beef, including unions, and that by honoring a demand by the International Association of Firefighters not to participate in the meeting, the president and Biden have left themselves open to demands by other groups that will now add the mayors' conference to their list of where to be most effective in raising their protests. Because of the economic downturn, the city of Pleasanton has made painful decisions in order to balance its budget while continuing to provide services to many who have lost their jobs and are in danger of losing their homes. The Pleasanton school district is being forced to lay off valued employees. Neighboring cities are facing the same difficulties. This was not a convention the administration should have snubbed, Hosterman said, and there are many disappointed mayors and city councils around the country that had hoped to hear positive news from the mayors' meeting with the Obama group.
Hosterman said the mayors' outrage reached Washington almost immediately and Obama since has sent invitations to her and other mayors to travel to the capital for a special meeting with the administration. She said she won't ask taxpayers who paid for her Providence trip to foot the bill again for a "make up" dialogue. She hopes the president will personally meet with the mayors next year.
Even without Biden and his entourage, Hosterman found the mayors' meeting productive, especially in its workshops and programs on issues of prime concern to Pleasanton, including energy conservation, green building, climate control and cost-cutting measures. Hosterman, the City Council and City Manager Nelson Fialho spend increasing amounts of their time making sure the municipal budget stays balanced while maintaining basic quality of life measures. Already 950 mayors, including Hosterman, have signed onto the "Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement," which pledges that they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their cities by 2012.
After the conference closed, Hosterman and several other mayors took up an offer by Cicilline to tour Providence and provide a bit of help on a park being built at one of the city's new urban renewal projects. That "bit of help" had the mayors carting dirt, sand and more to various parts of the park while Hosterman, dressed in a new pantsuit and wearing heels, shoveled mulch into the wheelbarrows. Just wish I had been there with a camera!