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Transcript: Mayor Adams Participates in "Big Four" Panel at National Urban League Conference

July 28, 2023

Marc H. Morial, CEO, National Urban: Ladies and gentlemen, help me welcome to the stage the mayor of New York City, the Honorable Eric Adams, the mayor of Los Angeles, the Honorable Karen Bass, the mayor of the City of Chicago, the Honorable Brandon Johnson, and our host mayor, the mayor of the great city of Houston, the Honorable Sylvester Turner.

Ladies and gentlemen, first time on stage. These four represent experience, power, and promise. So let's give it up for these four great mayors of major American cities. Now, Mayor Turner.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner: Yes, sir.

Morial: You're the OG here now. Brother Turner, because of this thing called term limits, you don't have them in Chicago.

Mayor Turner: Don't even bring it up.

Morial: But Mayor Turner, I think it's helpful as you reflect on your time and office, and the journey, and the struggles, and the travails, what wisdom and advice would you impart to our colleagues this morning?

Mayor Turner: Look, being mayor is unlike many other things. There are certain things we plan, we lay out, we come in with certain priorities and we map them out. But it's the things you have not planned for that you have to deal with. And then there are things that happen that are not under your control, where you may have to work with, for example, the state and the state may not want to work with you, or you have to work with the feds. But my advice is, number one, you can't do it all by yourself. This is a team effort. And so you have to have the right people around you, and you have to have people who are capable, competent, highly qualified, but people who are also dedicated to you.

Morial: Loyal

Mayor Turner: And loyal, because you can have the best people and they can be smart, but if they're not loyal, it does not work.

Morial: You said something. They're smart, but stupid.

Mayor Turner: And so you hold on to those, where you can check the box. But when people show you that they are not rowing in the same direction, you do what we do, and you call them in at four o'clock on a Friday, and you thank them for their service, but their season here has passed.

Morial: It's over. Close the door. Thank you. Let's give Mayor Turner a round of applause. He's been great, incredible. Mayor Bass, you are six months in now.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass: Seven

Morial: Seven months in. Good to see you still smiling. Did you make the right decision by leaving a safe, comfortable seat in Congress to run for mayor of Los Angeles?

Mayor Bass: Absolutely. There's no question about it. And it wasn't that I was tired of Congress at all. I love being in Congress. I love the work, especially the work on Africa. But our folks were dying. Our folks were dying on the streets of Los Angeles. We got 46,000 people sleeping in tents. Black folk are 8 percent of the city, 34 percent of the people in tents. What I was worried about was that we were getting ready to repeat the nineties and criminalize those folks. And so I feel very, very good because we cannot repeat history. People on the street need help. They need housing, they need healthcare, and if I can play a role in that, wherever it is, I'm thrilled to be there and to take on the challenge.

Morial: Good. Mayor Bass of Los Angeles. Mayor Adams, and I get a chance to watch the mayor every day because I'm in New York. So I watch him and he's brought a dynamism and a leadership. And one of the things about being mayor, you got to let everybody know you're in charge, you got to let everybody know that the buck stops at your desk. Mayor, now about 18 months roughly? And what's the biggest surprise you've encountered in that 18th month period, being mayor of New York?

Mayor Eric Adams: That's a great question. And I say this over and over again that people say being the mayor of the New York City is the second most difficult job in America. And I say, when does the hard part start? Because I know what hard is. Hard is picking cotton from sunup to sundown, delivering your baby in the field and going back. Hard is watching people jump over you and promotions when you dedicated your life. Hard as what my mother did, raises six children being really abandoned and betrayed by government. Hard is being a little Black child growing up, being dyslexic, then being arrested. And I'd like to say being rejected, but now I'm elected to be the mayor of the City of New York. So I know what hard is, I know what hard is.

I wake up every day with a clear agenda and I'm not going to be distracted. And you are not going to spend the time that I was running for office trying to degrade me and then you want to pick my staff and tell me who to hire. I'm going to hire competent people who have my vision rowing in my direction. That is why first time in history, I hired a Black police commissioner, I hired a Hispanic to run my correctional facility, I hired the first African American first deputy mayor, first Indian American to be a deputy mayor, first Filipino American to be a deputy mayor, first Korean American to be in charge of small business services. First African American, first Trinidadian woman deputy mayor. I picked my team that's reflective of the city. If you want to be on my team, you have to have gone through a lot so you could help people who are going through a lot. That is how you run a city.

And brother, we're running it, we're running it. People are blown away with all that we inherited. Remember January 1st, 2022, I inherit Covid. We navigated through that. Now I have 91,000 asylum seekers in my city, can't work, I have to feed, cloth, house, educate their children, and were doing it. The bond raters, who determine where you invest your money, gave me a AA rating because of how I'm managing the city. You'll see confident leadership, so the only surprise that I have is why is it taking the national media so long to determine that Black mayors can run the city and they can run it right.

Morial: Amen. Amen.

Mayor Adams: Now I had to get out of my seat on that one.

Morial: Yes, sir. And Mayor Johnson, when I see you, I can't help but think of the legend, Harold Washington, who was a pacesetter, an inspiration for me and one who inspired me to seek the mayor's office in New Orleans. And Chicago has been longing for the spirit and the fight of Harold Washington since his untimely death in 1987. As you began and as you think, how is Harold Washington's time a guide, an inspiration for you?

