Hundreds of mayors from across America will descend on Washington this week for the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) 91st Winter Meeting. And as former Columbia, SC mayor, USCM President, and now BGR Advisory Board Co-Chair Steve Benjamin often reminds us, “Mayors get the hard work done every day”. The Winter Meeting brings mayors from cities with populations of 30,000 or more to the nation’s capital to engage with policymakers on pertinent issues across the policy spectrum. This year’s conference will focus on mental health, public safety, technology and innovation, infrastructure, affordable housing and homelessness, and workforce. The full agenda can be found here.
Structurally, the Conference of Mayors acts to deliver a policy platform on behalf of America’s major metropolitan areas. The Conference is comprised of 11 standing committees and a host of task forces covering major issues areas. These Task Committees and Task Forces will convene during the Winter Meeting. Through this structure, the Conference promulgates policy resolutions that are considered and acted upon at the Annual Meeting in June. These resolutions are designed to inform federal policy development and implementation and are great conduits for advancing public and private sector priorities from the local to the federal government.
One notable task force to keep an eye on is the newly formed Public-Private Partnership Task Force, chaired by Atlanta, GA Mayor Andre Dickens (D). This task force is designed to be a hub for mayors to discuss opportunities, challenges, and best practices around public-private partnerships and to serve as a conduit to enlist the help of businesses and non-profits for the improvement of local infrastructure and services. Task Force discussions can serve as an excellent guide for the private sector to broadly gauge mayoral priorities and opportunities for engagement.
So what should we expect this week? There will be a great deal of discussion around the Biden administration’s signature legislative achievements including the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), across infrastructure, health care, and the environment. The Biden administration has found ready allies in the nation’s mayors and has used these relationships to help advance a sweeping policy agenda underpinned by equity and racial justice. With an incoming Republican House majority likely to bring stalemate to Capitol Hill, at least for the foreseeable future, expect the administration, and mayors, to double down on implementing these major laws to achieve policy outcomes (see, for example, the Justice40 Initiative).
There may also be significant statements from mayors in cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston and Miami. While it is certainly worthwhile to monitor discussions across the entire conference, the narrative from these cities often serves as an excellent barometer for issues of import at the local level and how they could help shape policy discussions in the White House and on Capitol Hill. It is also worth noting that following the 2022 midterm elections, this will be the first time the four largest cities – New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston – are led by African American mayors.
As Washington enters a new era of divided government, watch for mayors across the country to rise to the occasion and work to get things done for their communities and constituencies.
William Crozer is Vice President and Managing Director for State and Local Advocacy. Prior to rejoining BGR in 2021, Crozer served as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs from 2018-21. In that role, Crozer facilitated bipartisan engagement with state and local elected officials, including the nation’s mayors.