At a time of crisis, America’s mayors are ready to partner with President-elect Biden
Few times in our country’s history has national leadership been more critical, and at no time has it been so absent.
During this time of national crisis, not only have cities – home to a majority of Americans – been left to fend for ourselves, we have often had to combat a president who has actively undermined mayors and cities.
We have had to file lawsuits to protect our residents and stop vindictive attempts to strip federal funding. Our asks for testing and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the pandemic went unanswered. Our push for racial justice and national healing was met with divisive tweets and call outs to white supremacists. Cities have had to step in to uphold our country’s commitments to address climate change when this president withdrew from the Paris Agreement.
America’s mayors have already heard more from Joe Biden in his first few weeks as president-elect than they’ve heard from Donald Trump during his more than 1,400 days as president. Biden have been listening to the struggles of our cities: fighting a pandemic and a climate crisis, dismantling racial disparities and rebuilding an equitable economy that puts more money into people’s pockets and ensures that all Americans share in the prosperity of our great nation.
These unprecedented challenges require us to work together. They require America’s best and boldest ideas. And, in the era of Trump, the greatest ideas have been led by America’s cities.
At this moment, the virus is surging in many cities and states. We must get this virus under control. What we need now – and what the Biden-Harris administration will deliver – is a national plan for testing, contact tracing, reopening and addressing any PPE, testing and supply shortages faced by hospitals, long-term care facilities and schools. At far too high of a human toll, we have been writing our own playbooks on masks, acceptable sizes of gatherings, testing protocols, restrictions, travel guidance and the riskiest types of activities that transmit the virus. Each community and state faces different challenges in fighting this pandemic. But we need consistent messages, policies and approaches that are rooted in science and that truly protect public health.
In a country divided by so much, we can come together to beat this virus. A key factor to resume normalcy will be the safe and rapid distribution of vaccines in cities across America and a plan to ensure equitable access to them.
We also need federal leadership to build a recovery that is durable, just and equitable — from increasing wages to protecting gig workers to investing in jobs, affordable housing, transit and other infrastructure, education and clean energy. Too many Americans are unemployed and struggling to pay for rent, health care, utilities, food and childcare. We have lost too many of our small businesses that need direct relief to survive. To make America whole, we need a federal government, including a president and Congress, that has the backs of our people and can deliver the much-needed relief at the scale only it can provide.
This crisis has laid bare that we are all in this together, and we will finally have a president who believes it and will make it so. He also knows that the recovery must advance our climate change goals and has already said he will make climate a priority.
Our country also needs President-elect Biden to succeed in finding common ground so that we can begin to heal as a nation. This means addressing America’s hardened divisions, and the distrust in rural America. But it also will require honest actions that acknowledge and begin to dismantle the historical and systemic impact of racism on policing and across institutions. To actually reimagine policing and make good on the calls for change we heard on the streets across this country, we need common sense measures like national law enforcement use of force, de-escalation and training standards. Cities need more community-based public safety approaches like alternative responses to behavioral health crises that utilize social workers and mental health professionals, not armed officers.
America’s mayors are ready for a partner in progress instead of spending the next four years fighting back against a president who appeared determined to see America’s cities fail.
And, to President-elect Biden, as you enter office facing more challenges than any president in nearly 100 years, just remember what Lyndon Johnson said: “When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor.”
Jenny Durkan is the mayor of Seattle. Lori Lightfoot is the mayor of Chicago.