April 22, 2023
Franklin Davis, Vice President, Federal Government Relations, American Beverage Association: Good morning. Good morning. Hope everyone is enjoying the conference so far. Again, I'm Franklin Davis, bice president federal government relations at the American Beverage Association. First, I'd like to thank the African American Mayors for hosting such a successful conference this week. To Phyllis, to the other members of the team, thank you. Your partnership with American Beverage and critical conversations this week is vital to the work we do in Washington, but is also vital to the more than 270,000 men and women we employ nationwide.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being on a panel with the mayor of Mount Vernon, New York, to discuss food insecurity across our cities, and how public and private partnerships must work to ensure healthier communities. While preparing for that policy session, as well as the honor of introducing the upcoming panel, I had the opportunity to reflect on the work our mayors do each and every day. As I thought about it, I was reminded of a print my grandmother had in her sewing room. It said, "A shepherd must smell like their sheep." As mayors, you are shepherds, our hyper-local leaders who revel in our successes, help us, challenge us, and work non-stop to build vibrant communities.
A few days ago, I also had another memory of a former member of Congress and who's now a mayor, LA Mayor Karen Bass. We were in New York for a weekend trip, and I saw her very early in the gym. She had her workout gloves on and she was pumping iron. So I walked over to the congresswoman and now mayor and I said, "Congresswoman, why are you working so hard?" She said, "Franklin, I got to keep up with my constituents." That's how I think of mayors across our nation, always staying in tune with the communities they serve and putting in the hard work each and every day to keep up with those they serve. Not only do they keep up, but they excel. To the mayors in this room and beyond, your innovation, partnerships and dedication to building stronger, healthier communities is laudable.
And so today, I'm honored to introduce four mayors who are leading positive change in our nation's largest cities. Moderating today's discussion between the Big 4 Mayors are Cleveland Mayor, Justin Bibb, and Earle, Arkansas, Mayor Jaylen Smith. Justin Bibb is the 58th mayor of Cleveland. He's working to improve public safety, invest in neighborhoods and modernize city hall. On January 3rd, 2022, Mayor Bibb took the oath of office as the city's first millennial mayor. Since taking office, Mayor Bibb has successfully brought Cleveland back into the national conversation. For the first time in decades, Cleveland has a leadership role in the US Conference of Mayors and Ohio's Mayors Alliance. The mayor is an active member of the USCM Advisory Board, Vice-Chair for Climate and Resilience on the Environment Committee, Co-Chair of the US Climate Mayors, and a member of the Mayors against illegal guns.
Moderating with Mayor Bibb is Mayor Jaylen Smith. Mayor Smith graduated from Earle High School in May of 2022. At age 18, he became one of the youngest mayors ever elected in the country. Interestingly enough, his own parents didn't know he filed for the ballot. At some point, the mayor will have to tell all of us that story. In 2022, Smith was elected mayor of Earle, and with his victory, made him the youngest mayor in our nation's history. Smith's mayoral priorities include improving public safety and transportation, emergency preparedness, and addressing the food deserts in his community. Recently, he joined President Clinton on stage as a speaker at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting at Vanderbilt University. Please welcome your moderators today, Mayor Smith and Mayor Bibb. Congratulations, you all.
All right, now onto the Big 4 panel. First on today's panel is New York City's Eric Adams. Eric Adams was elected Brooklyn Borough President in 2013 by putting together a diverse coalition of Brooklynites, to become the borough's first Black leader. As the representative of one of the nation's largest counties, Mayor Adams fought tirelessly to grow the local economy, invest in schools, reduce inequality, improve public safety, and advocate for smart policies that deliver for all New Yorkers. For those that are frequent visitors to New York City, you'll be delighted to know the mayor has appointed the city's first rat czar. Simply, thank you, Mr. Mayor. With that, please welcome New York City's mayor, Eric Adams.
Also joining us today is Los Angeles Mayor, Karen Bass. She's the 43rd mayor of Los Angeles, and the first woman and second African American to be elected as the city's chief executive. With an agenda focused on accountability and setting a new direction for Los Angeles, her priorities are housing people immediately, and increasing public safety and opportunity in every part of the City of Angels. While representing LA and Culver City in Congress, Mayor Bass helped protect small businesses during the pandemic and led the passage of what the LA Times called, "the most significant child welfare policy reforms in decades." Please join me in welcoming Mayor Karen Bass of Los Angeles.
I am now thrilled to welcome Mayor Lightfoot. As the 56th mayor of Chicago, Mayor Lightfoot has undertaken an ambitious agenda of expanding opportunity and inclusive economic growth across Chicago's neighborhoods and communities. Her accomplishments include landmark ethics and good government reforms, worker protection legislation, and closing a record $800+ million budget gap. She's also made key investments in education, public safety, and financial stability in her city. Mayor Lightfoot, congratulations on winning the bid to host the DNC. As most will tell you, there is no better place in the summer than Chicago. Mayor Lightfoot, please come out.