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson: Thank you. That's a good question. And had I known we would have a sanctified crowd this morning.

Morial: You at the Urban League brother.

Mayor Johnson: I don't know what I was thinking. Of course, it's a sanctified crowd. But I'm grateful here. I want to thank Mayor Turner, and Bass, and Adams for their leadership and direction, the text messages, the calls of concern and hope have been a tremendous inspiration and has helped balance me through these first 11 weeks. When you grow up and you've experienced the eighties, you hear from your father, your grandfather, your uncles and aunts, about a time of promise and hope. And Chicago is rich in legacy, and so I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge Chairman Fred, who said healthcare for all. He said every child should eat before they go to school. That comes out of the Black Panther party ideology and movement that was birthed on the west side of Chicago where I live.

And when I think about, of course, the time that Dr. King spent on the west side of Chicago, and he understood the importance of the civil rights movement and the labor rights movement, and understanding that that collision had enormous potential. And he said that the rights of labor and the fight for civil rights are one and the same, the enemy of the Negros, enemy of labor. And so then, of course you have this ushering in of Black liberation through the election of Mayor Harold Washington. And it was of course 40 years ago that a Black mayor said sanctuary city. I'm not sure if he knew that this day would come, but somehow he understood the prophetic assignment that he had. And so now, when I'm moving through the streets of Chicago, the one thing that I do appreciate about Black folks, especially Black people, is that our hopes and aspirations are tied and linked to one another and we are very clear that we didn't get here alone.

Morial: Amen.

Mayor Johnson: And I'm glad that we serve a God that doesn't drop us off along the way. And so when I think about... Since y'all are doing it... So just as a disclaimer, I was raised in the Church of God in Christ. There's always a couple coaching people here.

Morial: Sanctify.

Mayor Johnson: This panel just got one hour longer.

Morial: We going to keep all going.

Mayor Johnson: But the point though is that these moments don't leave us behind. These moments propel us forward. And so it's a reflection of the incredible resilience of our ancestors. And I'm glad that I get to stand on the shoulders of those who have been here before.

Morial: I learned, when I served as mayor of New Orleans from '94 to '02, when I took office, I was the first person elected in some 60 years that did not have the endorsement of the local newspaper. It was definitional, because from the very beginning, what the local newspaper did is they put a team of reporters on me, one to play nice and one to play nasty. The one that played nice, tried to make friends, the one that played nasty was looking in garbage cans. And this is important for Black mayors. And I really want... And every city's a little bit different. But mayors now and elected officials now have an independent channel called social media to be able to talk to people.

And I think, what I'd like each of you to maybe address, Mayor Bass, if we can go first, a little bit about how you think about the importance of the media and communicating with the public, because it's important for constituents to understand that it is absolutely abundantly clear that Black mayors don't get treated the same. Period. Time after time, example after example, no matter what you do, you could have an S on your chest, you could leap tall buildings in a single bound, but how do you think about that from a Los Angeles perspective?

Mayor Bass: We can talk race, but also add in gender. I will talk about it. Because that's a dynamic as well. When I started, the whole way I was being framed was, "Is she going to be like Eric Garcetti?" The previous mayor, as though I had done nothing before. I'd been in Congress, I'd been in the state legislature…

Morial: The speaker.

Mayor Bass: Speaker of House, but was I going to be him? But to me, my background and my root, in my heart, is as a community organizer. And so to me, communication means communicating on every single level, and the grassroots level is critically important. And that social media helps with that, but not enough. You have to get out and talk to people, you have to provide every kind of forum and vehicle. One of the things that we did in Congress that I planned to do in the city was telephone town halls. So I used every vehicle in-person town halls, telephone town halls, social media. But one of the things that makes social media tough is that anybody can call themselves media in a newspaper.

And so what I'm finding, and I'm sure my three colleagues up here are finding too, you'll have crazy news sources do an article that just make up stuff. And then three days later, quote, unquote, "mainstream newspapers" or radio will pick it up and then it becomes a legitimate story. But I think it's very important to be proactive, it's very important to have your own frame, but your own analysis, not just a soundbite, but an analysis about what it is that you're talking about. Because I believe that one of the most important things about communication is education. It's not just making a statement, or a slogan, or a soundbite, but what is it that you're trying to say that is consistent with your values and my values rooted in social and economic justice.

Morial: Mayor Turner, as you... Thank you very much, Mayor Bass. Again, asking you to reflect on what's worked well when it comes to your ability to communicate to the citizens of Houston. What is it that you may know now that you wish you understood better when you started, on the issue of communicating with the public?

Mayor Turner: It is important, as mayors, that we maintain and even enhance our connection to the people that we serve. We have to become our best communicators. And what I have learned over the last ideas as mayor, is that I have to be out there talking directly to the people. I have to be amongst them and tell what we are doing, listen to them, be accessible to them, and then hope that they too become your ambassadors. And so when they are seeing or reading stories, they themselves can say, "That's not true." And I have had people, as I've gone throughout the city, after they have read something or heard something, they will say, "Mayor, we know that's not true." So we have to be out there. But I'm constantly reminded what my mom said in growing up. And then she said, "Life is not fair, but you still have to learn to navigate through it." 

