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Leadership is key to tempering great expectations with reality.

"We have entered a period of great challenge and extraordinary opportunity." President-elect Bill Clinton said last week as he began his transition from candidate to national leader.

He's right. The November 3 election reflects, without a doubt, a mandate for change at the national level. A new President, a new Congress, and a broad-based concern about the economy provide a foundation for refocusing America's priorities in the post Cold War era.

The election also creates a challenge at the local level--a challenge for the leaders of the nation's cities and towns to join together with our new national leaders in a partnership for change.

What the Election Means to the Nation's Cities and Towns

The election raises many hopes and expectations. With a Democrat in the White House and continued Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, the environment is right for action instead of gridlock. However, the effectiveness of the national government will depend on its ability to develop and implement solutions to the nation's problems. It will also depend on the ability of cities and towns to make federal programs locally relevant, efficient, and effective.

A Clinton presidency suggests the potential for restored faith in government as an effective agent of change. Clinton's 12 years as a "hands on, can do" governor of a small state demonstrate his recognition that government can work and that for any federal program to work will require an effective partnership with state and local governments.

A Clinton-Gore position paper on rebuilding America's cities emphasizes the importance of a strong government role. "...It is time for a new partnership to rebuild America's cities--a partnership between people and their government to expand opportunity and solve problems, so that our cities will once again be the pride of our nation.

America's cities should be places where hard-working families can put down roots and find good jobs, affordable housing, decent schools, and safer streets."

But hopes and expectations also bring risks. The higher the expectations, the greater the risk of disappointment or even failure. While the environment for action may be right, the problems are many and federal resources still sorely limited.

It is unreasonable and inappropriate to assume that a new national government can turn on a financial spigot that will produce quick fixes to serious problems. The $4 trillion national debt still looms as a major obstacle to new investment in communities and in people.

The challenge we all face is to work together to maximize the potential. As local leaders, we cannot simply watch and wait--nor can we come to the table with a list of demands. Instead, we must engage constructively in raising issues, offering solutions, and defining a strong local role in rebuilding hometown America.

A Leadership Role in Building Communities

Last summer--before anyone could predict the results of the national election--the NLC Board of Directors talked about redefining its leadership role in response to the economic, political, and social challenges facing our nation. The Board focused on NLC's role in achieving livable communities through cooperation and collaboration. A key conclusion of that discussion was that NLC--its leadership and its members--must be proactive in bringing local issues to the national agenda and in participating in the solutions.

The change in national leadership reaffirms the importance of working together to shape the national agenda on behalf of the communities we serve. President-elect Clinton has called for a reunited United States, a spirit of community, and a new partnership for a new America. The nation's cities and towns can and should play a vital role in that partnership.

During the next few months, your leaders will be working to bring the voice of the nation's cities and towns to Washington. The appointment of Former San Antonio Mayor and former NLC President Henry Cisneros to the Clinton transition team puts an experienced city voice at the table. We hope to work closely with members of the Clinton team as it takes shape, as well as to continue to build partnerships with Congressional leaders.

The 69th Annual Congress of Cities in New Orleans later this month provides a timely opportunity to engage in constructive discussion about critical issues. In New Orleans, we will be begin our efforts to refine critical priorities and define what the leaders of the nation's cities and towns can do to help the President-elect move the country forward.

The Board of Directors will be discussing short term and long term priorities during its meeting there. Our opening general session speaker, Harvard economist Robert Reich will address the key issue on everyone's mind today--THE ECONOMY. And the three plenary sessions will provide an opportunity for delegates to engage in discussion about emerging issues.

A partnership is a two-way street.

Therefore, I hope that you will come to New Orleans ready to engage in constructive discussion and will continue to work with NLC during the coming year to make a difference for our cities and towns.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Borut, Donald J.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 9, 1992
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