Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mayors Become Urban CEOs in Era of Less Federal Money

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mayors Become Urban CEOs in Era of Less Federal Money

Article excerpt

When the nation's mayors gather in San Francisco this weekend for their annual conference, they'll line up for grip-and-grin photos with President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

But behind the smiles lies a growing frustration with Washington, which has cut aid to cities dramatically over the past 20 years and has what mayors call a lack of coherent urban strategy.

The cities' leaders know why: Most voters live in the suburbs, and national and state politicians play to that constituency. In addition, devolution of government has pushed more responsibility to the bottom of the governmental food chain - local rulers. Yet efforts to balance the federal budget have sliced deeply into discretionary spending, where aid to cities comes from. Mayors have been forced to be creative, behaving more like Fortune 500 CEOs than urban bosses of old, who ruled political machines and handed out patronage. "The cities are the real laboratories of reform today," says Steven Erie, a professor of urban policy at the University of California at San Diego. So far, urban innovations, combined with a healthy national economy, have brought a spate of good-news stories. Homicide is way down in New York and some other big cities. In some cases, privatization of government services has saved money and enhanced efficiency. Mayors are taking over urban school systems and demanding results. In a way, the good news has undermined the mayors' pleas for help. But no one disagrees that serious challenges lie ahead, not least of which is welfare reform. "It's the big enchilada," says Tom Cochran, executive director of the United States Conference of Mayors, host of this weekend's meeting. "It could be the mother of all mandates." Many welfare recipients live in urban areas, and many cities don't have the jobs necessary to hire people now required to move off welfare. Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, admired nationally for his bare-knuckled efforts to save his city, openly opposes welfare reform. …

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