NEW YORK--(EON: Enhanced Online News)--Three central issues of the 2016 presidential election - income inequality, the shrinking middle class and immigration - are also of deep concern to mayors of cities throughout the country.
“Our cities need a federal partner that understands the importance of the work being done in American cities”
These findings are part of the 2016 Menino Survey of Mayors released today by the Boston University Initiatives on Cities, with the support of Citi, which details the most pressing needs and policy priorities of America’s mayors. The sample of more than 100 mayors from 41 states were interviewed throughout the summer of 2016 and nearly mirrored the partisan breakdown of mayors nationally.
Mayors stated that while addressing issues of income inequality, the shrinking middle class and immigration are on their respective municipal agendas, their most pressing economic concern is poverty. Collectively, nearly half the mayors explained that those living in or near poverty are the most excluded group in their cities and a quarter identified the poor as the group they most need to do more to help. Notably, 20% of mayors believe the single best thing they can do for those in poverty is to address housing concerns and education.
“No matter what part of the country, mayors are facing similar challenges: education, transportation, affordable housing and poverty,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. “The Menino Survey shines a light on these shared concerns and provides mayors the opportunity to work together and with our partner organizations to respond to these challenges across our cities.”
Consistently, mayors’ answers to a range of questions, including those on polarizing election issues such as race, immigration and economics, were virtually identical irrespective of whether their cities are located in “blue” or “red” states. The survey, now in its third year, shows that both Democratic and Republican mayors representing large and small cities are attuned to the plight of their most vulnerable residents, as well as the benefits of immigration and diversity.
More than half of mayors cited the black community and a quarter of mayors cited both immigrants and Latinos as being one of the most marginalized group in their cities. In response, mayors came to a consensus that the single best thing they can do to support marginalized groups is foster public recognition and build more inclusive cities.
Many mayors noted that the benefits of building inclusive communities extend beyond social cohesion and that diversity contributes to their city’s creativity and innovativeness (72%), helps current business and the economy (30%), and makes the city more attractive to new residents and businesses (25%).
However, mayors differed on their top policy priorities. Mayors of big cities - cities with more than 300,000 residents - rated quality of life as their top policy priority (30%), while more than 25% of mayors of small and medium-sized cities rated economic development as their top priority.
Released at the Rockefeller Foundation headquarters on Tuesday (Jan. 10, 2017) with a presentation of key findings, the survey – named in honor of the late Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston – underscores mayors’ collective hope for an urban champion in the White House. Mayors cited their reliance on federal agencies to help tackle issues like poverty and economic development, and on the federal government for critical funding support. Investment in infrastructure, including roads, bridges and mass transit, was cited as the top priority for receiving federal assistance.
“Our cities need a federal partner that understands the importance of the work being done in American cities,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray. “From providing affordable housing and supporting economic development, to improving transportation and making our communities safer, mayors are responsible for ensuring that cities provide opportunity for all residents. This survey gives mayors a voice and makes our needs clear.”
“Mayors take action. They are collaborators by nature but they are also willing to go it alone in order to better serve their constituents. Our office, the Boston University Initiative on Cities, was co-founded by one of America’s most revered mayors, Tom Menino, and we have a profound appreciation for the job mayors do every day,” said Graham Wilson, Director of the BU Initiative on Cities. “We hope that the Menino Survey provides a platform for mayors to share their needs with a national audience, particularly the incoming presidential administration.”
“The 2016 Menino Survey of Mayors provides important and timely insights into some of the largest and most complex issues facing the nation’s mayors at a time of significant transition,” said Bob Annibale, Global Director of Citi Community Development and Inclusive Finance. “One of the report’s most important findings is that mayors, irrespective of political affiliation or city size, increasingly agree that tackling poverty, exclusion and wealth inequality are top priorities. This growing consensus is cause for optimism that our urban leaders stand ready to collaborate with all levels of government, and the private sector, to address the many challenges facing cities.”
The key findings of the survey – which can be read in full at www.surveyofmayors.com – are below. Follow the conversation on social media using the hashtag #MeninoSurvey.
POVERTY – Mayors are deeply concerned about urban poverty and the challenges facing their poorest residents. Our findings suggest a deep sensitivity to the needs of the most economically disadvantaged residents who call cities home.
- Relative to two years ago, socioeconomic issues — like poverty, affordability, and income disparities – are more frequently mentioned as top policy priorities by America’s mayors.
- Mayors rank poverty, rather than income inequality or the shrinking middle class, as the most pressing economic concern. This focus was shared by both Democrat and Republican mayors, although Democrats were 15 percentage points more likely to be concerned with poverty.
- Mayors are concerned about economic challenges ranging from unequal transit access to racial wealth gaps, but they are most frequently concerned about the lack of middle class jobs for those without a college degree and a lack of living wage jobs.
INCLUSION – Mayors worry about many resident groups being left out or left behind, and believe there are both formal and informal means by which they can build more inclusive communities.
- Many mayors believe that inclusion has benefits that extend beyond social cohesion. Nearly three-quarters of mayors (72%) noted how diversity helps make their city a creative and innovative place.
