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Full text of NLC President Sidney J. Barthelemy's address at the Congress of Cities.

It's indeed a humbling experience for me to have been able to serve you as President of National League of Cities. It was a great honor and a great opportunity. I reflect over this year the many battles that we have had to fight, the many assaults upon our cities and towns, and feel that we have waged a good fight, and we have come through the battles, even though scarred, still able to continue.

I guess I think mostly about the meetings that we have had with our Congressional leaders, and with members of the White House staff, particularly when we were able to save the Community Development Block Grant program, particularly when we were able to make our case to Congress on the Legislation that we were successful with. And also an opportunity to visit many of you throughout your State League meetings. It's been a great, great experience, and I want to thank you for your friendship.

When I reflect particularly on those times when we have had to do battle, I guess I am a little disheartened that we have had to struggle with so many issues without our partners, the federal government, and sometimes our state government. We have heard too often from them that the problems we needed to address, the crime in our streets, the homelessness, the health care problems that we all faced, were local problems.

Problems of the cities and towns

Those were the problems of cities and towns. And, too often we were told that the federal government had bigger problems to deal with. We had to address world problems. We had to assist the community of the world.

Too often when we asked for help, we were told that there was a deficit that needed to be reduced, and we could not provide assistance to you on the local level.

Too often we were told that the budget needed to be balanced and domestic programs were budget-busters. And so we being the understanding partners that we are, we being the concerned citizens that we are, we were willing to wait, to wait for our turn, for our time when assistance could be provided by our federal and state partners. We were understanding as we saw one of the most effective local government programs, revenue sharing, eliminated. And we were told that we needed to eliminate revenue sharing to reduce the deficit. But we understood and we watched, yet the deficit grew.

So we were once again understanding when we saw other domestic programs get the axe, because we still needed to reduce the deficit. After all, we thought, we are partners in this government of ours, and we must be understanding, we must help to reduce the deficit. But we watched the deficit continue to grow instead.

So we continued to be understanding when we were told we needed to build our military budget. We needed to have a strong military because Russia was stronger than we were. Russia and Communism were threats to world peace. And so we increased our military to protect not only America but Europe, Japan, the Far East, and all of the other nations of the world from the spread of Communism. But today we watch, and we see Communism crumbling, and we didn't even have to fire one shot.

The budget agreement

We were understanding also when the President and Congress came together to develop a budget agreement, a budget agreement that was to insure that all domestic spending, defense spending, and foreign aid spending, would remain the same, so that we could balance the federal budget. After all, we in cities and towns must balance our budget; we cannot spend money we do not have, but we watched them create a new category of spending, a category called off-budget spending. And we watched them spend billions and billions and billions of dollars on S & L bailouts, bank bailouts, Desert Storm, and many other emergency problems that we as a nation continue to face.

And the deficit continues to grow.

Now we are to be understanding once again while Congress and the President attempt to solve the problems of a recession, a recession that could have been caused, maybe because we failed to address our domestic problems. Maybe the recession happened because we failed to realize that you cannot spend $150 billion outside of America without weakening the economy of America.

But I have to say that I'm proud of us, the National League of Cities, because we saw it coming. We started saying many years ago that if you let cities and towns of America deteriorate, you let America deteriorate. We said you can't ignore the infrastructure of American cities and towns while you build the infrastructure of foreign nations and other towns of the world. We said because you will make America non-competitive if we don't build our infrastructure and build others' infrastructure.

So what has happened now is that we see America losing jobs, American losing industries to our foreign allies. We see American people now out of work. We are concerned. We said you can't ignore the escalating crime and drug problems in our cities and towns, because America will become unsafe, while America becomes the policeman for the rest of the world. You can't protect only the security of the Middle East, Europe, the Far East, while you ignore the security of New York City, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Miami.

Time to stop being understanding

There are more Americans being killed on the streets of our cities than were killed in Desert Storm. The time has come for us to stop being understanding.

The time has come for us to say: "We warned you; we said these days were coming, and you didn't listen." The time has come for us to say to Congress and the President of the United States: "Stop what you are doing, because you will only make matters worse. Stop, listen to us for a change. Listen to us who struggle on a day-by-day basis to balance our budget. Listen to us who struggle, day in and day out, to keep drugs from destroying the lives of our children. Listen to us who are watching half of the children in America drop out of our schools, and lead meaningless lives, and wind up in our prisons. Listen to us for a change."

We're at a turning point in American history, and we have a chance to change the course of our direction. Our federal government can continue on its current disastrous course, or it can change.

It can change the strategy to insure that America will be competitive, that American people will have jobs, that American children will be educated, that American senior citizens will have health care.

Or, we can take the politically safe road. We can follow the course that seems to be in the works, and that is, we can cut the taxes.

Don't you sometimes wish that we on the local level can cut taxes and provide services?