All right, last, but certainly not least, joining us today is Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. Elected in 2015, and overwhelmingly reelected in 2019, Mayor Turner's serving his second four-year term as Houston's 62nd Mayor. Now in his final years as Houston's top leader, Mayor Turner continues to live his theme of execution and implementation as he focuses on finishing major projects and initiatives he jumpstarted. Since taking office, Mayor Turner has expertly managed significant challenges facing the nation's fourth-largest city. They include budget deficits, homelessness, Hurricane Harvey, and the city's response to the Covid-19 global pandemic. Amid national unrest and calls for improving the community and police relations, the mayor signed an executive order that, A, restricted the use of force, and B, created a task force on policing. Please welcome Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, and let's give a hardy round of applause to the entire panel.
Mayor Justin Bibb: Good morning everyone.
Audience: Good morning.
Mayor Bibb: Now, y'all can do better than that. Good morning, everybody!
Audience: Good morning!
Mayor Bibb: Well, we are just so honored to co-host and moderate this important conversation and really reflect on the major opportunities and challenges facing America's big cities. But I think we should first acknowledge the fact that, for the first time in American history, the nation's four largest cities are led by Black leaders. That's a big deal. That's a big deal. And so we really want to just kick off this conversation, and my fellow young mayor, Jaylen Smith, will start us off. Jaylen?
Mayor Jaylen Smith: Good morning. Good morning. Thank you, Mayor Bibb. I'm looking forward to today's discussion and learning more about what goes on in these big cities, and I'm just honored to be in the presence of you all. So, Mayor Adams, the first question goes to you. I'd like to start with you. New York is the largest city in the nation, with more than 8 million residents. Of the many issues that cross your desk every day, there must be one thing that crossed your mind, and so I want to know what keeps you up at night, mayor?
Mayor Eric Adams: Yeah. No, I think that all of my colleagues would agree, the awesome responsibility of being a mayor. I heard someone state that you have three parties in the country, the Democrats, the Republicans, then the mayors, and it's… The job is volume. From borough president, as a county executive of Brooklyn, I was drinking out of a garden hose. As the mayor, you're drinking out of four fire hoses. And it comes all day, all night, all the time, and it's how do you sectionalize that to make sure you can manage it in a real way? And then you have to hire the right team to make it happen.
And what's very fascinating, I'm sure you could agree, that the people who did not want you to get elected, they want to tell you who you need to hire. And so, when I came into office and I decided that I was going to hire the first African American woman to be the first deputy mayor, the first African American woman to be my chief advisor, the second African American woman to be my chief of staff, the first African American woman to be the police commissioner, when you start to look at my team, it's reflecting the city. So the reason I can actually sleep at night is because I brought the right people on board that's going to watch my back.
Mayor Smith: Yeah. Yes, sir. So, mayor, I have one more question. Define the swag and how it influenced your work as mayor. And I think I know when I see it, but can you please help me define and define it for me?
Mayor Adams: And that's so important, because I'm the mayor of the city of New York. I was in Qatar the other day, and the Emir stated that, "There's America and then there's New York City." And what people expected, they expected me to fit in. Being the mayor, being the borough president, being a state senator, being a captain in the police department, that's my glory, that's not my story. My story is being dyslexic and bullied as a child. My story is being arrested and beat by police officers. My story is being rejected. And so when I came here and became the mayor, it's not because I came from a family of prestigious people, I came from a mom that cleaned houses. So when you could have someone that's a arrested, rejected, dyslexic, and now I'm elected to be the mayor of the most powerful city in the country? You walk differently. You walk, you got this…
How could you not have a level of you sit in front of all of these people who wake up every day praying and hoping that I can fail? They watched me navigate the Covid crisis. They watched me navigate 52,000 people coming into our city without one penny from the federal government. They watched me decrease crime in my city, deal with homelessness in my city. The bond ratings, Fitch, raised our bond to a AA I. I'm the CEO of the largest corporation in America. My bald head, earring-wearing swagger is running this city my way. My way. That's swag.
Mayor Bibb: Well, as my pastor would say, won't he do it?
That's right. Now I want to go to Mayor Bass for a second 'cause I feel like we in church today, right now. We in church. Mayor Bass, you took the helm of leading Los Angeles at a time where homelessness is at the forefront of our country. Can you tell us how you're tackling this problem and how you've done such a great job doing it in your first 100 days?
Mayor Karen Bass: Yes. Well, first of all, it is wonderful being here. As a new mayor, I think I'm in day 135. And seeing all of you and being able to meet you over the last few days has been wonderful. I have just enjoyed so much watching you, Mayor Adams. But the solidarity that we have felt, I remember right after my election was called, Stephen Benjamin, Mayor Benjamin called me up and invited me on a Zoom call with these three individuals. Just the way they have been so supportive has been amazing. Yes, please give them a round of applause. I left Congress. A lot of people thought that was a little crazy to leave Congress, and I wasn't tired of Congress or anything. But what made me leave is the fact that LA is about 3.8 million folks, Black folk, 8 percent of the city, 34 percent of the people living in tents, 47,000 people in Los Angeles in tents.
