THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release January 16, 2001
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO U.S. CONFERENCE OF MAYORS
The East Room
3:24 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Mayor Coles, thank you very much. Thank you,
ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank Secretary Cuomo and Mickey Ibarra
for the wonderful job they have done. And I thank Secretary Herman and
Director Aida Alvarez. Secretary Riley, thank you for being here. We have
the acting director of our Office of National Drug Control Policy, Ed
Jurith, Zina Pierre and others here who have worked with you. I thank Lynn
Cutler I see out there. And I thank Ellen Lovell, the head of the First
Lady's Millennial effort, who brought a lot of projects to a lot of
communities across this country. And all the others who have worked with
I also want to say a special word of thanks to Mayor Coles. We
always hear a lot of talk in Washington about bipartisanship, but if we
look to America's mayors, we actually see it. Maybe because Fiorella
LaGuardia was right when he said, there was no Republican or Democratic way
to pick up the garbage. You either pick it up, or you don't. (Laughter.)
I thank you Mayor Coles.
I also want to thank some of the other officials of the various
organizations who are here. Mayor Morial, thank you, Mayor Menino, thank
you. Executive Director Tom Cochran, thank you. Thank you Wellington Webb
for the award, for all the good times we had in Denver over the last
It's been a real joy for me to welcome the U.S. Conference of
Mayors here, and I am very proud of the partnership that we have formed.
The record has already been established, in terms of the rebound of
America's cities. I would like to make today, a different point, one that
I rarely read in the retrospectives now being written about the last eight
years. Whether they're favorable or critical, even the favorable ones
sometimes I rarely read it. They say, oh this was -- let's take the best
You know, Clinton got rid of the deficit, and he's paying the
debt down, and we've got a healthy economy again. There was one big idea,
America would be connected to the world through networks of trade in an
interdependent world, and we would stay ahead of the curve. Or the
critical ones, they just read the polls that came out for little things
like school uniforms. I might say, parenthetically, that school districts
that have them don't think they're little things.
But they missed the whole point, which is that for eight years,
we have had a partnership that focused on working together, and that took
policy seriously. That is, the thing that made all this work was beyond
party and beyond the vast gulf between the White House and your house, is
we actually believed there is a real connection in people's lives between
the ideas you adopt, how you put them into practice, and then how people
wind up living.
And one of the things that really has always bothered me about
Washington, and I must say, I live without -- I mean, I leave without
having changed that very much, is that I think the public enterprise
matters. I'm proud to have been in public life for over 25 years. And I
believe that people of goodwill, who are more interested in the impact of
their actions on other people's lives then whether they are increasing
their own power and position. Whether they're Republicans or Democrats,
liberals or conservatives, those people can work together. If what drives
you is, what is the impact of what you do on other people for the better,
everybody that's motivated by that, without regard to party or philosophy
can work together.
But to get that done, we have to first of all, expect the fact
that ideas matter and that how you turn ideas into policies matter, and
then you've got to keep score. People are either better off or they're
not. And the reason I loved working with the mayors, apart from the fact
that I thought it was fun to visit your communities, and I always liked
getting out there where I got to see so called real people, is that I knew
you felt that. I knew you were out there thinking ideas matter, I knew you
were out there keeping score on yourselves.
And there's hardly a mayor here who's community I haven't visited
at one time or another. And I just want to tell you how profoundly
grateful I am for what you do. Because I think if we hadn't had the
partnership we had, it is quite doubtful that we would have the 22.5
million more jobs, 35 million people now taking advantage of the family
leave law, interestingly enough. It didn't hurt the economy like the
people who were against it said it would.
The other thing I'm quite proud of is that the poverty rate has
gone down to a 20 year low. In the last three years, the lowest 20 percent
of working people have had the highest percentage increase in their income.
I figured if we could get the economy going again that we'd create more
millionaires. It turned out the economy created a lot more billionaires
too. But the real test, it seems to me, is whether all the people that are
working get a fair reward for their efforts. And while I think a lot more
needs to be done in that regard, it is good to see, for the first time in
30 years, the rising tide lifting all boats again.
I think it's worth pointing out here that the cities did lead the
way. Incomes have risen faster in the cities than in the suburbs.
Nationally, poverty is down 20 percent since 1993; it's down 23 percent in
America's cities. So all of you can be very proud of what you have done.
