The origins of the US Conference of Mayors lie in the streets of Detroit during the Great Depression. Detroit, just like the rest of the country, was suffering from high unemployment rates and starving citizens that the City couldn’t handle on its own. The Mayor of Detroit, Frank Murphy, asked for help from the federal government and President Hoover, but to no avail. He took a proactive approach and instead decided to search for solutions from those who understood what he was going through best: other mayors.
Mayors from across the country gathered in Detroit and presented their proposal to the federal government. They demanded financial assistance for cities trying to manage the aftermath of the financial catastrophe that was plaguing the country. The proposal was unheard of at the time, but it forced the government to respond and provide the desperately needed assistance that the cities required. In addition, this same gathering of mayors also proposed the establishment of an organization for mayors to be created to make sure cities had their voices heard in Washington D.C. That organization would later become the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
What’s Happening Today?
Fast forward to the present and the Conference has become the preeminent organization for mayors in the country, with the Annual Meeting marking the largest gathering of mayors within the United States. This year, the 87th Annual Meeting was hosted by Mayor Kirk Caldwell in sunny Honolulu, Hawaii, and was presided over under the successful leadership of outgoing president, Columbia, SC, Mayor Steve Benjamin. As was true in the first meeting held in the early 1930s, this year’s meeting continued the tradition of being proactive with difficult issues by tackling them head-on, especially when it comes to improving the lives and the wellbeing of people in cities and towns across the country.
Our team recently returned from Hawaii and took note of five main themes at the top of mayors’ agendas. Mayors across the country are grappling with these tough issues:
- Homelessness – How can local government, philanthropy, and the private sector help to reduce homelessness by working together to find affordable housing solutions?
- The Environment – What can cities do to be greener and reduce the effects of climate change?
- LGBTQ Alliance – While Mayors have been active in the LGBTQ civil rights movement throughout its history, how can cities further advance equality, representation, and leadership within their cities 50 years after the Stonewall Riots?
- Immigration – What are cities doing along the Southern border in response to migration patterns from Latin American countries, and what are the challenges imposed by the Justice Department? How should cities move forward after the 2020 Census citizenship decision?
- Civic Engagement – How can cities improve and strengthen engagement between the local police force and the community at large? How can cities empower youth through civic involvement?
All these difficult questions cannot be answered by a single city on its own. To do so requires the talent and skills of local government leaders from both sides of the political aisle and that’s what makes the U.S. Conference of Mayors a productive forum to bring about the needed change for people in their cities.
Incoming president, Mayor Bryan K. Barnett from Rochester Hills, MI, will be leading the Conference for the upcoming year. Most of these issues will not be going away anytime soon, but that’s where the advantage of rotating leadership comes into play to provide fresh eyes and new ideas. We look forward to seeing what his leadership will bring and how he will handle future issues that will undoubtedly pop up during his tenure, along with what solutions and ideas mayors across the U.S. can provide for Americans because, at the end of the day, mayors and city governments are at the front-lines in battling national problems.