And so we have to be very careful that we don't become so obsessed with the negativity that we lose focus.
When I first came in as mayor, the city had been facing a pension problem for some 20 something years. And right there on the front of the paper, it said, "Mayor must fix the pension problem now." And I said, "Hell, I just got here." But I have to fix it, but we fixed it. And so a pension problem that was $8.2 billion when we came in, is now less than 2.2 billion and going down. But what I've also discovered is that you have media that will flash a camera on the problem, but they don't give you much credit on the success. And then the ball keeps moving. You fix this, and this comes up.

The last point that I will make, we just did this trade and investment mission to Africa. In my eight years, we have gone to Europe, we have gone to Asia, we've gone to Latin America, we have gone to the Middle East, and I've not received any negative play from the media, or quite frankly from anybody else. The business community's gone with us. So we've gone all over the world.

Now, just recently, I go to Africa, and here come the television station saying, "Why is the mayor going to Africa? Is this a personal…"

Morial: Double standard.

Mayor Turner: "...junket? Should he be using taxpayer's money to pay for this?" So you get all of that. And so sometimes I do my best not to respond. And you have to say, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10…

Morial: Patience.

Mayor Turner: But then on this one I did go to social media and what I said is that I've gone to all of these other places, no negative criticism. Now all of a sudden I go to Africa, here come the negative criticisms. And what I wrote was, "Your comments are more a reflection on you than on me." So we just have to push through it; it's going to come. And if we wait on the media or anyone else to validate what we are doing, then we have missed a point.

Morial: It's interesting that you mention that. And just for the benefit of Urban Leaguers, I had a chance to join Vice President Harris on a trip to Ghana in March, and Africa, there are now 1.4 billion people in the
African continent. It's equivalent to the population of India and the population of China. The average age is somewhere in the twenties, right? It's a teen, 19?

Mayor Bass: Young teenagers.

Morial: Very young population. So you can see what the potential in the economic future is. And I say shame on the media, 'cause they didn't do any homework, no research, no understanding of the economic opportunity. And of course here in Houston you've got a large African community, a large African…

Mayor Sylvester Turner: One of the…

Morial: One of the largest in the country. So shame on the media, Mayor Johnson, and I'll come to you next Mayor Adams, you had a vigorous contested Chicago-style election. Y'all were duking it out to the end, and then in the 12th round you landed one of those Ali lefts and down went your opponent. But when you come through that, obviously sometimes the die's cast with the media and with certain segments of the community. How do you best think about navigating that as a brand new chief executive?

Mayor Johnson: Yeah, it's an excellent question. So as you talk, and as you know, Mayor Turner and Mayor Bass talked about the challenges with the media, they got an early start with me. And it goes back to my time as an organizer in the city of Chicago pushing for liberation, the hopes of those of us who are descendants of slaves.

I'm a public school teacher, a middle school teacher, usually people clap after I say that. Thank you, thank you. You all know middle school teaching is one of the greatest positions you can ever hold. My father wanted me to become a pastor, but it's a non-union position. So I said, "My best next thing to get to heaven is to teach middle school." So I know well done, good and faithful servant, but they came at a brother. All of the different elements that you can imagine to create fear.

And coming from a large family, there was 10 of us, I'm the middle child. Yes pray for me, I have issues like most middle children. We had one bathroom so you learn how to negotiate early in life, ally with the sisters. But my older brother, who is an ancestor now, is not with us, had an addiction and died unhoused. And one of the things he would always say to me growing up, that, "If you're in a fight and you're ducking, you're losing that fight." He says, "Swing."

And so in this moment, since it almost doesn't matter what I do, they're not going to like it. These forces that... Let's just name who these forces are, these forces still do not like the results of the Civil War. These are individuals who want to rematch, so there's not much you can say to them.

And so what I'm inspired by though is that the election that put me on the fifth floor was a multicultural intergenerational movement. And 27,000 new voters voted in April that did not vote in February, all of them under the age of 34, I won by 26,532 votes. And so the youth energy is alive and we're bringing people together. There are folks in the business community, corporate leaders, and the 80-year-old woman who has had my number since before I knew I was going to be in this position. So we're bringing people together.

I'm of the mindset that there's more than enough for everyone. No one should lose at the expense of someone else winning. The city of Chicago has one of the largest economies in the world. No one should be too poor living in one of the richest cities in one of the wealthiest countries at the richest time in the history of the world, there is more than enough for everything.

Morial: Let's give the mayor a hand on that affirmation. Mayor Adams, you are in the most complex, dynamic, hard hitting, rock-throwing media environment in the world. It is interesting to watch the New York media and what I've appreciated about you is your willingness to go toe-to-toe, which is so essential in a city with an aggressive press corps.

Mayor Adams: Well said, well said. And you know, have athletes that won't play in New York City because of the media, because our media is hard. And what I think is imperative for Black people in general, but specifically for Black men, we are so afraid of getting the title that could destroy our lives. If you get the title of angry Black man, you will not raise up in corporate society, you will not raise up in Hollywood, you will not raise up on a sports team, you will not raise up on politics. And so because of our fear of, "That's an angry Black man," we hold it all inside. And that holding that stress inside manifest itself through heart disease, hypertension, all sorts of illnesses is connected to our feeling that, "I don't want to be classified as an angry Black man."

Listen, the media must critique us. We are not in this society where we could do whatever we want and not receive the level of critique that comes with the job. But there's a difference between critiquing and doing a proper analysis of what you have done, and being intentionally destructive. And so what I always do, I'm not holding in my anger. I'm going to let you know how I feel at the moment. And I'm not going to go through a thesaurus to find the proper terminology to make you feel comfortable in how you made me feel uncomfortable.