And I want to thank you for what you have done.
I want to thank you for the work you did in crime, and urge you
to try to maintain that partnership. You know, we wrote a crime bill in
1994 based on what mayors, police chiefs, police on the street, and
prosecutors at the local level told us would work. They said, do this;
this will work. And we put 100,000 police on the street, did those other
things, passed the Brady law, and 611,000 felons, fugitives and stalkers
have not been able to get handguns, and the crime rate is at a 25-year low.
In many urban areas, it's even lower than that.
And now we're in the process of putting the second group of
50,000 more police on the street, concentrated in the areas of highest
crime and greatest difficulty. So it worked. You proved it worked.
You worked with the Vice President to make sure the empowerment
zone program worked, the program to clean up brownfields in urban areas.
And I thank you for that. And I thank you for the input you had on the New
Markets Initiative, and how we expanded the empowerment zones more, and
then had some general tax incentives to invest in urban areas so that you
didn't have to compete to get an empowerment zone or an enterprise
community to get some of the benefits that I think ought to flow to anybody
in the country not fully participating in our nation's economic recovery
now. So I thank you for all that.
I thank you for the work you did with us on welfare and housing.
I thank you for the work you have done with us on health care. We had the
number of people without health insurance going down in our country for the
first time in a dozen years, thanks to the Children's Health Insurance
Program, which is flowing money into a lot of urban areas in a way that is
absolutely critical to your hospitals and your public health clinics.
I thank you for the work you have done with us on education, for
the support you've given us to try to hire 100,000 more teachers to lower
the classes in early grades, and for the support you've given -- many of
you very vocally -- for funds to repair or modernize schools.
For the first time since World War II, this Congress gave us over
a billion dollars to provide emergency repairs in schools all across the
country. And in many, many of our cities, the average school building is
over 50 years old. So this is something that you're going to be able to
take advantage of. And I urge you to keep going with that and keep pushing
it until we have more money, because, believe me, a billion dollars -- I
remember when I was a boy, Everett Dirksen said, you can take a billion
dollars here and a billion dollars there, and pretty soon you're talking
about real money. And it is real money, but it's nowhere nearly enough for
what we should do for our schools.
I thank you -- and Mayor Webb mentioned this earlier today -- for
the support you gave us to continue federal funding for the arts. One of
the things that I was totally mystified by when we had, five years ago,
this sort of war on federal funding for the arts that came out, is that it
seemed to me that the people that were conducting the war may have had some
poster project or another that they thought they could inflame public
opinion about, but they had no idea how many community art centers out
there were running educational programs for kids in their own schools, that
the cities could not possibly afford to run on their own without this
You helped us put the real face of NEA and our funding in the
minds of the people doing it. And this year, of course, we actually got an
increase. So I feel that two of our major initiatives here were validated.
I felt that what the Vice President did -- and thank you, Alvin Brown -- on
the empowerment zones and the enterprise communities was also ratified when
we adopted this big new markets initiative. So I thank you for that. And
thank you for what you've done. (Applause.)
Now, let's just look ahead for a minute here. One of the things
that I think is most important about our cities, and I see it everywhere,
is the way people who come into vibrant cities basically naturally incline
toward an attitude of interdependence, and they have a high comfort level,
much higher comfort level, living with people who are different from them.
And since I believe that's the biggest challenge facing people all over the
world today, I think that the cities that succeed actually have something
profoundly important to show the rest of our nation and the world.
And I think when you just live close to one another and you have
to share a lot of things, like whether it's a subway ride or waiting at a
bus stop or some other more basic facility, you just naturally develop a
different attitude toward your fellow human beings, and politics becomes a
matter of practical cooperation. And I think that's what we need to
continue to work on. So I think the cities are very, very important in
And on the Martin Luther King holiday, yesterday, I released a
report to the Congress, the last report I will issue on race, under our One
America Initiative. And I had some very specific recommendations in there
that I hope the next administration and the next Congress will embrace --
this Congress now, they're already meeting. And I would urge you to look
at that, and if you agree, I hope you will help to get it done.
Because I really believe we've got a lot more work to do in
education, particularly in modernizing these facilities and making sure all
these urban schools are hooked up to the Internet. I think we've got a lot
more work to do in terms of economic empowerment of people and places that
are left behind. And it offers an enormous opportunity for the cities of
our nation to have an alliance with rural areas and Native American
communities, so that you can't be pitted one against another.
