Momentum Builds for New Anti-Crime Vote: City Leaders Launch Full-Court Press; Charge Delay Is Costing Young Lives

Article excerpt

"I urge you to fix the politics and pass the bill."

That appeal for action on the crime bill came from Mayor Michael White of Cleveland last week during a meeting with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill. It was repeated and returned to again and again as a contingent of municipal leaders, county officials and police chiefs met in groups and individually with House members of both parties.

Nearly three dozen elected local officials and law enforcement administrators spoke with candor, with passion and a subdued but growing sense of frustration and anger over the impasse that has become a threat to the whole anti-crime package.

Mayor Richard Riordan of Los Angeles, a Republican businessman who ran on a strong anti-crime campaign, got to the bottom line. "If this bill doesn't pass, you will be destroying people's hopes of having safer cities."

The message came from mayors like Rudolph Giuliani of New York, a Republican who built his record as a tough criminal prosecutor. "This is a matter of substance." he said. "It is about programs we need to keep our cities going - to make our cities safer."

It came from mayors like Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, Mo., a minister who has personally played in midnight basketball games for the past three years. "I set the rules: if we have a single fight, I'll stop it, " he said. "There have been no fights, no guns or weapons, no cars stolen - no problems in three years."

It came from police chiefs like Ruben Ortega of Salt Lake City, who embraced the crime prevention components of the crime bill. "This is the first time that a piece of legislation includes a two-pronged attack on crime," he said. "When you're struggling with youth gangs on one day, and suddenly they're knocking down doors to get into your midnight basketball program, you know that prevention works."

It came from Rita Mullins, the Republican mayor of Palatine, Ill., a strongly Republican city of 39,000 about an hour's drive from Chicago. "We can't build a moat around Palatine, but you can help us do something to halt the spread of crime," she said. "Congress does a wonderful job of collecting money. This is where we'd like to get some of it back."

It came from Doug Bovin, a commissioner of Delta County, in Michigan's mostly rural upper peninsula. "For rural areas like mine, prevention is perhaps even more important," he said. "We don't have the capacity and the resources to respond to constant threats and emergencies. We're better off if we can prevent crimes from happening."

The message, plain and powerful, was a front-line call from hometown America for passage of the crime bill that stalled by opponents using procedural tactics to block a vote.

While the contingent of mayors, police chiefs and county officials conducted their high-profile campaign on Capitol Hill, countless other municipal officials were also weighing in through a network of NLC and state municipal league efforts to enlist grassroots support for passage of the crime bill. House members who had voted for the original bill and then voted block consideration of the conference report were the primary targets of the attempt to revive the crime bill, but contracts were pushed to swing any potential votes.

Among the leaders who came to Washington, the strongest words and most personal pleas were focused on the opponents who have branded the crime prevention efforts of the Local Partnership Act as extravagent pork-barrel spending on social programs that are coddling criminals.

"This bill is not pork, " said Mayor Patricia Ticer of Alexandria, Va. "It represents the future of our cities, the future of our counties, and ultimately the future of our country. …