I'm just going to explain to you what I feel at in this moment. And then I'm going to move on. 'Cause I got a city to run. I can't sit there and play with you when I'm dealing with all of these other crises. I'm going to move on. I'm not going to just stay there and say, "You know what? You made me feel bad." No, I'm going to let you know how I feel, and then I'm going to go run this city with $106 billion budget. I'm going to do what needs to be done; because part of the game is to distract you, and keep you tied up in a moment. And so they say, "Well, you know what? You thin-skinned, you get offended quickly." No, you are not going to disrespect me. I know who I am. I know what I've done.

Morial: [Inaudible] mayor, they didn't say that about Giuliani and Koch.

Mayor Adams: Right.

Morial: And Giuliani and Koch were always… standing in a contentious conversation with the New York media. And so…

Mayor Adams: And you never hear them call him an angry white man.

Morial: And the thing that's so interesting, I think about this conversation is how for the mayor, distinct from every other elected position, save maybe the presidency, the media is crucial to your success, crucial to your ability to navigate. And you have to think about it, strategize it, and invest in the people and the infrastructure to be able to deal with them. So let's give these mayors a big, big round of applause. Now, let me get to a couple of…

Mayor Adams: Oh Marc, if I can-

Morial: Go ahead.

Mayor Adams: Because what you said is so important, what you said, and that is a losing model. If you have to depend on someone to sell your product…

Mayor Turner: You've lost.

Mayor Adams: Right. So what we must do, and what our young people out there who are good marketers and communication people, this is a great opening. We must do direct-to-consumer communication. That is where we are doing. We must do our own radio shows. We must use these various forms of communicating. We must reach out to the influencers, to the credible messengers. We have to shift the dynamic and no longer be held captive…

Morial: By the mainstream media.

Mayor Adams: ... by the media. We must do direct-to-consumer communication to show what we are doing every day. Because if you were to pick up the tabloids, you would think all of us are failing when we have so many successes.

Mayor Turner: In eight years, what I would certainly recommend to every mayor and especially mayors of color, is that you have to have your own effective communication team. And what I've said to my communication department, I said, "In every one of my 23 departments, we have public information officers that report up to my communication team." I view every one of those PIOs as a reporter in their department working for my communication team.

And what I've said to my communication team, "If this paper on this television can do a better job of telling our story than my communication team, then we are missing the mark."

So in every one of my departments, what I've said to my POs, what I've said to my communication team, "No one knows our story better than us. We know our story. Do not rely on the newspaper or the television stories to tell our story. They are not going to tell our story. They're not going to make us a... When we have been successful in achieving A, B, C, or D, you think they're going to run out there and say, 'The mayor has done A, B, C, and D. What a good mayor he is?' Don't expect that to happen." What I say to them, "But I do expect my communication team to tell our story so that it is out there." And I think that's critically important.

Yeah, go ahead, Mayor Bass.

Mayor Bass: One thing I think we all need to be aware of is coming into election season, the presidential season, they're coming after the four of us. Because the narrative of the Republicans is going to be, "There's chaos in every single one of our cities," and what's the subtext of that? "Who's running these cities?" And so I think we need to be prepared for that. But one thing I just also want to say is that the solidarity between the four of us is just been very strong and I'm so appreciative.

Morial: I applaud it, applaud it in a huge way... I applaud it because being mayor is a damn hard job. When I left office, I didn't realize how fatigued and worn out I was. I was so tired I couldn't sleep. I was so clued in that every time a crisis happened and I saw it on TV, I thought I was still responsible for it.

It took me several months to reset my mind, body, spirit, and soul and really had no one to tell me, "This is what's going to happen when you leave office." Because when I left that I was Mayor Turner running to the tape, trying to put lots of things in place, trying to get lots of things rooted so it couldn't be undone. And so it is a quite challenging job.

I'm going to switch gears right now. Big challenge, we're going to get to housing and homelessness and those sorts of issues, but big challenge now for Black America is this dual challenge that on one hand we have justice issues, community distrust, unacceptable levels in the nation of police misconduct, brutality, and shootings.

On the other hand, we are killing each other. We have Black-on-Black violence as well. The mayor is in the vortex of every single one of these challenges and has to navigate. So Mayor Adams, go to you, how do you think and what's your message and strategy? You have a unique background when it comes to this as a former law enforcement officer, but also someone who has publicly talked about how you were harassed by the police as a young Black man. Talk a little bit about how the balancing act, and I want all of you all to answer this question, the balancing act, or the conflict between these issues in reality and in perception.

Mayor Adams: First of all, take the H away from harass, and I got my kicked by police. So let's be clear on that. I was arrested, I was beat, went into the Police Department, started an organization called 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, fought for civil rights issues within the police department, testified in federal court about the overuse and abuse of stop and frisk. The federal judge mentioned my name in the report when she ruled against the police department. The legacy of my fight against law enforcement is clear.

Now, some people want to rewrite the history, but in reality, when other folks were silent on this issue nationally, I was a leading voice in this country about over abuse policing nationally. What we must do is what Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated, "We spend a lifetime pulling people out of the river, no one goes upstream and prevent them from falling in in the first place."

Policing, by the time a child has a gun, we're already lost. The question is is what happened to cause that from taking place? When I sit down with gang members and I ask them, "How many of you dealing with learning disabilities?" It's astonishing. 30 to 40 percent of the people who are in jail right now are dyslexic. I was on a path of doing the same things.