My concern was that we were getting ready to repeat the '90s. In the '90s, it was crack. In LA it was the Crips, the Bloods, 1000 homicides, and the only response that society had for us was to begin what we would later call mass incarceration. Now, I was worried that poverty, deep poverty was going to be criminalized, and I did not want to see that created. We've seen this movie before. We know where it's going, which is why on day one, I didn't go to City Hall. I went straight to our emergency operations center, declared a state of emergency, put the city in state of emergency because it's an emergency to have 47,000 people sleeping on the street, four or five of them dying every single day. For us to be only 8 percent of the population and 34 percent of the tents, 74 percent of the people in the streets are Black or brown. So what we've been able to do in the first 100 days is dispel an extremely important myth, and that is that people are on the streets because they want to be on the streets because they're all strung out on drugs.
We have thousands of children who are in those tents. We have foster youth in those tents. We have veterans, we have women who are fleeing domestic violence. We do have people coming out of prison because of mass incarceration and punishing people after they get out. They didn't have any place to go, so they get out of prison and then go to a tent. Of course, we have people suffering from substance abuse and mental illness, so that's why I gambled to run. I ran against somebody who put $110 million into the race, the most money, he even beat Bloomberg. Bloomberg spent 100 million, but again, it just shows that when you can do the grassroots work, you can even overcome that, so that's why I did it. We've been able to get 1200 folks out of those tents in the first 100 days. We got them into motels. We got another 3000 off the street into housing that had already been planned.
So it's very clear to me there is a pathway out of this. But I just want to conclude by saying this is a problem, as I've learned in talking to many of you, this is a problem that we are experiencing across the country. What this part of it reminds me of the '90s too, because when crack hit, there was a time period when we really didn't want to admit that we all knew somebody. We all had somebody. When mass incarceration started, we didn't always want to say, "Well, I have Pookie in my family, and he's in prison." I think it's the same way with homelessness. This is a problem across the country. You know how you can go to a city that has 2 percent Black folk, but 40 percent of the people in jail are Black? Well, homelessness is disproportionately Black all around the country. I think we need to raise this as a national issue. It's not just housing. Housing, of course, but people are sleeping on our streets everywhere, and I think that is an emergency for Black people across the country.
Mayor Smith: I'm going to move down to Mayor Turner. Mayor Turner, you lead the country's most diverse city. How has your background of growing up in Houston's projects changed your perspective as a mayor?
Mayor Sylvester Turner: I don't know if it's changed my perspective. I grew up in that hood. I still live in that hood, so it hasn't changed that. I think it has amplified the fact that when I came in as mayor seven years ago, I said to the people then I didn't want to be the mayor of two cities in one; cities of have and have-nots, and that it was important to drive resources into these communities that had been under-resourced for decades. What I said to the people in our city is that people shouldn't have to feel like they need to move out of their neighborhoods to go across town in order to participate in the American dream. So we focused on 10 communities that have been underserved and under-resourced for decades. We wanted to make sure, for example, that there was quality housing, schools, parks and green space, economic and job opportunities, so that has been the focus. It hasn't changed it.
I chose to stay in that neighborhood because it was my way of saying to the people in neighborhoods similar to the one in which I was born and really, still live, that you can come from this hood and still grow up and be the mayor of the fourth largest city in the country, so it hasn't changed it. I think it is put me in a better position, for example, to represent all of the people in our city. Then lastly, what I've said, just like after of the death of the murder of George Floyd when people were protesting, and what I said to the business community before the murder of George Floyd is that it is important for us to invest in these communities, invest in these neighborhoods from the very beginning, such that when a flashpoint does occur, people can see that we were already in these neighborhoods and it would buy us more time.
Quite frankly, after the murder of George Floyd, that turned out to be the case. The people in our community, even after 60,000 people marched downtown, I marched with them in the demonstrations. For example, I helped to put on the demonstrations with the folk and we marched together. At the end of the day, those 60,000 went home. So it hasn't changed, it's amplified. As my mom said, and one of the reasons why I'm still in that hood, it's not just my thinking, but my mom's told me that after I came back from law school and got a job at a large law firm, my mom told me to stay in this neighborhood. I asked her why. I asked her why. What she said to me is that just like you've benefited from others, people need to see you in this neighborhood such that they know that just like you have elevated yourself, they can do the same, and they can do it from right here in this community.
Mayor Bibb: Thank you for that, Mayor Turner. Mayor Lightfoot, I want to build on something that Mayor Turner touched on, this idea that we have to invest in our people. After George Floyd's murder, McKinsey came out with a study and talked about how the fact that America's racial wealth gap between Blacks and whites is costing us trillions of dollars of loss, economic productivity. As mayor of Chicago, Mayor Lightfoot, you have made investing in your workforce a key priority. Can you talk about the work you've been doing to lead on pay equity in Chicago?