Don't you think that it doesn't make sense for us to have a $300 billion deficit and cut taxes? Don't you think that we need to invest in America, that we need to invest in our cities and towns, that we need to create jobs to give people hope to reinvest in America?

I ask you to think, to join with me. It's tough. It's tough for us who are politicians who get elected by people who are complaining about taxes, to say to our national government, maybe we ought not simply give a tax cut.

Maybe, we ought to instead take the monies that we are spending to protect the rest of the world from Russia and invest it in America. Maybe, the time has come for us to put America first. Maybe, the time has come for us to fight for America.

You and I will have to take the leadership. You and I will have to stand up for the common good. You and I will have to bring America to the foundation that it once was established for, and that was for domestic tranquility for the common good.

Fight back for America

On Sunday we will have a package for each and every one of you to join our campaign to fight back for America. Please take a copy of this document before the luncheon, fill it out, and contribute to a national effort to speak out for America's future. I salute many of you who have already started and contributed. People like Danny Tabor from Inglewood, California, Jill Goldthwait from Bar Harbor, Maine; Tom Godfrey from Salt Lake City, many other colleagues who have come to Washington, D.C. to carry a message from cities to cities to our nation's leaders, that we need leadership, that we ask our Washington colleagues to work with us, the elected officials of cities and towns, and create a real partnership for the future of America.

It will not be easy. It will not be in some cases politically popular, because everyone would like to have a tax cut, even me. But we must do it for the future of America. And if all of us stand up we can do it. it is time to reinvest in America.

If you want to create jobs and stimulate the economy, you don't do it simply by giving someone who makes $70,000 a year a $100 tax break. When you have millions of Americans looking for jobs every day, you must create jobs; you must do that by investing in our infrastructure, by building roads, bridges, transportation systems, schools, public buildings. We must reinvest in America's infrastructure.

You do that also by making cities safe and competitive. They must be safe places to live and work. We will experience a record number of murders in many of our cities this year.

Yet the crime bill was deferred. Drugs continue to plague the streets of our cities, and they continue to spend money and send money to the state capitals, not the city governments, not the streets of our cities.

Imagine what would have happened in the Middle East if we had sent the monies to Europe instead of to the front lines in Kuwait. We wouldn't have won Desert Storm. We have to send the monies to our cities and not our state capitals.

Japan, Europe, even Korea . . . they are all secure now; Russia is falling apart. Yet there is more concern in Washington about a Russian agenda than there is about a domestic agenda. Everyone can feel safer now that Russia is on the way out, yet many of our senior citizens cannot walk the streets of our cities because they are concerned with crime.

It is time for a change

It is time for a change. It is time to change a budget agreement that does not work, that only puts domestic programs in jeopardy. As Frank Shafroth says, we're all in a tank with sharks, and those of us who are bleeding, we better look out.

It is time, truthfully, to address the domestic agenda.

It is time to stimulate our economy and to create jobs for our people.

It is time to be more concerned about America's security than about the security of other nations.

It is time to stop the flow of drugs on our streets, in our cities. Communism is dead.

It is time to provide houses for our homeless, it is time to provide health care for our sick senior citizens.

It is time for us to start fighting for our cities and the people who live in them. It is time to enact a domestic agenda. It is time to enact a local partnership act of 1991.

It is time because our patience has run out.

We can no longer be understanding. We can no longer defer action. We can no longer wait. We need a domestic agenda. It is time Mr. President and members of Congress. It is time to be leaders. It is time to lead America into a greater future.

I thank you for this opportunity, for this honor. I thank all of the support that I've been given over this year, from the many special people on our Board of Directors, and the offices of Glenda Hood, Don Fraser, Don Borut, our chief executive; Chris Becker, Frank Shafroth, Charlie Pasqua . . . you've all been great, magnificent, and this has been a wonderful experience for me.

We must catch the vision

I believe there is a brighter future for our cities and towns across this nation, but we must catch the vision. We must believe and be willing to work for that brighter future.

There was a great educator, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, who was the former president of Morehouse College. He once said, and I quote: "Man must believe that however hard the road, however difficult today, tomorrow things will be better."

Tomorrow may not be better, but we must believe it will be. Wars may never cease, but we must continue to strive to eliminate them. We may not abolish poverty, but we must believe that we can provide bread enough to spare for every living creature, and that we can find the means to distribute it. We may not exterminate racism, but we must believe that different racial groups can live together in peace, and we must never cease to try to build a society in which the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man become realities.

In other words, man must live by faith in God, faith to believe that God sustains good and not evil, peace and not war, truth and not lies, justice and not injustice, integrity and not dishonesty.

My colleagues, my fellow elected officials of cities and towns, I believe that with all of us working together we can make a difference for the people we serve in our cities and towns. Join with me and let us cry out to Washington, let us let the federal government know that we are partners in this great experiment in democracy, and that when our cities and towns are strong, our nation will be strong, forever. Thank you.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Transcript
Date:Dec 16, 1991
Previous Article:Full text of President Bush address - questions and answers.
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