If we don't go upstream, while we deal with the crime downstream... Let's be clear, we can't be just upstream because baby is creating some havoc right now in our streets. So we have to identify the extreme recidivists, give them the assistance they need, but we have to stop the pushing people in the river. That is what we're doing. That's why we did 100,000 summer youth jobs. That's why we did Summer Rising, so our children could be educated all school year long, leaning into foster care children, paying for their college tuition, giving them stipends, making sure we do money for childcare. So you got to do all those things.

Morial: How much of that to do it at scale requires the state, the feds, the private sector to do the upstream work at scale because you're doing great things on your own, but to do it at scale and on a sustainable basis, is it within the power of the municipal government alone?

Mayor Adams: No, it's not. But that's where the rubber meets the road. Now, when you match and redefine policing and do something that I think we make the biggest mistake in, brother Marc, when hospitals and medical institutions weren't doing right, we told Black and Brown people to become doctors and nurses. When our teachers were not educating our children, we recruited Black and Brown soros and frats to go in and become teachers. Why are we afraid to tell young, smart, Black and Brown people to go into law enforcement? If we want law enforcement to be what we want it to be, why not recruit our talent to go in there and do it? I appointed Keechant Sewell the first African American woman ever to be the police commissioner in the city of New York. Now, Eddie Caban is the first Puerto Rican to ever do it.

Tania Kinsella is the first African-American woman to be the first deputy commissioner. We got the talent. So we know how our policing should be in our community with the balance that we need to be recruiting. I want my fraternities, my sororities, my churches, my Boulés, all my groups to say, let's find our brightest and our best and go into this profession and define how we want policing to be as we did with the over proliferation of guns and the real challenge we're having, heroine destroyed our communities in the '60s and ‘70s, crack cocaine destroyed us in the '80s and '90s. Fentanyl is going to be both those added together. If we don't get a grasp on fentanyl right now, we're going to see a total destruction of our communities like we never witnessed before.

Morial: Thank you, Mayor Adams. Mayor Bass, same question.

Mayor Bass: Well, following up on what you were saying, I believe that in our communities we've worked for years and know the strategies to intervene and prevent crime. There's always the rap that Black folks are upset if it's a law enforcement involved death, but say nothing when it's Black on Black, which I reject that notion, that is not true. But unfortunately, the grassroots work that happens in all of our communities is never lifted up, and we need to invest more in that. When we went through the time period of mass incarceration, which is not like it's over, but it's a little bit different now. Laws were passed to lock us up for everything under the sun, including what I believe were health, social, and economic issues that should not have required incarceration. Then laws were passed by politicians who wanted to be reelected and wanted to have their mailer that said, I did this to be tough on crime.

Then a lot of laws were passed to continue punishing people when they left prison. So you are incarcerated while you're in, and then you continue to be punished when you're out. And that's one of the reasons that contributes to recidivism because if you can't work, if you can't find a place to live, then what are you going to do? You mentioned recruiting for law enforcement. That's hard for a lot of us to swallow. The reality is, in Los Angeles, for example, we have a whole generation of Black officers that are retiring and pretty soon, there'll be virtually no Black officers in the Los Angeles Police Department. Is that what we really want? I think that sometimes Democrats in general are shy when it comes to the issue of crime and kind of go all around it. And when we do that, in my opinion, we concede the issue of crime to the right wing.

And I don't think that we should do that. I think we need to hit it head on. If somebody commits a crime, you have to hold them accountable, but we also need to invest significant resources in the prevention of crime. I started an office of community safety so that we could look at unarmed responses, because a lot of what we see, especially, and Marc, you and I worked diligently so hard on the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, and after Floyd was killed, I remember looking at 100 officer involved death, shooting, and otherwise, and I would say 30 to 40 percent of them were mental health. It was a mental health crisis because we've shredded the mental health system, we allow people to deteriorate into violence or committing a crime, and then they wind up with police encounters. So we have to address these issues that result in really negative encounters with police while we hold police officers accountable.

Morial: And let me just add a few things and just from my own experiences, because when I became Mayor of New Orleans, we were having almost 500 murders a year, almost more than one a day, almost 500 in a year, 400 and something. And not only that, I had an active FBI investigation ongoing into officers who were providing private security for drug traffickers as moonlighters. Well, this is what I inherited, a complete and total debacle and a mess. But I knew that the violence issue could not be addressed by law enforcement alone, but that law enforcement was a important component. Not one versus the other. And I told the community, "It's not one or the other." So we invested heavily in summer youth employment, camps, cultural programs, invested in young people, over invested in young people. I did something that I'm not sure it would work today.

I put a curfew in effect for kids under the age of 18 with exceptions for kids who were working or on their way back and forth through school activities. That program never got challenged in court and was highly popular. The president of the ACLU said to me, he said, "If I challenge your curfew, my wife would divorce me." Because the program was popular with mothers. The idea is how you do holistically. We changed our policing philosophy to a community proactive policing, but we also had another issue, which remains an issue in America today, and that is low closure rates on murders. There's a low closure rate on murders, meaning less than half the murders in America is a suspect identified.