Mayor Lori Lightfoot: Well, first of all, it's great to be here with all of you, and it's really great to be here with my fellow Big 4 Mayors. We do love and respect and support each other, lean into each other in times of triumph, but also in times of tragedy or other challenges that we all face every single day. While we represent the biggest four cities in the country, everything that we are doing is happening in every city across the country, it's just at a different scale. So I want to make sure I say that. Look, I'm going to flip the script a little bit. Yes, we have, I think, done great work on pay equity, but for me, really what our work has to be about is about building wealth in places that have been denied for far too long. I walked in the door talking about equity and inclusion, and I got some quaint smiles from some of the downtown business folks in Chicago. These folks all know what I'm talking about.
Now four years later, they're all singing that mantra. We are not finished, there's more work to do. But if we are not intentionally focused on righting historic wrongs, particularly around economic development, about putting money in people's pockets, as a daughter of a woman who was a care worker, if we're not thinking about how those women that are out there working two, three jobs trying to keep it together for their families, if we're not focused on those things, we're missing incredible opportunities. So yes, pay equity is part of it, but for me, the answer to a lot of the challenges that we face in our cities, all roads lead to poverty. The lack of investment and making sure that our kids see people who go to work every day, people who have good jobs, that they can take care of their families.
Just as Mayor Turner was talking about being present in his neighborhood, we need to be present at tables of power and stop being satisfied with taking crumbs from somebody's table. You mentioned all the statements by companies after the murder of George Floyd, which I frankly call the I love Black people statements. Well, really, how many of those companies that have made those statements made those pledges have actually followed through? If we don't, as mayors, hold those folks accountable, shame on us for our communities. But as a mayor, I believe that we have to lead by example. I can't wag my finger at corporate America and push them to do more if I'm not taking care of business on my end. So we have put out a transparent equity study to show what's happening in city government and making sure that women are not being paid less than men.
We have put out transparency around who we are hiring to make sure that we are living our values of diversity and not just hiring the same old, same old from a political organization and not really opening up opportunities for them. We've done the same thing with our buying power around procurement, right? In the city of Chicago, we procure right around $4 billion every year in goods and services. Surely, some of those contracts can go to Black and brown and women and veterans-owned businesses. So it's different tools and levers that we can pull, but it's all centered around equity and righting historic wrongs, to build wealth in people who deserve to see a return on their investment in our city, living in our city, paying taxes in our city. They should get the same kind of resources as wealthy neighborhoods do. But that hasn't been the story of Chicago, and I've done everything I can to flip that script for our residents.
Mayor Bibb: Thank you so much, Mayor Lightfoot. Mayor Adams?
Mayor Adams: I think what Mayor Lightfoot stated is just so powerful when you think about it, of coming out of George Floyd, coming out of Rodney King, coming out of Clifford Glover, coming out of, I could just go down a line, where we are right now is that there's a real disconnect of the army. We had a good conversation with Brother Smith back in the hold room, we must operate from a blueprint. We can't do this scatter and pray stuff. This is not how you run corporations. These cities are corporations. Our budgets, managing… I have 302,000 employees, and right now, we need to sit down. I'm getting ready to meet with Reverend Sharpton and my mayors and my business leaders. Right now, we are running the major cities, mayors of color are running major cities.
We are heading major corporation, United Airlines and others. We are top athletes making hundreds of millions of dollars. When we were with brother, my brother, the producer, the movie producer the other day, thank you, but we need to get together and create a blueprint, and everyone is operating off the blueprint. Don't tell me after George Floyd, you're going to buy a journal in my dinner dance page. Man, I don't need that. I don't need no journal. So if my healthcare professionals that have been talking about maternity issues, maternal morbidity, they need to draft that aspect of the blueprint. My business leaders, my finance leaders, they need to draft that aspect of the blueprint. My educators that's talking about in New York City, 65 percent of Black and brown children never reached proficiencies, yet, we're spending over $30 billion.
People eat off of the dysfunctionalities of our communities. And so when we all have a blueprint, that blueprint is on the desk of the Mayors. It's on the desk of my corporate brothers and sisters. It's on the desk of my healthcare. We're all operating off a blueprint. Right now, we don't have a blueprint. We sit down. How many of us know who's the CEO of United Airlines, who's a brother? All of these major corporations, we all need to know each other and sit down together and say, "This is what we are doing." Archbishop Desmond Tutu has a quote. "We spend a lifetime pulling people out of the river instead of going upstream and preventing them from falling in the first place." We are pulling Black and brown people out of the river and then doing an analysis of who's eating off of pulling us out of the river don't look like us. People have profitsized our dysfunctionality and we need to stop it, and a blueprint would allow us to do it.
Mayor Bibb: Mayor Adams, you are spot on with this notion of how do we as America's mayors work better with the private sector and have a grassroots and grass-top strategy for our community, because we are the architects of our own destiny. No one's going to save us but ourselves.
Mayor Adams: That's right.
Mayor Bibb: And so I want to continue to build on this conversation and start with Mayor Bass. Mayor Bass, from your vantage point, how do we do a better job of making this connection and start the change the national narrative of how to leverage Black political power in a more powerful way, leading with America's Black mayors in our cities?
