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Country's Mayors Gather In Miami To Advocate For Cities


Among those closely watching the proposals coming out of the Trump administration and Congress in recent weeks are the nation's mayors. This weekend, more than 250 of them are in Miami Beach. And as NPR's Greg Allen reports, mayors say Washington is out of step with cities on a host of issues from immigration and health care to climate change.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: The U.S. Conference of Mayors is a bipartisan group. The current president, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, is a Republican. But nearly six months after Donald Trump was sworn in, even Cornett says he's still waiting for signs that the president will help the cities.


MICK CORNETT: Well, if he'll address the infrastructure needs, especially in the larger cities on the East Coast, that would be a big step forward. You know, there's a lot of issues out there where he could prove his worthiness to us.

ALLEN: Mayors say they're especially concerned about the health care bill being considered in the Senate. They say it would shift many health care costs now paid by the federal government to local communities. They're also alarmed at the president's proposal to eliminate community development block grants, a 40-year-old program that provides $3 billion in direct funding to cities. Another key issue for the mayors is climate change. In Miami Beach, where this weekend's meetings are being held, that's not just a theoretical concern.

Outside the Fontainebleau Hotel, where mayors are meeting, on the streets of Miami Beach, the city has moved aggressively to address a rising sea level, one of the consequences of climate change. During seasonal high tides, this road, Indian Creek Drive, sometimes now is under water. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine says, along with the state, the city is spending some $25 million to fix that.

PHILIP LEVINE: That road is being made higher. We're putting up new seawalls. And we're also putting in natural boundaries and mangroves to finish it off properly. So it's been a real journey, but it's a necessary journey.

ALLEN: Last month, after President Trump announced his plan to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Levine and other members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors protested. Republicans and Democrats alike renewed their city's commitments to reduce carbon emissions and use renewable energy. Levine says Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement won't stop his city's efforts to improve infrastructure and prepare for climate change. Miami Beach, he says, is a wealthy city with some $50 billion of real estate assets to protect.

LEVINE: But there are other cities that can't afford to do it. And therein lies the need for the federal government and their state governments to get more actively involved. And it's tough to kind of have to convince them when the evidence is right there when you go to these towns.

ALLEN: New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu says if the federal government withdraws from leadership on climate change, the nation's mayors are ready to step up.

MITCH LANDRIEU: You're going to see a new governing model emerging in this country. If the federal government refuses to act or is just paralyzed, the cities themselves, through their mayors, are going to create a national policy by the accumulation of individual efforts.

ALLEN: Later today in Miami Beach, a group including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will formally sign the Paris agreement goals. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami Beach.

(SOUNDBITE OF KETTEL'S "QUICKPIG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.