I think there are still a lot of things that have to be done in
the way of dealing fairly with immigrant populations coming to our country
-- so that we have the capacity to have laws and enforce them so that we
don't wind up rewarding one group of immigrants over another, and the
people that get the shaft are those that loyally waited in line for their
time to be able to come to the United States and do what should be done.
But on the other hand, I don't think we can afford to be treating some
groups of immigrants different than others under the law either.
That's why I've supported the Latino Fairness Act in the Congress
last time. I'm real sorry we didn't pass it. It's about the only thing we
wanted to pass we didn't.
So I hope you will help with that. I think we've got a real --
we need to really give a lot more thought than we have to our imprisonment
policies, how long people are in jail, what are they going to jail for and
what do they do when they get out. Nearly everybody that goes to jail gets
out. I think it is time that we change, as a matter of national policy,
the idea that you have to have a presidential pardon or a governor's pardon
before you can get your vote back. I think if you pay a price, you go to
jail, you get out, then you're on probation a while, then your sentence is
discharged -- why shouldn't you get your vote back? (Applause.)
You think about it. One of the big controversies in the recent
election in Florida was the review of people to see if they had criminal
records, which disabled them from voting. And then you had a lot of other
people agitated because they were apparently -- maybe not intentionally,
just accidentally -- purged from the rolls, because they had the same names
or similar names as those people who did.
But if -- look, I've been doing this for 25 years now, since I
was Attorney General in my home state. Nearly everybody that goes to
prison gets out. And when they get out, all the rest of us want them to do
well, go to work, pay taxes and not commit another crime, right?
Why should we make them go through the incredible gyration of
trying to figure out how to get a pardon? And all the systems are
different, and I can tell you, I'm sitting here -- I've got just a few
days left, and I'm trying to go over all these request for clemency, and
it's almost impossible to deal with them all in a fair way, to give due
concern to the attention of law enforcement as well as the people who are
pleading their case. And I just don't see what that's got to do with this.
It seems to me -- we changed the law in Arkansas 24 years ago --
if you finish your sentence, you go sign up to vote. Nobody has to get a
pardon anymore. But I dare say, most people in Arkansas don't know that,
because in most states they haven't done it, and we haven't done it at the
These are just things I want you to think about, because I think
the cities have got to continue to be the focus of building one America.
And we've got to try to figure out how we're going to deal with the
outstanding issues we've got.
Let me just mention, finally, that I am very grateful for the
environmental support I've had from the mayors and the funding that we got
last time, for the first time in history, under this Lands Legacy
Initiative, to have a permanent source of funding to set aside precious
lands. And I just want to reemphasize to all of you, it is not just to
protect the watershed around the Grand Canyon -- it may be to protect the
little square block park in some neighborhood, where that's the only
greenspace your kids will ever see.
So I urge you, as I leave office, to make full use of this
legislation that was passed last year to provide a permanent funding
screen, to help you set aside greenspaces in your communities. And
understand it is not just about the big open spaces or the big places or
some big project, like the Everglades. It's about what's in your
neighborhoods. We want this bill. This whole bill, the whole idea of this
was to balance our concern for the big chunks of land and resources that
had to be preserved, and the need to provide some environmental balance and
access to nature to all of our kids and families in urban America, as well.
So I urge you, when you work in this coming year, to make sure that your
cities are a part of that initiative.
Well, I've already said more than I meant to. I thank you for
the award. I thank you for the work we've done to put this country in good
shape. The eight years passed in a flash, but I enjoyed it very much. And
I particularly enjoyed working with the mayors. All of you who have
welcomed me to your communities, I thank you for that. And I hope that you
will do what you can to keep America on a positive track. Together we
proved that good economics was good social policy; that you could be
fiscally responsible and reduce poverty; that you could have an urban
policy that actually helped the rest of the country, too. You did that.
You should be very proud.
But I think that the biggest rewards of our efforts of the last
eight years are still out there. And if ever I can help any of you to do
what's right by your people in the future, I will certainly do it. I thank
you, and I feel better about my country knowing that you're staying behind
to keep up the fight.
God bless you. (Applause.)
END 3:43 P.M. EST