Mayor Bass: Well, I would just say first of all, it's Black political power, but it's also Black economic power. And I think that that is what is often dismissed, which is why people take ads out in a journal, but do not invest to the scale in which we need to have investments made within our city. I think it's very important that we begin to change the conversation, because we might be mayors of very large cities, but none of our cities are all Black. And what we don't get the credit for, it's just like when the Congressional Black Caucus, when the Chairman Steven Horsford talked yesterday and said that the CBC now represents 80 million people, 18 million of which are African American. And I think the coalition-building that we need to do, one, across race, but also, each of us have congressional delegations, state legislative delegations, and I think oftentimes we don't maximize the power of all of that that we have, bringing elected officials together.
And then I look at the things that you know have done in New York and you have done in Chicago, and many of you have done it around your cities. We can all build on that. And I do think it's the agenda that you talk about. We have to have an agenda, but we have to hold people accountable and stop resting on, yes, we got a little bit. No, we need to be at the table. And I say what you say, just slightly differently. What I say is that in our country we have monetized poverty. And that's one of the reasons why it's so difficult because people profit off of our poverty. What we had in LA, because LA is a very liberal city, right? Very liberal city. Everybody had their Black Lives Matter flags out. Then crime ticked up and there was smash and grab and all of a sudden it was Black Lives Matter last year, but this year you're scaring me so I don't think I really want to go there anymore.
But we all know this. So we knew when George Floyd happened and when the corporation stepped up, we knew that was going to be temporary because we've seen this before. We have to learn and remember our history. These moments are fleeting, but when they are fleeting, we need to capture them as well and say, "Don't just make a contribution. I want to be at the table." We're going to define what the community needs and talk about the investment that needs to be made. A substantive investment, not a tokenistic investment. Don't tell us that this is the new diversity person you've hired and now that box is checked, and so that means there's equity because we have somebody whose title says equity. That's not what equity is.
Mayor Bibb: Mayor Lightfoot?
Mayor Lightfoot: So just to build on the point I think that Mayor Bass made, what I will say is from my perspective is as Black folks, we need to be united. Because if we are not united, they're going to divide us and we will constantly be conquered. So I've been mayor for the last four years. My time is winding down, but what I saw and what I see is the people in my neighborhoods who have been starved for resources, there are areas of my city that look like the fires of '68 just got put out, Black folks have represented those areas forever. Why is it? Why is it that we have taken so long for ourselves to wake up? If we are content with crumbs, our people will never, ever prosper. So yeah, absolutely, we need to hold them accountable, but we need to hold ourselves accountable as well. And if we are not united and we don't have the blueprint that Mayor Adams is a hundred percent right about, and we don't execute on that with fidelity and stop the nonsense, stop the crabs in the barrel, but come together as a people and demand more, we are never going to get over the hill, ever.
Mayor Bibb: That's great.
Mayor Adams: And brother, just look at New York, just to bounce on what you said. Look at New York City, the largest city in America. We have a Black mayor, we have a mayor of color, we have a public advocate of color. Three of our DAs are of color. We have the leader of the assembly of color, the lead of the senate of color. The attorney general is of color. Over 40 something committee chairs are of color. When you look at Hakeem Jeffries, the minority leader in Congress, of color. We have all of this chocolate, so when people are running around here telling me, "Fight the fire," or "Fight the power." Negro, you are the power. We are the power.
Mayor Bibb: Yeah. That's it.
Mayor Adams: You know what I'm saying?
Mayor Lightfoot: That's it.
Mayor Adams: We are the power.
Mayor Lightfoot: That's right.
Mayor Adams: But you can't use that power waking up every day using that power of, let me see how I'm going to hate on Eric. Oh, Eric hit on my third grade girlfriend when he was in third grade, so now I hate him for life. Come on. Stop. The city is being destroyed by the migrant crisis and none of my folks came to Washington, DC to fight for the resources that's going to undermine every agency in our city. So what Mayor Lightfoot is saying, we didn't get here to look and hate on each other. We don't have to agree on everything. I don't agree with everything I do. How the hell am I agree with everything you do? But you can't tell me when you look at the agenda of all of us, you are going to find eight out of 10 things we agree on, so let's lean on what we agree on and not focus on the two things we don't agree on.
Mayor Bibb: Love that. Love that. Phyllis, I think we got next year's theme for the conference. Mayor Turner, I want you to chime in on this point as well.
Mayor Turner: It is about leadership. One of the things that I've done in the city of Houston is convening all of our Black elected officials at all levels, state representatives, congressional leaders, school board members, you name it at all levels. And to say, "This is where we are, and now this is where we need to go." And people are looking for that blueprint. And even at the City of Houston, when I came in to all of my departments, I said, "These are the priorities that we need to address and these are the ones that we need to focus on." And so to all of my directors, whatever we are doing, they have to align with these priorities because this is where we have a limited period of time and we need to get it done. And then I said to them, "Yes, I have a four-year term, but I have given ourselves a one-year term, and so let's see how much we can accomplish in this one year."
