Writer / Janelle Morrison
Photos submitted by USCM
Since 1932, The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM), the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more, and its member mayors have come together nationally to help meet the challenges and issues facing our nation’s cities.
This year, Mayor Joe Hogsett from Indianapolis hosted the 84th Annual USCM at the J.W. Marriott in downtown Indianapolis. Under the leadership of the USCM President Baltimore (MD) Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (now past president) and host Indianapolis (IN) Mayor Joe Hogsett, hundreds of the nation’s mayors gathered in Indiana for their Annual Meeting from June 24-27.
Throughout the conference, the mayors discussed a wide variety of priorities that contribute to the overall health of America’s cities and adopted the policy resolutions that guide the advocacy agenda of the USCM.
Of the litany of topics discussed, gun control was front and center as the conference was just weeks after the atrocities that occurred in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer addressed the mayors with a moving and detailed narrative on the timeline of events that occurred that night.
On the conference’s opening day, Friday, June 24, the stock markets were responding negatively to the aftermath of Brexit, which a few of the mayors addressed in the opening press conference. Watching firsthand the mayors react cool, calm and collected to the breaking news as it was unfolding was impressive.
Each of the presidential candidates was invited to address the mayors to discuss the 2016 Mayors’ Compact for a Better America: A Call to Action, which prioritizes urban issues as well as their vision to strengthen the federal-local partnership and build strong cities and metro economies.
Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton and the former Governor of New Mexico and the Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson accepted the invitation to speak; the Republican Party nominee Donald Trump was not available to attend. With multiple events occurring simultaneously in downtown Indy that weekend, the candidates’ appearances made for intense security sweeps. There was an obvious presence of every imaginable security and law enforcement agency on-site.
During the annual meeting, mayors targeted specific questions to the presidential candidates who attended and implored that all of the candidates listen to the problems affecting U.S. cities.
“We want the candidates and Congress to know the road to the White House goes directly through cities,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who presided over this year’s conference. “As mayors, we can’t understand gridlock because it is impermissible. There’s absolutely no way that I can tell someone that because of a political difference, I will not be picking up their trash today. But that is the norm in Congress.”
Several task force committees spent the weekend discussing issues on immigration reform, technology, livable cities and many other issues that would require the partnership between local, state and federal levels and the support of the next president of the United States.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard attended throughout the weekend and led a group of mayors in discussion as co-chair of the Energy Independence and Climate Protection task force. Mayor Mitchell Landrieu of New Orleans spoke about the resiliency of his city and the advancements that have been made since Katrina in 2005 to minimalize potential damage from future hurricanes.
Sam Adams, the director of World Resources Institute (U.S.) spoke to the mayors on aligning federal data sources with City GHP emissions tracking. Watching Mayor Brainard in action, leading an exchange of resources and data, provided a prospective on the relationships that the mayors build among themselves and related agencies to benefit their cities and to better prepare for environmental changes and/or emergencies.
Mayor Brainard took the opportunity to showcase the city of Carmel’s approach to livability, walkability and its world-class amenities. Brainard co-hosted, along with Mayor Hogsett, an Opening Event that took place at the Palladium and Center Green in downtown Carmel. The mayors traveled from downtown Indy to the Carmel Arts & Design District.
The mayors were treated to Indiana’s farm-to-table cuisine and entertainment outside on the Center Green before heading into the Palladium where they enjoyed a private concert by Michael Feinstein followed by a fireworks display. The mayors were then escorted to Main Street for the “Late Night on Main Street” after-party that featured music by the local band Lemon Wheel.
The mayors and residents of Carmel enjoyed a fun and lively evening of dancing, food and beverages and an array of shops and galleries that stayed open for the city’s special guests. The event exhibited the city’s mixed-use and walkable urban core for the mayors to experience firsthand.
Several businesses and restaurants located in the Carmel Arts & Design District took full advantage of the rare and historic opportunity to participate.
Bryan Arnold, the general manager of the Pint Room, and his team were one of the restaurants that rolled out the “red carpet” and set up a beverage stand, street-side, during the festivities. “What I think that the mayors might take away from this experience is what they can really bring back to their own communities,” Arnold said.
“With investments into their local cities, a lot of areas throughout the country can have something like Carmel has. When people come down and walk around on Main Street, they see attractive local businesses and an emphasis on making sure that the dollars spent stay local. That really grows a community.”
The major highlights of the USCM took place Sunday back at the J.W. Marriott in Indianapolis. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Lady Gaga and philanthropist Philip Anschutz spoke as a panel that was moderated by journalist Ann Curry. The Dalai Lama remarked on the global significance of building kind and compassionate cities through actions of their mayors.
“Freedom, liberty and democracy come from a sense of respect and the sense of the well-being of others,” his Holiness stated. “These are not just slogans. They are the results of these principles and are very much dependent on mental attitude. As we are now in the early beginning of the 21st century, I believe that this nation can lead others to build a compassionate world. There is too much concern for self-centered attitude. Not much concern for others’ well-being.”
The Dalai Lama emphasized, “External beauty is important, but at the same time, inner beauty is more important. A sense of respect and general well-being creates genuine love. In order to practice love successfully, you also need a sense of tolerance.”
Lady Gaga joined in the conversation. “I am honored to be sitting down with the Dalai Lama to have a conversation about kindness. Something amazing about the goodness is that it is free.” She continued, “The action of removing anxiety is very difficult to do. But what you can do is help to calm the fears and the anger. Young people are very confused right now because they are living in a state of horror. The media shows the bad things, right up close. We need to shift the perspective and educate young people. You (mayors) have the power to be kind to them.
“If you are kind to them and empower them, then you don’t have to look far for kindness. Kindness is in the heart of children. When we are born, we don’t yet have that conditioning that happens later when we become jaded, and love becomes tough. My feeling is that you need to empower the youth where you are. I think that young people are so afraid because they think that there is no solution. But there is, and the solution is that we need to build a kinder and braver world.”
Taking the stage later and concluding the afternoon, Hillary Clinton addressed the mayors and audience members. “We need to reimagine the relationship between the federal government and our metropolitan areas,” she said. She spoke about gun control, emphasizing that it is imperative to “act and reduce gun violence. I know that we can respect the Second Amendment and make common sense reforms.”
To be sure, the mayors, their staff and families, journalists and other members of the audience will not soon forget the energy that filled the ballroom throughout that weekend and, in particular, that one rare and memorable day at the USCM. The importance of the conference being held in Indianapolis, aside from drawing national attention from its keynote speakers, was the $1.5 million economic boost to the city and a barrage of social media posts and tweets that hashtagged #Indianapolis and #Carmel, Indiana.