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Black Mayors Converge in D.C. for Meeting of the Minds

U.S. Conference of Mayors Holds Winter Strategy Session

As participants in the 88th winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, many of the nation’s African-American mayors gathered in the District to discuss strategies and to learn best practices on how to deal with the problems bedeviling their cities.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) serves as the official, non-partisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more and boasts of a membership of 1,407 mayors. They convene an annual winter meeting in the District to meet with members of Congress and the White House during which they highlight issues that plague their cities.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who served as the official host, participated in the organization’s opening news conference on Jan. 22 at the Capitol Hilton Hotel where she kicked off the three-day event and then shared a recent concern in the District: ghost guns.

Ghost guns — weapons assembled without serial numbers or identifying markings — have become a rising concern for Bowser, who says they’re increasingly being used by criminals in the District, adding, “the U.S. Congress needs to act to stop these weapons.”

Steve Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, S.C., also focused on the problem of the weapons.

“We have banned ghost guns in Columbia and the majority of our city council are gun owners,” said Benjamin, past president of USCM. “We believe in responsible gun ownership and I know there are issues we have to resolve with our state but we have done the right thing on this.”

Gun violence emerged as a topic of discussion throughout the conference and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot moderated a panel, “Lessons Learned: Preventing, Preparing for, and Responding to Mass Shooting,” that included nine mayors from cities including Pittsburgh, El Paso, Jersey City and Annapolis where they’ve dealt with multiple killings occurring within a single incident.

Lightfoot, the first Black female mayor of Chicago, said every American seems to be affected by mass shootings.

“None of us are immune from what has happened,” she said. “It has taken place at various places whether it is at a school, synagogue or a newsroom. It happens so frequently that we have become used to it and that’s not good at all. We need to prepare our first responders and residents on how to deal with this.”

Lightfoot told the Informer that despite Chicago’s homicide rate totaling 490 in 2019, things have improved.

“We are not where we want to be but we have had a decline in homicides for three years straight and we are going to continue that trend. I am very enthusiastic about the direction of our city,” she said.

The mayors also discussed the need for creating more affordable housing.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms moderated a panel, “Achieving Affordable Housing: Local Best Practices,” that brought more attention to the ongoing concern and need. She said that despite her city’s booming economic growth, affordability has become a problem for many longtime residents.

“Atlanta’s redevelopment is fantastic but it is often at the expense of legacy residents,” she said. Bottoms talked about a $1 billion fund that her city’s public and private sector has agreed to build to encourage developers to build more affordable housing.

“This is a priority in Atlanta,” she said.

But the agenda for the mayors also targeted issues often incorrectly considered of little importance to Black communities. As an example, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell participated in a panel regarding infrastructure, including the topic of cybersecurity in her comments.

“Cybersecurity is an infrastructure and cities should increase their budgets for cybersecurity,” she said. “I learned this several weeks ago when New Orleans suffered a cyberattack that temporarily crippled the city government. We have had to rebuild our digital infrastructure. I encourage cities to pay more attention to cybersecurity.”

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