One thing that mayors know is that we have to produce. Congressional people and everybody else, they can talk the policy, but for us, we have to produce, and we have to do it when facing things that we did not foresee and could not stop. And so in my case, for example, the city has faced seven federally declared disasters. So we have to deal with those things that we could not stop, but at the same time, we have to move the city forward. And so, when I came into office, one of the biggest financial crisis was pension and unfunded pension liabilities. It had plagued the city for some 25 years. But when I came in as the African American mayor, what the people in the business community said to me, Mayor, you must fix it and you must fix it now."
They didn't say that to anybody else, but when I came in, my paper said, "Fix it now." The business leadership said, "Fix it now." And, I brought in all of the union groups and said, "We need to address it. These are the things that I need. And now you tell me how can you work with your memberships to get it there?" The bottom line is at the end of the day, we end up putting in a permanent fix that was approved by a Republican legislature, approved by our voters, and we got it fixed, and now an unfunded pension liability that was way up in the billions now is below $2.2 billion and going down every day. When I came into office, I faced a $160 million budgetary shortfall. But since then, we have turned that around and now the city's financial position is stronger than ever before.
We faced homelessness. But in the last, since 2012, and even going to my administration, we have reduced homelessness by over 65 percent. There are less than 3000 people who are homeless on the streets in the city of Houston, and we are still driving that down. The point that I want to make, and then with communities that have been underserved and under-resourced. One thing as Black mayors that we know, even when we represent a very diverse community, people who have been ignored for a long time or disenfranchised and been without, they don't give African American mayors a long time to fix the problem. Even African Americans will say to you, "Mayor, where are you? And fix it right now." We don't have a long runway. They may give it to somebody else that doesn't look like us, but when we step in as mayor, people want the grocery stores yesterday. They want an elimination of energy deserts, food deserts yesterday. And so we have to let them know, yes, we've been plagued by these problems for decades and yes, I see you. I'm going to respond to you, but I need you to work with me.
And just like you're putting pressure on me, put pressure on the other folk at the same time. And so what I say to them, "You're coming to me at in front of City Hall, but I need you to go to Austin, Texas. I need you to go to the Capitol and then to other places." So the point is, by working together and as Mayor, what I can say to people who look like me to business leaders and others, at least under this administration, we have provided more business opportunities from businesses of color in the entire history of the City of Houston. And so I can say to them, "You didn't used to have what you got right now, but look at you right now." So mayors have to produce. I don't care what anyone says, we are the ones that come in and we are the ones that are looking at our agendas and we have to check the box, because we don't have the luxury of not producing. If we don't produce, everybody, including Black folk, hold us accountable and will say, "Thank you very much. Next."
Mayor Adams: Right. Brother, well said. Someone came up to me one day and said, "You know what? You have not fixed the potholes. Crime is high. Transit system is not operating." I said, "I've been in office three days." You go look at my tabloids and see my fifth day in office. Why is crime still going on? Why we didn't fix all the problems? And so there's two things that we must do as Black mayors. One, we cannot fall into the stereotype. We cannot be embarrassed to say that we need to support public safety and have our police do their jobs effectively. We can't ignore Bebe that's out there repeatedly creating dangerous crimes in our community, and we are ashamed to stand up and say, this person is creating a dangerous environment into my community. I'm going to make sure my police do their job and do it effectively and not be abusive, but I'll be darned. There's no consolation to a mother who you go home and say, your son was not killed by someone in a blue uniform. They were killed by a gang banger in a blue jean. She's not going to feel better.
We need to be honest and forthright about the small numerical number of people who are repeated offenders. We have about 2000 people in our city that are extreme recidivists. They are arrested one day, back on the street the next day, carrying a gun, committing another crime. And I refuse to say, just because you are Black, I'm going to ignore that fact, that you are committing crimes in our community. Number two-
Mayor Lightfoot: Amen. Amen. Amen.
Mayor Adams: Number two, we have to stop being ashamed of our corporate partners and partnership with other groups. I team up with my Korean, my Indian, my South Asian, my Central American, South American. All of my business entities, I sit down at the table with them. They've helped us with our summer youth employment, our internship, paid internship. They have invested in our public relation campaign that's selling the product of New York. They're part of our tourism. We get 56 million tourists. They have assisted us and sat down at the table with us and stated, how do we help your administration? Our corporate entities are part of the body that's needed to ensure that we can provide the goods and services in our city, particularly where you have those financial gaps.
But oftentimes, we want to ignore the corporate leaders because a numerical minority are yelling and want to call you a sellout because you're willing to sit inside a C-suite. You've got to ignore the noise and allow your heart to move you in the right direction to deal with the complexities of running cities. If you allow the noise, the loudest yellers that's on the steps of City Hall to control you, you'll never get anything done. When they come and protest me, I go outside and do a selfie with them.
Mayor Bibb: Wow. So, Mayors, I want to move into talking about the young people, because we've seen a lot of young people running for public office such as me [inaudible], but what are your top priorities in engaging the youth?
