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PROGRESSIVE CHANGE AGENTS IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE OF CITIES

The venerable National League of Cities (NLC), which represents almost 2000 municipalities around the country, is evolving into an even more active change agent on behalf of urban areas.  NLC has historically been a moderately progressive organization, focused on securing federal resources for cities.  NLC’s membership includes many smaller and more conservative cities, and the organization is very careful about taking positions that could divide its members.  The organization has been slowly moving towards more progressive stances, and at its convention this month in Boston, NLC continued the broadening of its policy perspectives.  

Next November, the annual convention will be in Seattle, and the organization has agreed to provide delegates an opportunity for the first time to vote on a resolution endorsing marriage equality.  It has only been in the last few years that NLC endorsed Comprehensive Immigration reform and took a stand in favor of action on global warming.  Both of those issues required several years of discussions before the organization was ready to make a decision.  More recently, NLC has created a Sustainable Cities Institute and launched work on local food issues.  In 2010 I sponsored a resolution that for the first time put NLC on record taking a stand in favor of a progressive Farm Bill.  And at this year’s convention, after a vigorous floor fight, the membership overrode a 15 to 14 vote of the Resolutions Committee to take a stand on the practice of fracking (using water, sand and chemical additives that can contaminate water supplies to open sandstone and shale formations in order to extract oil and natural gas).

NLC has historically had a very strong Black Caucus, many of whom are from small cities in the South.  With the retirement of the long-serving Executive Director, the Board (on which I sit) selected a former leader of that caucus as its new Executive Director, Clarence Anthony, former Mayor of South Bay, Florida.  The Board also elected our first Latina President, Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers of Avondale, Arizona, who grew up as a farmworker and has led the urban resistance to the anti-immigration policies of Arizona’s Republican Governor and Legislature.

The League has taken a strong stand against the across-the-board spending cuts that would come if there is not federal action on the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’, and in favor of revenue enhancements as part of any deficit reduction plan.  Once that set of issues have been addressed, we see immigration reform is a critical priority for 2013.  I will participate in a January Board meeting that will identify our three or four highest legislative priorities, and in the March Legislative conference in DC that will mobilize several thousand city leaders to go to Capitol Hill to advocate for them.

Several years ago I worked with then-Mayor Nickels to get NLC to designate Seattle as the site for the 2013 National Conference – the first time NLC has come to Seattle since the mid-1980’s, when then-Mayor Charles Royer served as NLC President.  After securing the Board’s endorsement for the Seattle conference, in 2011 I became the first Seattle representative in some 15 years to be elected to the NLC Board, after serving as both a member and Chair of NLC policy committees over the last few years.  I was elected along with several other Mayors and Councilmembers who had been active in the Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Policy Committee, one of NLC’s most progressive policy groups.  We are part of shaping the evolution of the organization into a bolder and more progressive vision that will help NLC revitalize itself after losing several hundred member cities due to the strained local budgets of the Great Recession.

The 2013 Seattle Convention will be an opportunity for the whole region to demonstrate our collaborative and innovative work on urban issues, as we are working with the Association of Washington Cities and our suburban partners to design the conference.  City leaders from around the country have expressed enthusiasm about visiting Seattle, and it will be a great chance for us to show off our progress on transit, urban development, zero waste, local food, economic vitality, and environmental stewardship to thousands of City officials.

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