So one thing we learned, Mayor Adams, you'll understand this, there was no focus on investigatory follow up, lack of follow through when a murder was committed, particularly when the victim was Black. And so it required a retooling of this. I had to put myself in school informally to understand the mechanisms of this. And I think mayors uniquely, and we'll get to you Mayor Turner and you Mayor Johnson, because you've talked, mayors uniquely have to figure out the combination of things that you have to do, and then you've got to, if you will, persuade the community to support them when in some cases you have a community that can have one part of the community, may think, oh, all you got to do is youth programs.
Another part of the community thinks, just arrest everybody. And both approaches are damn wrong. 

They're more about slogans and ideology than effects. So Mayor Turner and then Mayor Johnson, and we are focusing on this because this is the real deal. Justice and safety, we are dying. We are killing each other. And yes, there are too many instances where the police kill us. We cannot be silent and act as though there's nothing we can do through, throw our hands up. I don't know about you all, I got weary going to funerals to the point where now it's hard for me to go to one and I'll only go to one if it's a family member or a close friend. It's weary. But that's part of your responsibility. Mayor Turner.

Mayor Turner: Let me just say that I agree with all that has already been said there. Start with the understanding that every person in this city has value, and is important, every single person. I don't care what their socioeconomic status may be, where they live, where they come from, what their language may be, what their sexual orientation may be. Every single person in this city has value. Every neighborhood is important, and every neighborhood should feel safe. In terms of the clearance rate, a couple of years ago, a few years ago, our clearance rate was 50 percent or less. But every morning I look at the numbers, Monday through Friday, every single, I ask the police department, "Send me the numbers." Every single morning.
And this morning the clearance rate on homicides is 82 percent on clearance rate. It is important to have the right people in the right positions. I'm proud of the police chief that we have. Chief Troy Finner, stand up, stand up, man.

Morial: Stand up Chief.

Mayor Turner: Chief Troy Finner, I'm proud of him. When we were looking for a police chief, when I needed a police chief, rare do you have community activists who will call you up and say, "Mayor, we recommend this guy." And I had the union and police officers calling me up and said, "Mayor, we recommend this guy." I said, "I got my community activist and I got the police officers saying this guy." And then the ministers of course started calling.

So I said, but someone who grew up in this neighborhood, someone who knows the people in this neighborhood, someone who calls it straight so there is no substitute for leadership. Now when there's a police shooting, mayors have to deal with that. When there's a shooting on one another, mayors have to deal with that. We are on both sides of the equation and cities have to deal with everything Mayor Adams that flows down. So when the state of Texas passed policies that say, anybody can have a gun, no permits, no licensing, and guns are everywhere, all of that flows down to cities. And we are the ones as mayors that have to deal with those crazy idiotic policies. If you are making the market attractive for guns and making guns available and accessible, what do you think people are going to do with them when they get them?
But it's up to us to deal with it. So what we did is that it does require a holistic strategy because as a society, we have called on the police law enforcement, and I think Mayor Johnson, you may mention on this, we call on police to do everything and they cannot do everything. And we sometimes direct our resources and investments just in police. So we put together this one safe Houston strategy, holistic. We are providing the support to police that they need. We want them. I want them to go to work, and I want them to go home safely. And so we provide them with the support that they need. We're also investing in technology. We're doing all that. Our reentry program, we have 12 to 13,000 people yearly that are coming out of our criminal justice system state coming back into Houston, Harris County.

So we put together a reentry program because they need jobs and they need housing. And if you don't provide those things for them, they're going to end up on your street. So we got to address them. We have people who are suffering with mental health issues. So we are investing in crisis intervention. Substance abuse, we are investing in that. We need a lot more support from the feds and the state when it comes to mental health, behavioral health, substance abuse, because otherwise cities are having to do it on their own. Domestic violence, we are investing a lot more in domestic violence because a lot of the crimes are happening within the walls where people live. And I don't care how many police officers you have, these crimes are happening inside people's homes, inside people's houses. They're relational. But we are investing to give families, to give women and others an opportunity to be in a safer environment. So we're doing that.

On the community aspect, we are working with community activists, getting them engaged, getting them involved, providing resources there. And we are focusing on this young population between 16 and 24, because that's a group when I look at the numbers, it's that group that is driving our numbers, and we are finding ways to speak directly to those individuals, 16 to 24. And in large part, they are Black and Brown. They're males. And so we are doing everything that we can to reach them. And that's why it's so important for our young folk, this young population, to see people like Mayor Eric Adams and Karen Bass and Brandon Johnson and Marc you, because our kids cannot be what they cannot see. And that's why I try to continue to say to the media and other folk, if you want a safe city, tell the good stuff because if you are constantly feeding into the minds of our kids that they cannot secede, that they are predators, that they are no good, then you are working against what we are needing to achieve.

So it takes all of that and so much more, but it requires a holistic strategy. I would say in all of our cities, homicide rates are down. Despite what people are saying, what they're hearing, the homicide rate is down. Violence in our city is down, but I do recognize we can spit up the numbers, and if people don't feel safe, then they're not safe. I got that. And as long as there's one person being killed or one person being assaulted or one car being broken in, it's one too many. So we are invested in police.

This whole story about cities not supporting police, BS. Cities are supporting police, mayors are supporting police. We want the police to have what they need to solve the crimes, but we also recognize that we have to invest in communities that have been underserved for a long, long time. Lastly, and I'll be through with this, state took over the largest school district in the City of Houston, HISD. They put in place a superintendent and a board of managers of their choosing. The superintendent just announced for these schools, about 29 of them, in primarily underserved communities, communities of color, for kids who are disciplinary problems. His plan is we're going to close down the libraries and take that space and set it up for disciplinary centers for those kids. 

