Clinton, mayors glow over each other

June 23, 1993|By Jack W. Germond | Jack W. Germond,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- President Clinton and the nation's big city mayors papered over their differences here yesterday.

Speaking via closed circuit television, the president was warmly applauded when he promised the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors to be "the best partner you've ever had in the White House."

Although irked by Mr. Clinton's failure to appear at their session, the mayors -- most of them Democrats -- made a concerted effort over the last three days here to mute any public criticism of the first Democrat in the White House in 12 years.

For his part, the president praised the mayors lavishly for the "strong support" they had given his economic package.

"We can't do everything I want to do [for the cities]," said the president. "[But] we can't turn our backs on you, either."

Mr. Clinton suggested specifically that he would be attempting to revive several programs either lost when the stimulus-jobs bill died in the Senate, or excised in the Senate version of his economic plan.

These included, he said, more summer jobs, "empowerment zones" in inner cities and more police on the streets.

The president's 25-minute appearance on a screen in a hotel ballroom contrasted with his appearance before this same group in Houston a year ago.

Then, with his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination floundering, Mr. Clinton was given a significant political boost when the mayors voted to endorse his economic plan.

That piece of political history had led the mayors to expect Mr. Clinton to give their conference this year the prestige that flows from a presidential appearance.

They were not persuaded when he said through the screen that, "I wish I could be with you today in person," but could not afford to be away from Washington while the economic plan was being debated in the Senate.

Said one prominent Democratic mayor: "Don't quote me, but if this was '95, he'd be here with bells on."

Privately, several of the mayors saw Mr. Clinton's absence as part of his strategy of appealing to the political center and ridding himself of the image as a traditional Democratic liberal.

But publicly they were understanding about the political pressures on Mr. Clinton. "We know what his problems are," said Democratic Mayor Norman Rice of Seattle.

The mayors' restraint is largely a reflection of their feeling that, as GOP Mayor William Althaus of York, Pa., put it, "He's the only friend we've got [in Washington]."

As a practical matter, the mayors have few options.

Boston Mayor Raymond S. Flynn, who has been nominated by Mr. Clinton to become the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, told the conference, "You have to continue to remind everyone in Washington" that the huge Democratic majorities in the cities provided the winning margin last year.

But political professionals also know that the key bloc for Mr. Clinton was made up of suburban voters who view the cities largely as centers of tax consumption and crime.

And Mr. Clinton's electronic appearance here is not likely to get much attention from those voters.

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