US Mayors Make Case for Action on Urban Needs Mayor Dinkins Cites His Glittering Host City as Example of Widespread Municipal Plight

Article excerpt

NEW York Mayor David Dinkins, whose city is hosting this week's Democratic convention, is intent on pointing out the Big Apple's worms to visiting delegates. He calls on the Democratic Party to register the homelessness, the high crime, AIDS, the working poor - all of which eat away at the vitality of this city and cities across the nation.

Mayor Dinkins is joined by many of the country's visiting state and local leaders in his frustration with what they see as the lack of an urban agenda by past Republican administrations. They say the federal government has failed to meet its financial responsibility for schools, infrastructure, and law enforcement, and imposes impossible new mandates on over-burdened local governments. Staggering debt

Appropriately placed in a city hit hard by the lack of funds, a digital clock looms large over New York's bustling 42nd Street, computing the national debt. Rising by $13,000 per second, the United States debt will reach a staggering $4 trillion in less than two weeks.

Lee Jones, press secretary to Mayor Dinkins, echoes an often-heard Democratic comment about general economic problems in the US, and urban decay in particular. He says that, because of 12 years of Republican neglect, the poor got poorer, the rich got richer, and the federal government retreated from aiding the nation's cities.

"The proportion of our budget financed by federal dollars fell from 20 percent during the last Carter administration budget to the current 11 percent under Bush," Mr. Jones says.

High federal and state debts leave "counties as the governments of last resort," says Memphis, Tenn., Mayor William Morris. And because social services are not available to the growing number of working poor and unemployed in suburban and rural areas, cities are the receptacle for America's troubled. Mr. Morris says that instead of leading robust centers of economic growth, he and his colleagues face urban blight, an ever-increasing problem over which they have less and less control.

Charleston, S.C., Mayor Joseph Riley says that, due to spiraling budget deficits, federal investment in US cities has decreased by 70 percent during the Reagan and Bush administrations. "We don't want to be a nation where we need unrest and riots to spur us to action," he says, referring to riots in Los Angeles this past May, and White House and Congressional attention to urban aid. Traditional liberal Democrats have already registered their discontent with Gov. Bill Clinton's promise of middle-class tax cuts and his decision that the middle class is the most important group of voters to woo in time for November's presidential election. Middle-class voters are largely suburban, and, given the limited budgetary resources, a focus on them could likely deflect from pressing urban concerns. …