Now, wait a minute. And what did I say? Now, you say you're not wanting to be the angry Black man. You going to close down the libraries, reassign the librarians, take the space and set up disciplinary centers. What do you think you are saying to these kids? What do you think you are saying? So every time these kids in the future go, when we start talking about libraries, what do you think they're going to associate a library with? Disciplinary centers. And you mean to tell me you're going to close down the libraries in these communities, and I can drive a few miles away, and in other communities they have fully functional libraries, and you want a safe city?

Morial: Mayor Turner, I saw you on television, I guess yesterday, speaking out on this. And one of the unique elements of being in the south. And this is not something that would likely happen in New York, California or Illinois because of the legislature. Black mayors in the South have faced, for decades, usurpation of power. Going back to the 1970s and the early 1980s with people like Maynard Jackson, my late father, there were legislative efforts to hijack control of their airports. The driving force was because these airports were making progress and creating opportunities for minority businesses. In Houston, the state legislature has in effect hijacked and done a hostile takeover of the Houston Independent School District, in places like Kansas City and St. Louis and Jackson, Mississippi. The state legislatures have hijacked, in Jackson, the judicial system, the law enforcement system. So the usurpation of power directed at black control that comes from voting and democracy. So these are attacks on democracy. So mayor, we want to be clear that we are with you 100 percent. Mayor Johnson, safety and justice.

Mayor Johnson: Yeah. So it's something that is top of mind for all of us. And let me just say to Mayor Bass, thank you for just highlighting the history of the Los Angeles Police Department in particular. I was in high school when Rodney King was beaten. This was not a dig on everyone else on this stage, but I was in high school in the nineties, just saying.

Mayor Bass: That's okay.

Mayor Johnson: I was right behind… We were all in elementary school. And by the way, since I am Generation X, let me just send a shout out to Generation X, the last obedient generation on the planet. But we grew up in that era. And in the nineties in Chicago, there were almost 1,000 murders a year. This is not new to any of us. And so what everyone has said on this stage has tremendous merit. And it's going to require a layered approach. It's going to require all of us that in order to have better, stronger, safer cities, we have to invest in people. You already know... I know we only have a few more moments here, but my father raised me with the understanding that your heart and treasure have to be aligned, that when you really love people, you invest in them. And Reverend Al Sharpton, since he brought up the governor of Alabama, and I'm a social studies teacher, I will not be outdone. All right?

So if you remember when the Great Society was being pushed and President Johnson understood, through all of our collective work, that we have to get at the root causes, that we have to provide support on the front lines, of course, but we have to deal with poverty. And the governor of Alabama, Wallace, said that President Johnson believes that because someone at 10 years old is committing a crime, that it means they didn't have enough watermelon to eat. That's what he said. And so when we  talk about the press corps, it's not like white supremacy was birthed, you know what I'm saying, during Trump's reign, right? So there's always been this battle or fight against liberation, particularly for black folks because the power structure understand what works, because they want it for their communities. And so as we push for this great society, I believe unemployment amongst white men was 30 percent. Our country called it a national crisis. They said it was too dangerous for America to have that many white men unemployed.

And when you come through our cities and you see the struggles and challenges that our people are experiencing, we have stuff to dig, things to build and lives to save. White men got shovels before there were things to dig. They came with every single government program. No one called it entitlement. No one talked about bootstraps or strings or pulling yourself up. And so having a layered approach, where one, we're moving on something called treatment, not trauma. 40 percent of the 911 calls that come through are mental health crises. You have police officers that are being called to people's homes because their six year old doesn't want to go to preschool and they lock themselves in the room. We're asking too much from law enforcement. And so investing in people, doubling the amount of young people that we hire, I've made a commitment to promoting 200 more detectives to deal with the clearance rate. But the bottom line is we have to have a collective response to what we know works.

And if we're not serious about pulling people up out of isolation and poverty, if we're not serious about that, then we're not serious about building better, stronger, safer cities. And so we're all committed to making sure that our treasures and our heart are aligned to do what's right for the people of Chicago and all of our respective...

Morial: Let's give these mayors a big round of applause. I'm about to close in a couple of quick things. So let's talk about minority business, black business growth and participation. So let me set the question up. The Biden administration has made these extraordinary commitments. Congress has passed the infrastructure. Significant amounts of the money will come to states, or airports, or water systems, state departments of transportation. And in some instances, the local public works departments. And therefore, there's this incredible opportunity for there to be inclusiveness. And I know Mayor Adams, because we work with your team on your efforts at the New York legislature recently to address some of the systemic barriers to participation, how does this fit into your agenda?

Mayor Adams: So important. As I stated, we have over $106 billion budget, over 302,000 employees. Our procurement for goods and services, it's over $20 billion. And what we found is that the key to proper cities, you have to look at your agencies. How will your agencies spend it? And if you don't take control and make sure that they have a real plan of MWBEs and ensuring that they are being actively recruiting and identifying pathways of going from being subprimes to primes. We were able to successfully do two things during our legislative session. Hats off to Leader Carl Heastie, the majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, we were able to, number one, get local hiring. So if we're using governmental dollars to do things, we need to hire locally because communities should not watch buildings go up and their futures go down. It needs to be connected.