Mayor Bass: Well, first of all, it is wonderful to see the young mayors. It is wonderful to see the next generation of leaders, isn't it? Give these brown brothers a round of applause. And I deeply believe that one of the most important things that I can do as a leader — period, not just as mayor — but is to pay attention to the next generation coming up. Because we understand that our fight for justice is one that goes on forever, which means we have to be invested in who comes afterwards. And so that means that we have to be deliberate about opportunities. We have to be deliberate about the relationships that we have in the business community to make sure that there is representation there. And I know in my city, just like in many other cities, the biggest problem is income inequality. The biggest manifestation of that, or I should say the worst manifestation of that in Los Angeles, is homelessness.
But it's profound income inequality, and in talking to many of you, in so many of our areas, people can't afford to live in our cities anymore. And because of the price of housing. But if you look at income inequality, how do you address that? You address that with good jobs, with a strong education system. And then to me, there's only three types of jobs. You're either self-employed, the public sector, or the private sector. And so the relationship that we have with our private sectors in our communities is absolutely critical. But we have to make sure that we provide, again, a pathway and those opportunities for young people. I'm a big believer in internships, and I don't care how old you are because whatever age you are, there is a way that you can become involved. But I do think that we have to be deliberate about those opportunities.
And I also appreciate what you're saying about public safety. We absolutely have to recognize that when crimes are committed, people have to be held accountable, but at the same time I also believe that we have to address the underlying reasons. And one of the things that I did was, I'm establishing an office of community safety while I'm also calling for recruiting more officers, because our law enforcement is down just like it is around the country. But we have to be deliberate about that too. We can't just allow our law enforcement agencies to decrease, because we know what the consequences of that are going to be, but we have to do both at the same time.
So my Office of Community Safety is going to focus on the unarmed responses, going to focus on preventing crimes. I think we've been involved in these areas for long enough and we know of evidence-based strategies to interrupt violence, to reduce crime, to prevent it from happening in the first place. So I'm going to call for more officers, but I'm also going to call for funding for those community-based strategies, get the people who were formally incarcerated back involved in the community in a positive way. They're looking for those opportunities and we know how to do that. And so I think that we have to do both at the same time, law enforcement isn't the only solution and unarmed response and community-based efforts aren't the only solution as well. They both have to work together.
Mayor Turner: I would say to you that when I ran for office, my daughter told me, "Dad, I'll work for you, but you will have to design the city for the future and not for the people your age and older." That's what my daughter said. And she said, "And I'll head your millennial team once you become mayor." And she did and we do have that in place. We also have my youth council. These are high school students for every city council member there is a youth representative, and I meet with them on a regular basis. And then the person over my boards and commission, on all of my commissions, all of my boards, I put the person that's in their early 30s and she has the responsibility of bringing me recommendations to place on all of these boards and commissions.
And we've talked and what I said to her, "If there are not people your age or younger on these boards and commissions, it's because of you. Because I put you there, I put you over it, and the recommendations to me are coming from you." And so we make sure that we're putting people there. She's come back to say, "But, Mayor, there have been people on these boards that have been there for a long time and they don't really want to move." And what I said to her, let me give you the example that my dad gave to us. Nine of us kids, lived in a two-bedroom house, a kitchen with a table that will only hold five at a time. My daddy wanted everybody to be in the house at dinnertime, and he wanted you to eat at the table. So he would say, five of you go to the table and eat and the rest of you wait, but your mama got enough food for everybody.
And then after he thought you had been at the table enough time to eat, my dad would walk into the kitchen and pat you on the shoulder and say, "You've been at the table long enough, there are some other people that are waiting to come sit at the table." So essentially, what I told her is that when you run into these people that have been on these boards and commissions for a long period of time, tell them the mayor said, "You have been at the table long enough, but there are some other people that need to come and sit at the table." Lastly, we focus on of that population 16 to 24, because in many ways when you look at our crime stats, they are driving those numbers. And so the goal is to provide internship, job opportunities for that category intentionally between the ages of 16 to 24. And that has proven to work very positively for us.
So if you want a safer city, then you have to provide opportunities for them. And then lastly, I do want to address the crime situation, because when we work as mayors to bring down the numbers, let me tell you, when crime was going up, media would report percentage wise, it's up. Numerically wise, it's up. And that was every day, every day crime going up, percentage wise up. When crime started going down in the city percentage wise, nobody reported it was going down. When the numbers started going down, nobody start reporting it was going down. Let me tell you what they did. They start focusing on the individual crimes, but they never said crime in the city is going down.
And right now, when you look at our numbers, when you compare '22, violent crime is down. '21? We are below '21. But if it bleeds, it leads. And then it lends to that perception that we are soft on crime. No. Mayors are not soft on crime. We are investing in all the tools to make our city safe, but there are way too many guns that are on our streets, way too many guns. And now when you don't have to get a permit, when you don't have to get a license, when guns are flowing in, but you expect mayors to clean up all of your shit. It is just too hard.
Mayor Lightfoot: Uh-oh.
Mayor Smith: Thank you, Mayor Turner. Mayor Lightfoot…
Mayor Turner: Did that come out? Pray for me when I go to church on Sunday.
