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Cities take priorities to Capitol Hill; NLC leadership team carries strong message to Congress.

President George Bush, in a keynote address at the Congressional City Conference, asked the membership of the National League of Cities to continue taking an active role in a collective strategy of family restoration. "We must start with a clear-eyed look at what's happening to the American family--not just in poor, urban neighborhoods, but all across America," he said. "Then we have to look inside ourselves to establish the principles that will shape our approach."

Bush said his commitment to deliver a family-centered message at the Congressional City Conference was a direct result of NLC's leadership speaking out on these issues in a meeting with him earlier this year.

At a White House meeting in January, NLC President Glenda Hood, along with a diverse group of local government leaders, presented Bush with a list of NLC priorities and invited him to respond at the Congressional City Conference. However, Bush responded first in his recent State of the Union Address when he concentrated on two of NLC's priorities: growing concerns about the changing American family; and under-funded federal mandates.

Bush gave credit to NLC leaders for his decision--made public in the State of the Union Address--to establish an Urban Commission to study failures and successes in cities nationwide. "From neighborhoods comes towns and cities and their health is the key to the health of this nation," Bush said.

More than 3,000 conference attendees packed the general session, which opened amid the notes American anthems played by the White House band.

Bush began by telling the audience that he was "struck (at the January meeting) by the unanimity of the messages that your members wanted to deliver. Your message was simply this 'the enormous problems facing cities today from infant mortality, to high drop- out rate, to runway crime are partly at least symptoms of one larger problem--the deterioration of the American family."

Quoting First Lady Barbara Bush, the President said "What goes on in the White House is not nearly as important as what goes on in your house."

Statements like that were key to Bush's positive impression on attendees at the general session, said NLC Board Member James L. Adams, Councilmember, University City, Missouri.

"It good to know he has come to the realization that cities exist and he's responding to our agenda," Adams said.

"Family breakdown ultimately endangers our position in a world increasingly driven by economic competition. Certainly the integrity of family is critical on its own merit," Bush continued.

Bush symbolized the breakdown of the American family with a "dreary drum beat" and went on to give vivid examples of the destruction of the American family where: one of every four babies is born out of wedlock; a twelve-year-old San Antonio boy is convicted in the murder of a taxi cab driver; and two million children live latch-key lives.

"Each of you is in a position to know the human costs that these statistics can only dimly sketch. You know, as I do, that for every blip on a chart and dot on a graph there is a human story to tell and too often this story is a tragedy."

"I'm sure that many of you here took office with high confidence in the power to solve these problems only to discover, sooner rather than later I suspect, that they were far more stubborn than we can imagine," he said.

"Let's not forget that the trials our citizens face each and every day were generations in the making. We can't expect change overnight. But make no mistake, change will come because change simply must come, he said.

"We can only change things if we work in common purpose," Bush said. "We must act as one nation to defend and strengthen it. We must rely on what works, discard what doesn't and never be afraid to innovate."

Questioning government-propelled solutions as "burden or boon," Bush encouraged city leaders to explore more family-involved solutions to community crisis.

"Those of us in government can never plausibly fight for families if we insist that government make choices for children . . . Government cannot provide the dignity and self respect critical to survival--but home ownership, education and solid families can," Bush stressed.

Bush met with nods of agreement from session attendees as he described the uphill battle to strengthen families in the face of culprits like crime, drug abuse, homelessness, unemployment, divorce and other torn neighborhood disclosures,

"NLC can be proud of the leadership role it has played in the President's thinking on the family," said NLC Board Member Lawrence Kelly, Mayor, Daytona Beach, Fla.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities
Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 16, 1992
Words:762
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