More than 200 mayors have traveled to Washington for the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Winter Meeting. During the meeting, they will discuss policy initiatives for cities and meet with federal officials, including President Biden. Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, a Republican, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a Democrat, joined Amna Nawaz to discuss this week's meetings.
More than 200 mayors have traveled to Washington, D.C., this week for the U.S. Conference of Mayors' winter meeting, where they're going to discuss policy initiatives for cities and meet with federal officials. That includes President Biden, who is slated to meet with a bipartisan group of them on Friday.
The group's president, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, says their success is due to teamwork and collaboration.
Francis Suarez (R), Mayor of Miami, Florida:
We put solutions before politics. We don't make easy problems hard by weighing them down by partisanship. We operate with respect, civility, and higher purpose and get things done.
Joining me in our studio are two of those mayors, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, who is a registered Republican, and Richmond, Virginia, Mayor Levar Stoney, who also serves as president of the Democratic Mayors Association.
Welcome to you both. Thanks for being here.
David Holt (R), Mayor of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:
So, you're meeting with several federal officials while you're here in town.
Is there a single most important message you hope to deliver while you're here? What is it you want to see from Washington?
Mayor Stoney, why don't you start?
Levar Stoney (D), Mayor of Richmond, Virginia:
Well, our residents are dealing with a number of challenges.
We have dealt with the pandemic, but now we're dealing with the consequences and the after-effects. So our residents are dealing with the challenges of mental health, the challenges of fentanyl and opioids in our communities.
And you know what? Mayors and localities can't do it by themselves. And so we're asking just for a little help from the federal government. They have been already helpful with the American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Act. We're just asking for some more help.
What you say, Mayor Holt?
David Holt (R), Mayor of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma:
I think I would say two things.
One, from a policy perspective, if I had to pick one thing, it'd be infrastructure. But from a — from a more of a big picture perspective, I think we always want to make sure that cities have a voice in Washington, and that people understand that we — I think we strongly believe that cities are the economic and cultural engines of American life.
And we need to have a seat at the table. We don't get elected to work in this — in this city. But we — so we need to come up here of our own accord at least once a year, as we do every January, to make sure that we're weighing in and we're being heard on any number of policy fronts.
Well, let's talk about infrastructure, because you have both talked about it a lot and roads and filling potholes.
Mayor Stoney, you have said paving isn't sexy, but it's got to be done. Both of your states received billions of dollars in federal funds from that American Rescue Plan. How much made it to you? And how are you using it?
Well, so, the American Rescue Plan, as you referenced had direct funding for cities. And we will — we might have time to tease out that that's not exactly how the bipartisan infrastructure law works.
But in the ARPA funding, you did get direct funding. We got about $120 million in Oklahoma City. It was based on other factors beyond just population. So even though we're the 20th largest city, we didn't get the 20th most dollars.
So we ultimately — and this was the pitch at the time — we ultimately used a lot of it to sort of backfill lost revenues. We're heavily dependent on sales tax, and, certainly, that was hit hard during that 2020-2021 period. So — and that was the argument we were making leading up to the passage of ARPA was, this — we need this to backfill our revenues.
And that's how we largely use it in Oklahoma City, some other special projects as well. But our overall annual budget is $1 billion; $120 million isn't going to necessarily be a transformational amount of money for us, as appreciated as it well.
What about you, Mayor Stoney?
Well, we thought the American Rescue Plan was a game-changer.
The sort of investment received, $155 million…
… we haven't seen that sort of investment from the federal government, I could — I think since Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society.
And so, for us, our residents wanted to see us use those dollars on families and on children. So, we're using $78 million of that focused on parks and recreation centers, things of that nature. We're building two or three new community centers in neighborhoods have been long marginal — longtime marginalized.
And so it really has been — for us, we see a value add, right? We didn't use it to backfill some of our operational costs or our budget, but we used it actually as a foundation center, I guess you could say. So, you look at our city in five, 10 years, you will see the American Rescue Plan Act did its job.
