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The four largest cities in America have Black leaders at the helm, and they spoke about their challenges and victories at the African American Mayors Association’s ninth annual conference, which took place from April 19-21 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in northwest D.C.
On the final day of the conference, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner gathered on stage to discuss their responsibilities as the leaders of millions. The discussion was co-moderated by Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Earle, Arkansas, Mayor Jaylen Smith, the youngest mayor in the U.S.
The African American Mayors Association serves as the trade group for the nation’s Black mayors. The municipalities that the mayors represent range in size from Adams’ New York City, which has eight million people, to hamlets. The convention features a vendors’ exposition, speakers from federal agencies including cabinet officers, workshops on best practices for cities and presentations from corporate representatives. This year, members had the chance to travel to the U.S. Naval Observatory to mingle with Vice President Kamala Harris. The new president of the association’s board of trustees is Mount Vernon, New York Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard and Phyllis Dickerson serves as the chief executive officer.
‘Big 4’ Fireside Chat
The convening of Adams, Bass, Lightfoot, and Turner is historic because it is the first time that the mayors of the nation’s four largest cities have Black people as leaders and appearing in an in-person public forum together.
“Before December 12, there were three of us,” said Turner, 68, referring to the newly sworn-in Bass. “Now there are four. The cities that we lead do not have African American majorities. They are highly diverse. This is a step forward.”
Adams, 62, agreed with Turner, putting his colleagues’ comments in a global context.
“America is the most powerful country on the globe,” he said. “And the four of the biggest cities in the most powerful country in the world are led by Blacks. We have achieved some wonderful things. We have navigated our cities through the COVID pandemic and I, in New York, have led the city to a great fiscal turnaround. We are successful CEOs. This has to be something divine.”
Turner has the most tenure of the group, leading Houston since 2016. He is the second African American to lead Houston behind Lee Brown, who served as mayor from 1998-2004. Lightfoot, who lost her bid for re-election earlier this month, became Chicago’s first Black woman mayor, its third African American after Harold Washington (1983-1987) and Eugene Sawyer (1987-1989) and its second woman mayor after Jane Byrne (1979-1983). Lightfoot, 60, will be replaced by African American Brandon Johnson on May 15.
Adams has led New York City since January 2022. He is the city’s second Black mayor, with David Dinkins serving in the position from 1990-1993. Bass, 69, assumed her position in December 2012 as its first female leader and second Black after Thomas Bradley (1973-1993).
Bass, who formerly served in U.S. Congress representing California, said when elected to lead Los Angeles, her three colleagues reached out to her and offered advice.
The former U.S. Representatives said homelessness is a major problem in Los Angeles.
“Over 47,000 people are living in the streets of Los Angeles,” she said. “Our city is only 8% Black, but 34 % of all homeless people are Black. I am working hard to end homelessness because we don’t want deep poverty to be criminalized.”
Lightfoot said she worked to try to close racial gaps in her city.
“We need to build wealth in communities where it is often denied,” she said. “We need to be present at the tables of power and not just seek to get crumbs. Black people need to be united and stop being crabs in the barrel.”
Adams said it is essential for any mayor, particularly Blacks, to hire the right people in their administration.
“The job comes at you all day, all night and all the time,” he said. “You must have the right team in place. I bought the right people on board to watch my back.”
Turner said Black mayors don’t get a honeymoon period from constituents or the mainstream media.
“We as Black mayors have to produce,” he said. “Black mayors do not have a long runway to produce results. Somebody else may have a long runway, but we do not. Our own people are tough on us. They really want results now!”