Mayors come to Washington to take on Washington

Democratic mayors came to Washington this week to rail against Washington -- and to insist they could run the city be...

Posted: Jan 26, 2018 9:16 AM
Updated: Jan 26, 2018 9:16 AM

Democratic mayors came to Washington this week to rail against Washington -- and to insist they could run the city better.

Hundreds of mayors of both parties gathered at the Capital Hilton for the annual US Conference of Mayors winter meeting. Among the Democrats, there were 2020 presidential prospects in Los Angeles' Eric Garcetti and New Orleans' Mitch Landrieu; those set on carving out national identities, like New York's Bill de Blasio, Chicago's Rahm Emanuel and South Bend, Indiana's Pete Buttigieg; and more who are running for Congress this year.

As executives with broad authority and no place to shift blame for inaction, the Democratic mayors said, they represent a clean break from the slow-moving, crisis-to-crisis lurch of the federal government.

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"Anybody that's watched us has to be startled by the difference between watching us work and watching Congress work," Landrieu, the chairman of the mayors' conference, said in an interview. "There's no way for city government to shut down. There's no way for us not to balance our budget. And so hopefully we're mirroring leadership to Congress."

He said mayors wanted to "model engaging constructively" for Congress "as they get through their difficult times."

"Congress doesn't seem to understand the need to move with speed, or the need to move at all," Landrieu said.

The Democratic mayors began their trip with an unexpected brawl with President Donald Trump after a Justice Department move to crack down on sanctuary cities. Landrieu and de Blasio responded by canceling their visit to the White House scheduled only hours later. Garcetti, Emanuel, Buttigieg and others weren't invited -- but said they wouldn't go even if they had been.

"Hell no," said Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland, Oregon.

For 2020 prospects like Garcetti and Landrieu, the week was a chance to build relationships with potentially important endorsers, court potential donors and talk about national issues.

In a speech Thursday, Garcetti blasted Trump for pulling out of the Paris climate accord and for his handling of young undocumented immigrants while saying, "We're not going backwards."

National political figures are rarely plucked from the ranks of America's mayors. Like former Mayor Tim Kaine of Richmond, Virginia, who's now a US senator after serving as Virginia's governor, they typically need higher-profile, statewide roles first.

But the Democratic Party's search for new leaders -- combined with Trump's moves on issues like sanctuary cities and Confederate monuments -- has elevated the profiles of mayors who already weren't shy about their ambitions.

Mayors like Garcetti and Buttigieg have popped up in early presidential primary states. De Blasio visited Iowa last month. Landrieu is a darling of some Southern Democratic strategists.

Others, including Phoenix's Greg Stanton and Jim Gray of Lexington, Kentucky, are among the party's top recruits for House races in 2018.

Buttigieg used the week to launch a new automation task force through the mayors' conference -- which he'll chair. Garcetti got a prime speaking slot and used it to discuss gender equity and the #MeToo movement.

"Men, own this as your issue," he said. "Let's not talk about doing it because we have daughters and sisters and mothers. Do it because we know our cities will be more prosperous when we, as leaders, step up."

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