Mayor Lightfoot: The man speaks the truth. Well, let me pick up where Mayor Turner ended. As Democrats, if we do not speak the truth about violent crime in our city, we will be the worst for it. And I come to this conversation as a former federal prosecutor. I come to this as a former defense attorney. I am the sister of a returning resident, but I know that there are people in my city that are wreaking havoc every day and need to be off the street. That's the reality. What do we say to not only the victims of crimes, but the people who are terrified about crimes in their neighborhoods, most of whom look like us? If we say, "Yeah, the police department is spending all this time and resources to arrest, put a case on," and then the judges and the prosecutors say, "You know what? We're going to let you out on electronic monitoring" to wreak havoc again.
If somebody musters the courage to come forward and identify the person who has just shot up their neighborhood and then sees Pookie walking bold as day back on the street two days later, what does that say to them? You're telling them that the criminal justice system doesn't care about victims and witnesses. And if we don't call that out every single day with these prosecutors and with these judges, many of whom don't live in our city and don't care about what's happening, then we are going to lose an opportunity to advocate for the victims and the witnesses and the residents who just want and deserve peace. We got to say it. We got to say it.
Let me just address the issue regarding our young people. We have to have a multi-tiered strategy. All of us have designed intervention programs for that cohort of 16 to 24. We made sure that 50 percent of our jobs are going to those kids that are disconnected from school because we know the data tells us they're more likely to be victims and perpetrators of crime. But I'm going to urge you as mayors, don't forget the critical time period of zero to five. Because if those kids don't come to kindergarten ready and able to learn, you're going to be spending more money on the back end of their life trying to help them. Spend the money on the front end, no matter the circumstances that they're born into.
We instituted a program through our Department of Public Health called Family Connected. And what we do is, after two weeks after a live birth goes home, we send an RN into those homes to do a check on the well-being of babies and moms and frankly, to see what's going on in the household. And if they need to be connected up to services, we have more money to do good in the city of Chicago right now than probably since the Great Depression. But if people don't get access to those resources, it's all for not. So we've got to look at every possibility that we can to help support those babies and young children, no matter what the circumstances that they're born into, so they don't become a statistic on the backend where we've got to say, "Well, how do we intervene? How do we get them connected up?"
Mayor Adams: And that's upstream, that's upstream. And when you look at some of the work that Mayor Lightfoot has done in Chicago and what Mayor Turner has done in Houston, and we're comfortable in talking about our intervention work. My dyslexia screening, 40 percent of my inmates in jail are dyslexic. So now we are screening all of our children for dyslexia. And I'm dyslexic. We are enforcing our foster care children 6,700 age out every year, and we know what happens to them without that support. We gave them what we called Fair Futures, a life culture till they're 26, and we're paying their college tuition, up to $15,000 to make sure we give them the support. Our Summer Rising, we've opened our schools throughout the entire year, close to 100,000 children participate, 110,000 children participate in our summer employment. Our justice involve young people.
We have a program called BlocPower. We're teaching our justice involved young people green jobs, battery installation, HVAC repairs, all of these green jobs that the infrastructure dollars are going to pay for, we need to fill them in. Our prevention portfolio is impressive. There's never been a mayor in the city of New York that has a prevention portfolio. I visited Rikers Islands more than any mayor in the history. Thanksgiving Day, I'm sitting in Rikers Island with a young girl that had a baby, and I'm having Thanksgiving with her to send a message, that these are my folks, there by the grace of God go I. But we are proud to stand up and talk about our prevention work, but we feel as though if we talk about the intervention, what are we doing right now? We took 9,000 guns off our streets. We got these repeated offenders that have reached a point they got a total disregard of safety.
And if we don't say, "Listen, brother, I got this prevention stuff for you. I'm going to get you a job, I'm going to get you back in school, I'm here for you. But if you made your mind up that you are just going to go and wreak havoc to Ms. Jones, that's living in my public housing, brother, that's not happening. It's not happening." So you either go pathway A with all of this money I've invested in prevention. $54 million invested in my BlocPower to prevent people from having to pick up a gun. They can pick up a hammer and have a real job somewhere. But that small number of people we have in our cities, and we all have them, small number, in New York, we got about a 2,000. They get out on Monday, they doing a stickup on Tuesday, and they totally snub their nose at the criminal justice system.
And they are violent, they are dangerous. Some of them are dealing with real mental health issues. 50 percent of our inmates are dealing with mental health issues. So we need to give them that mental health support, but don't be fooled that some of these folks are cold-blooded killers.
Mayor Adams: And they will shoot you when you go and try to give them support. And I'm not going to be boisterous about my prevention work and then be silent about my intervention work. My city must be safe. And I'm going to make sure they're safe on both ends of the spectrum.
Mayor Bibb: That's fantastic. That's great, Mayor Adams. Well, I think we have had an amazing, candid conversation about the future of our cities and the future of our great country. And as the mayor of the city that elected the first Black mayor of a major American city, Carl B. Stokes, I don't think Carl would've ever imagined that we would have four Black leaders leading our nation's four largest cities. And this is a testament that the promise of this country can be realized. So let's keep pushing, let's keep fighting. Let's give our panelists another round of applause for their great leadership. Thank you so much.