You have a number of other priorities in each of your cities I want to try to get to.
Mayor Holt, specific to you, I know police reform has been high on your list. Our "NewsHour" colleague Adam Kemp has done a lot of reporting on this.
You ushered in sweeping reforms, right? How are those going? How can you tell if they're working when it comes to reducing police violence in particular?
Everybody was there. I felt like everybody set aside their natural biases, and we came out, as your reporting has related, with about almost 40 different recommendations. And now we're kind of just in what will probably be a multiyear process of trying to implement all of them.
But what I was grateful for was that the activists who brought these issues to the fore were very pleased with the outcome. And the police chief, our police chief, was saying things like, all of these seem reasonable to me.
And I felt like, if you can find that sweet spot, you have perfectly executed how American democracy is supposed to work.
Mayor Stoney, I know gun violence has been a big issue for you. You declared it a public health crisis last year for Richmond.
What can you do as mayor? And what kind of help do you need from the state, from the federal government?
Well, I think we have seen gun violence not just in urban centers. We have seen them in suburban and rural areas of the country as well.
We know, locally, we need be tough on crime, but also be tough on the root causes of crime. And so we put more dollars into policing, giving police raises as well. And now we're the pay leader in our region. But, also, we knew that we have to also look at this with a human services lens as well, more dollars into parks and recreation, more dollars into after-school programming as well, so the dollars reach our youth as well.
So, we have seen a decrease in the homicide rate. In 2021, we had 90 homicides. Now we were — knocked it down in 2022 to 59, a 33 percent reduction, one of the highest reductions in the United States of America. So, for us, we need more — I think we need stronger gun safety laws, right?
The fact that an 18-year-old can go into a store and purchase an AR-15, that's a problem. We have a problem with that. You see mass shootings all across the country, Buffalo, for example. But, at the end of the day, if a child can get even ahold of — a 6-year-old can get ahold of a gun in our country, that's a problem.
And so we need less thoughts and prayers and more and stronger gun safety laws to keep guns out of the hands of wrongdoers.
I'm curious. You are both on the front lines of a number of the issues that are very hotly debated topics here in Washington, right?
And so I'm curious how you look at the way those conversations are unfolding in Washington right now when it comes to your priorities.
Mayor Stoney, I will start with you.
Well, sometimes, I will have to say, I see a lot of rhetoric in Washington, D.C. I'm 100 miles south. I see a lot of Democrat vs. Republican.
And I think, at the end of the day, the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the people of the city of Richmond, well, they just want you to get something done. And I think that's the great thing about mayors, that were charged with getting things done. And you don't — we're mayors first before we're Democrats and Republicans.
And so what I want to see is us get around the table around issues that matter to everyday people, gun safety, more dollars for education, affordable housing.
Mayor Holt, what do you see, especially when you look at the state of the Republican Party here in Washington?
Well, I mean, I always see the — firstly, I see the contrast between, as Levar was just referencing, I mean, the — we can't pat ourselves on the back for an awesome press release or an awesome tweet.
Like, we actually have to get things done. So we have to bring people together. And we have to oftentimes, in a purple city like mine, cross party lines and find some sort of common ground. And we have no choice. And we do it all the time. And we do it at the conference.
I mean, this is a Republican and a Democrat. And we're not like — this isn't some sort of program where we're yelling at each other, right?
Thank you for that, by the way. We do appreciate that.
That's not your style here anyway.
But I just think that that's the first thing I see is that contrast between the way we operate, that we're trying to get things done.
I think either party in Washington is capable of that type of leadership and capable of working together, but all the incentives they currently have in place, and just generally the way that things have evolved over the last five years obviously has brought them to the point of high dysfunctionality.
But if they want to figure out how to really make things work, come talk to us.
All right. You are available.
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and Richmond, Virginia, Mayor Levar Stoney, thank you so much for being here.