Tip O’ Neil famously observed, “All politics is local.” These days, it seems that we need to revise O’Neil’s adage and start saying, “All political responsibility is local.” With the political gears stuck in Congress and Washington divided, America’s mayors have stepped up and said, “We’ll take the lead.” Every day, in cities and towns across the country, it is America’s mayors who are hard at work building bipartisanship and tackling the big problems our country faces.
With Washington paralyzed, more and more responsibility for spurring innovation and growth now falls on the shoulders of cities. The challenges facing our country are clear. We’re recovering from the worst recession since the 1930s. Our education system is not preparing students for the jobs of the future. Our outdated infrastructure is not keeping pace with the emerging economies of China, Brazil, and India.
America’s mayors get it. Now is the time to put results over rhetoric and progress over politics. So we are leading the way on job creation, education reform, and infrastructure investment.
In Jacksonville, Fla., Mayor Alvin Brown is charting the economic future of his region by spearheading an impressive expansion of the Port of Jacksonville and growing his local export sector. In New Orleans, La., Mayor Mitch Landrieu knows that cultural tourism is one of the most dynamic industries and an important source of jobs. That’s why he has led the way with such initiatives as the NOLA Business Alliance, the World Cultural Economic Forum, and his New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp.
While states are slashing education budgets, cities are blazing new trails in education reform and finding innovative ways to ensure that our children are career ready.
In Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson has raised millions of dollars and worked in partnership with the national nonprofit City Year to place tutors in Sacramento schools. In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter has led the charge on education reform by restructuring, and even replacing, schools that are not serving students.
And while Washington is retreating from making the critical investments we need in our infrastructure, cities are finding creative ways to finance the needed improvements while putting their residents into good-paying jobs.
In Los Angeles, through Measure R, our half-penny sales tax, we are investing $40 billion, building a 21st-century transportation network, and creating more than 400,000 jobs. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel--without raising taxes--has created a $7 billion fund that will fill potholes, build parks, repair aging sewer pipes, and put 30,000 Chicagoans in good-paying jobs.
We’re doing all of this in cities that are undergoing profound demographic change. Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the country. You can hear 224 languages spoken in our neighborhoods, on our streets, and at our plazas. Angelenos hail from over 140 countries, and we have the largest population of Mexicans, Armenians, and Koreans outside of their home country, just to name a few.
Last week was an important first step with passage of a Surface Transportation Bill that included America Fast Forward. This innovative federal loan program will allow Los Angeles and cities across this country to speed the expansion of their transit systems while accelerating the creation of one million jobs.
Let’s build on that momentum to take on the tough challenges.
This Op-Ed originally appeared in The National Journal. To read the entire piece click here.
Antonio R. Villaraigosa is mayor of the City of Los Angeles and former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.