Speaking in the East Room of the White House, President Obama told the nation’s mayors he understand the difficulty of governing in communities large and small in the wake of the financial crisis.
"It's just not easy being a mayor. But rarely, if ever, has it been more difficult than it is today," he told more than 200 mayors in town for the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting being held in Washington this week, "Your constituents are feeling the pain of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, not to mention an economy that wasn't working for a lot of them long before this particular crisis hit."
The president said the Recovery and Reinvestment Act is helping to alleviate some of the economic pain, and said that his upcoming budget will include large investments at the local level. The president said his strategy will be to coordinate federal investment in economic and workforce development, using cities as building blocks for larger regions. It will also encourage investment in more environmentally stable communities, coordinating resources and policy between agencies like Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation. Lastly, the president said he wants target investments to create "neighborhoods of opportunity."
"Many of our neighborhoods have been economically distressed long before this crisis hit, for as long as many of us can remember. And while the underlying causes may be deeply rooted and complicated, there are some needs that are simple: access to good jobs, affordable housing, convenient transportation that connects both, quality schools and health services, safe streets and parks, and access to a fresh, healthy food supply," he said, "So we'll invest in innovative and proven strategies that change the odds for our communities."
The President said he enjoys meeting with mayors because it reminds him of his early days as a community organizer. He quoted former President Lyndon Johnson, who once said, "When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor."
"So it's why we organized this meeting today. I look at all of you and I say I'm doing fine," the president quipped. The crowd erupted in laughter and applause.
He and Vice President Joe Biden engaged in a question and answer session with the mayors, though the press was not allowed to stick around for that. The president joked that the cameras were leaving "so you can tell me the truth."