Urban Politics #150: The National League Of Cities Conference

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • Creating A National Urban Network
  • The Central Cities Council (CCC)
  • Recent CCC Meetings In DC


Creating A National Urban Network

As a Councilmember I’ve often thought it would be useful if I could find out how other cities similar to Seattle are tackling the same kind of problems we are facing. With that goal in mind I attended my first National League of Cities Conference in December of 2001. I noticed that it was difficult to identify and meet with other NLC delegates from larger cities.

I believe that large central cities have a unique set of characteristics and problems. This grouping represents less than 100 cities in the NLC, which has close to 3,500 individual members, yet we represent about 20% of the nation’s total population and account for a third of its Gross Domestic Product.

Large cities have a unique set of characteristics and problems. Councilmembers from large cities face a wide range of common issues that includes providing affordable housing, employment opportunities, artistic and cultural activities, civil rights, urban economic development, mass transit options, ongoing infrastructure improvements, etc. The list could go on.

Currently the only national organization that links politicians from cities is the non-partisan National League of Cities. It is a great forum but the vast majority of the delegates attending their conferences are from cities under 50,000 in population.

As I talked to delegates from the other larger cities, the idea emerged that we needed an opportunity to come together to discuss what should be done. That meeting occurred at NLC’s Congressional City Conference in March of 2002 when about 30 delegates gathered and agreed that a permanent entity should be created.

The Central Cities Council (CCC)

This past summer the NLC Board approved the creation of a larger cities group, allocated funds and staffing to it and appointed me as its Chair. To avoid any possible image problems, I worked with the NLC staff to propose organizing the group around “central cities” since size was not the only element that defined the type of city that represented an urban core area.

The new group is called the Central Cities Council. NLC has defined Central Cities as having populations of more than 200,000 or are the largest in their state, or are the largest central city in their region. This is a significant step taken by NLC since this is the first time in its 75-year history that it has created a permanent entity for larger cities to meet.

The CCC offers a unique national forum for municipal level legislators. No other national group brings together elected officials from the legislative branches of our nation’s largest cities. For instance, the US Conference of Mayors does not allow Council Members to join, and the other national organizations focus on County or State governments, not on municipal governments

The first meeting of the Central Cities Council (CCC) was in December of 2002 and 13 cities were represented. The second meeting held this March at NLC’s Congressional Cities Conference had more than thirty cities sending representatives.

The CCC has set up an email list serve and bulletins have been sent to CCC members about local legislation and resolutions that may interest them. This is the first step in building a network connecting municipal elected officials from central cities to enable them to exchange information on legislative actions and larger regional or national concerns.

Recent CCC Meetings In DC

I have just returned from the NLC Conference in Washington DC and want to report on what occurred at the Central Cities Council.

National columnist Neal Peirce from the Washington Post addressed the CCC general meeting and discussed national legislation that affects larger cities. Comments from three CCC members, New York Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Oakland Vice Mayor Councilmember Nancy Nadel and Detroit Council Chair Maryann Mahaffey followed.

Peirce encouraged the formation of big city alliances with the large urban counties that surround them since urban challenges hardly stop at the city lines any more. He noted that the potential power of a Metro Caucus — both in state legislatures and Congress, with its combined jurisdictions, would represent a clear majority of the U.S. population.

His remarks were so relevant to Seattle that I have reprinted portions of it below.

Peirce said, “the states and cities face their severest budget crisis in living memory — a cumulative $68 to $80 billion at the state level, serious cuts being passed on to you, and all against the background of a weak national economy now imperiled by war.”

“Just a year or so ago, the federal government was in a comfortable budget surplus position. No more. In the meantime the Congressional Budget Office projects a FY 2003 deficit of $246 billion — before the $100 billion, or potentially much more, that an Iraq war may cost us. Add in the tax cuts the Bush administration recommends — tax-free stock dividends and letting people with spare cash toss up to $45,000, tax-free a year investment accounts– and you end up with $2.7 trillion in debt by 2013, according to the CBO.”

“Yet the same administration seeks to cut back on programs all of you, as city officials, would value. For the FY 2004 budget the president is asking Section 8 cutbacks, elimination of the Hope VI program, anemic support for homeland security, reductions in child-care and after-school programs, vocational education and job training, tightening of requirements for earned-income tax credit applicants — the list goes on and on.”

“And not to mention, of course, the fact that the administration’s proposal to revoke taxes on dividends would destroy the financial incentive that’s driven the low-income housing tax credit — the nation’s biggest current source of new or rehabilitated housing for poor Americans. Overall, the Bush administration is proposing budgets so drowned in red ink that the federal government will likely be unable to partner with states and localities in any meaningful way — for years, maybe several decades.”

The NLC President John DeStefano, the Mayor of New Haven, reflected these sentiments. The bottom line, says DeStefano: “I will deal with the drug dealers. But it’s difficult for me to deal with Osama bin Laden. That’s not a fair expectation of local government.”

The “federal government is walking away from its partnership with us,” charges DeStefano, by failing to compensate the billions of dollars that cities are spending — or should be spending — on homeland security.

New York Council Speaker Gifford Miller suggested a $70 billion federal revenue sharing program with America’s cities. Support for that and similar economic stimulus measures were supported by on the other panel speakers and also by those in attendance at the CCC meeting as well by the NLC leadership.

The impact of the administration’s war preparations also came up repeatedly in various NLC meetings. There was a roundtable discussion of some of the representatives of the 135 cities that have passed anti-war resolutions. At the NLC Conference, the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) passed a resolution introduced by the Cleveland delegation opposing a pre-emptive war in Iraq.

Peirce summed up the attitude that was very evident among many of the NLC delegates when he writes in his most recent column:

“Soon it will become apparent that foreign and domestic policy can’t be separated. Especially with a polarizer president who’s indifferent to a reasoned, bipartisan foreign policy. America’s home towns, deeply threatened, will need to join the debate on how Superpower America conducts itself.”

Keep in touch…

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