And we were able to do that. We were also able to increase the discretionary amount that you can use for discretionary contracts to a million dollars. It was a half a million dollars. We were able to increase it to a million dollars because of our state lawmakers. But we're also using technology now to see what our agencies are doing. You can't wait till the end of the year and do an analysis of how well you did the previous year. We are monitoring it now in real time. My mother used to say, "If you don't inspect what you expect, it's all suspect." We got to inspect it right away and tell that person who is not meeting my expectations, "You have to correct your actions and come up with an improvement plan." You have to move bureaucracy out of the way. It is too damn difficult to do business in many of these cities because we create these bureaucratic barriers to really de-incentivize those women and minority owned businesses. From leaning into how to do business with the city. Businesses are important, and we are focusing heavily on that.

Morial: Thank you. Mayor Bass.

Mayor Bass: Well, I certainly agree with that, especially when it comes to the bureaucracy. But one of the things that I found fascinating is that a lot of the bureaucracy is just made up. It's just self-imposed. There's no particular reason for it at all, which is why it's been kind of nice not having worked in the city. So I come in and the stuff just looks crazy to me. But the other thing is that we have to be aggressive in terms of not just telling somebody the website. We have to bring our businesses in. And for example, I was meeting with a group of people that want to have contracts around homelessness. Our community, we create programs, but we don't think about the administration, the finances, the board of directors. So what I'm doing now is looking for some philanthropic dollars to do technical assistance so that our community-based organizations, for-profit and not-for-profit, will be ready to contract with the city. We do billions of dollars of business in procurement. And a lot of it is not just with people from Los Angeles, it's with people out of California.

And so I think that it is critical. The number one problem in LA is profound income inequality. The worst manifestation is homelessness. What's the answer for income inequality? Raise people's incomes, whether it's salaries or whether it's business opportunities.

Morial: Mayor Turner.

Mayor Turner: We have a very active office of business opportunity, OBO, and we are very, very laser focused when it comes to MWSBE participation. When I came into office, we had about 2,500 certified firms. As of today, we have doubled that. It's about 5,100 certified firms. I will tell you, we have increased the number of primes, people who were subs, but now have been moved up to prime. Under this, my administration, we have awarded, in dollars and cents, more money to MWSBE than in the history of this city. And when you drill down, when drill down specifically to black businesses, they have received more contracts in dollars and cents than any time in the history of this city. And when it comes to subs, the average participation for MWSBEs is about 29 percent. Three categories, construction, professional services, goods and services. Across the board, the average percent is about 29 percent. When you go, for example, to Hobby Airport, one of the 16 five star airports in the world, that airport, the concessions, now the MWBE participation is about 80 percent.

Morial: Wow.

Mayor Turner: So when you go to Hobby, make sure you stop, buy until you drop because you are benefiting MWSBEs. So it has to be intentional. And I agree, if you don't, then you're hurting even your community culture. And then you scale up. Everybody benefits.

Morial: Mayor Johnson.

Mayor Johnson: Yeah. This is the greatest opportunity that I believe that I have in this moment with one of the, again, larger economies in the world. And as already been articulated, our procurement process is arduous. And you're right, Mayor Bass, this is not policy. It's just kind of a procedural dynamic that makes it difficult for our people to experience the wealth of the city of Chicago. Now, what I will say is this, that I have a deputy mayor that's dedicated to this particular dynamic, neighborhood and economic development. And so we're going to be very intentional about making sure that the west and south sides of the city of Chicago that have experienced a tremendous amount of disinvestment... I live in Austin on the west side, largest concentration of black folks in one single neighborhood, arguably in the entire country. And schools have been closed. Mental health facilities have been shut down. We just had a downpour of rain, so we experienced a great deal of flood. We got smoke coming in from Canada. My wife said, "If the locust come, brother, you better repent. Everything was fine until you became mayor." But there's some real opportunities.

Morial: Right, brother.

Mayor Johnson: Right. There are some real opportunities to transform our infrastructure. The last thing that I'll say is this. I don't mean to trigger anyone on this stage, but the DNC is in Chicago. And this is a tremendous opportunity for us, as we build up the infrastructure, to create these type of investments for our people. I believe there's more than enough for everyone. And so as we make sure that black businesses in the city of Chicago experience the wealth of the city and what the DNC will bring, I'm happy to share some with my other mayors from around the country.

Morial: Let's give these mayors a big round of applause. Before we wrap, let me offer thanks to Mayor Adams where we have the New York Urban League led by Arva Rice, has been a great partner of the New York Urban Urban League, Arva. In the audience this morning, I don't know if she's here. Any members of the New York Urban League, thank you for that. Certainly, Los Angeles. Our CEO, Michael Lawson, stand up, Michael, a retiring CEO in Los Angeles. Thank you for the partnership. And of course, here in Houston, where Judson Robinson has worked so closely with Mayor Turner and Karen Freeman Wilson in the legendary Chicago Urban League working with Mayor Johnson. So we want to affirm this working relationship that Urban League affiliates have, not only with these four mayors, but we seek all over the country. So ladies and gentlemen, Mayor Eric Adams. Mayor Karen Bass. Mayor Sylvester Turner. Mayor Brandon Johnson. Give it up.

Thank you for joining us this morning for Plenary II: State of Black America. Next, please join us for our morning forums. See you tonight at the Whitney M. Young Gala.


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