U.S. mayors go home buoyed after meeting with Clinton

January 29, 1994|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- Thanks to a sore presidential throat, the final meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors started late. But as 160 mayors tumbled cheerfully out of a meeting with President Clinton yesterday, not one of them complained.

"The fact that we wrapped it up here at the White House is probably as meaningful a demonstration of an urban commitment as we, quite frankly, have ever had," said Thomas Barnes, mayor of Gary, Ind.

Washington must have seemed an oasis to nearly 200 mayors gathered this week to discuss mutual problems and beg for federal money.

Harried at home by rampant street crime and spiraling deficits, the mayors were courted passionately by eight Cabinet secretaries and the president himself.

While they were clearly pleased to find themselves at center stage in Mr. Clinton's plans to reform welfare, help the working poor and rebuild the economy, the mayors wonder when they're going to see real cash to go with the rhetoric.

"For the first time in over a decade, at least we have Washington's attention," said Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini. "The proof is in what actually happens. Will the follow-through be there?"

Financially battered for years by cuts in budgets and services, America's cities have looked to Mr. Clinton with new hope.

In contrast to calls by Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan for fewer government programs, Mr. Clinton campaigned on broad themes dear to the cities' hearts: housing, health care, jobs.

But so far, except for a few pilot projects that will pump money into the nation's poorest neighborhoods, Mr. Clinton's team hasn't delivered much beyond a compassionate ear.

"I guess I was somewhat disappointed the first year of the Clinton administration in that I did not see an aggressive effort to shape an urban policy," said Pittsburgh Mayor Thomas Murphy. "Now, there seems to be some indication that that's starting to change."

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