- About one out of every three mayors (32%) said diversity helps their current businesses and economy, and 25% believed diversity makes their city attractive for both new business and new residents.
- Nearly a quarter of mayors (23%) feel the group they most need to do more to help is the poor. Nearly half of surveyed mayors selected “those living in or near poverty” as the most “excluded” group in their city. Some mayors shared specific policy remedies that may help to alleviate challenges facing their poorer constituents, ranging from expanding affordable housing to universal pre-school.
- Half of mayors believe the black community is among the most marginalized groups in their city. Additionally, nearly a quarter feel that blacks and/or other minorities have the least trust in local government. To increase trust in these communities, mayors tend to believe the best thing they can do is create more visible, direct ties to black residents and community leaders.
ETHNIC DIVERSITY & IMMIGRATION – Mayors worry a lot about building more inclusive communities that also welcome immigrants and Latinos.
- More than a quarter of mayors (27%) selected immigrants and 28% selected Latinos as the most marginalized group in their community.
- Mayors feel that their existing immigrant communities play a significant role in the incorporation of immigrants and 40% believe their business community also “helps a lot” in creating a culture of inclusion.
- Mayors believe the single best thing they can do to support immigrants is to create a welcoming environment, whether through public recognition of their importance in the community, access to government support, or improved language services.
CITY IMAGE – While mayors believe that a wide variety of attributes strengthen their cities’ reputation, it is critical that their city be regarded as a safe place for businesses, residents, and visitors.
- Mayors consistently and overwhelmingly rated low crime as highly important to their city’s image across multiple constituencies: businesses, city residents, and individuals living outside the city.
- Other important traits varied by audience. Mayors want businesses and investors to view their community as “business friendly” and well-educated. They want prospective visitors to perceive the city as a physically attractive and socially and artistically vibrant place.
- Perhaps their most important constituency – residents – was also the one where mayors placed the greatest emphasis on a reputation for safety, followed distantly by cleanliness and affordability.
POLITICAL RELATIONSHIPS – Mayors work closely with local and regional government and believe in-person interactions with constituents are important for maintaining a good connection with their city.
- While mayors named a wide array of initiatives where they had taken the lead, many were still quick to name government partners or community groups that had also played a role.
- They similarly viewed relationships with their constituents as very important, and considered in-person interaction the best way to learn about constituents’ views.
- Many mayors said they rely on public events (48%), informal networking (44%) and neighborhood meetings (42%) to remain connected. Only 27% of mayors cited social media and 23% cited email as the best mechanisms to hear from constituents.
- Nearly two-thirds of mayors (64%) cited “interpersonal skills” as those most critical to effective mayoral leadership, reinforcing the value of human engagement.
FEDERAL COLLABORATION – Throughout the summer of 2016, mayors shared both deep concerns about the impact of the presidential campaign rhetoric as well as their hopes for the next administration.
- Mayors frequently lauded the Obama Administration as a strong ally, citing ready access to the President – whom many praised as an “urban champion” – and fruitful relationships with key cabinet departments.
- They gave high marks to most federal agencies, including Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Transportation. They were more reserved in their support for the Environmental Protection Agency, with half of mayors feeling it hindered their city. This echoes comments shared in the 2015 Menino Survey, where mayors expressed frustration with “unfunded mandates” like expanded stormwater management regulations.
- A number of mayors expressed a need for the next president to make infrastructure investment a top priority, including roads, bridges and mass transit.
HIGHER ELECTED OFFICE – America’s mayors are interested in and actively recruited for higher political office, though many would be happy if mayor was their last public office.
- Seventy-six percent of surveyed mayors reported being “seriously” recruited to run for higher office. Perhaps unsurprisingly, mayors rate the most prestigious offices as most appealing, including the U.S. Senate and governor, as well as appointed roles in the Cabinet.
- In contrast, the House of Representatives, state legislature, and city council are all relatively unappealing. Interestingly, two-thirds of mayors participating in the survey have professional experience in business, suggesting their interest in higher office is not due to a professional track as “career politicians.”
- The most attractive future career option for mayors is a role outside of government, such as running a nonprofit, working in academia or returning to business. This suggests that recruiting them to remain in politics is not necessarily an easy task.
PARTISAN IMMUNITY – One of the most consistent patterns in the 2016 responses is that mayors’ answers were virtually identical irrespective of whether their cities are located in “blue” or “red” states.
- Across a range of questions, including those on polarizing election issues such as race, immigration, priorities, and economics, mayors in states that President-elect Donald Trump won provided similar answers to those in states that Hillary Clinton won.
- Urban leaders’ values, priorities, and concerns are the same whether or not the leaders govern “coastal elites.”
About the Initiative on Cities
The Boston University Initiative on Cities researches, promotes, and advances the adaptive urban leadership strategies and policies necessary to support cities as dynamic and inclusive centers of growth and positive development in the 21st century. Founded by a proven urban leader, Former Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino, and a highly regarded academic, Professor Graham Wilson, the Initiative serves as a bridge between academic research and the real-life practice of city governance.
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