‘That is how you run a city’: Top mayors share tips for tackling crime, homelessness and hostile media

‘That is how you run a city’: Top mayors share tips for tackling crime, homelessness and hostile media

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It’s Saturday, Aug. 5, and we’d like to welcome you to the weekly State and Local Roundup. There’s plenty to keep tabs on, with AP psychology being “effectively banned” in Florida, the death of New Jersey’s trailblazing lieutenant governor and continuing redistricting battles in Wisconsin and Alabama. But first we’ll start with four mayors sharing ideas about tackling homelessness, violence and other issues confronting city officials. 

The mayors of the country’s four largest cities—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston—gathered last week to swap ideas about how to tackle some of their biggest problems. But as prominent Black politicians, they also traded stories and advice about the extra scrutiny they face from the media and the public.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is serving in his last year because of term limits, showed Karen Bass of Los Angeles and Brandon Johnson of Chicago a city facility that houses and provides counseling services for people experiencing homelessness, a major problem in both of the visitors’ hometowns. New York Mayor Eric Adams toured the operation separately.

Both Bass and Johnson were impressed with Houston’s coordination with other service providers, including Harris County and nonprofits, according to the Houston Chronicle

“One of our problems in Los Angeles has frankly been finger-pointing and infighting between the city and the county,” Bass said on the tour, adding that she is working on addressing that long-standing problem. 

The Chicago mayor noted that the intake center they toured was on city property but was run by a nonprofit. “Governments do not have to be intimidated by service providers, and service providers don’t have to be skeptics of governments,” Johnson said.

The four mayors also discussed their challenges in offices at a recent conference of the National Urban League (see transcript or video). The group’s president, Marc Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans, moderated. 

Turner, the longest serving of the group, stressed the need to have staff that not only were bright but shared a mayor’s vision. “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,” he said.

Adams, who has had a cantankerous relationship with the New York press and his own city council, stressed the need for focus. “I wake up every day with a clear agenda, and I’m not going to be distracted,” he said. He said he wanted a diverse staff that shared his vision. “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.”

Stemming violence: The mayors all touted their approaches toward violent crimes in their cities. Homicides have declined over the last year, but the mayors acknowledge that residents feel unsafe. Several chafed at criticism that they did not sufficiently back police.

“This whole story about cities not supporting police is BS,” Turner said. “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.”

Turner stressed the need to improve the rate of murders that were solved and prosecuted. Early in his term, the clearance rate was about 50%. But Turner demanded a daily update on that figure and worked for ways to improve it, and now, he said, it’s at 82%.

Adams, a former police officer, touted his role in reporting police abuses earlier in his career. That shows the need for more Black officers, he said. 

“When hospitals and medical institutions weren’t doing right, we told Black and brown people to become doctors and nurses,” he said. “When our teachers were not educating our children, we recruited Black and brown sororities 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?”

“Heroin 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,” Adams warned.

Bass said recruiting Black candidates for law enforcement is “hard for a lot of us to swallow.” But she warned that the alternative could be worse. “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?”

The LA mayor also warned about the political fallout from continued violence in major cities playing a role in the upcoming presidential campaign. “They’re coming after the four of us,” she said. “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?’”

Democrats shouldn’t be “shy” about their approach to crime but “hit it head on,” stressing both accountability and crime prevention, Bass said.

Media narratives: The city executives shared stories about how they felt unfairly treated by the press, and how they could get their messages out through other channels and person-to-person interactions.

“If you have to depend on someone to sell your product, you’re lost,” Adams said. “We must do direct-to-consumer communication. That is what we are doing.”

Morial, the former New Orleans mayor, said that outreach was necessary to counter media narratives. “It’s important for constituents to understand that it is absolutely, abundantly clear that Black mayors don’t get treated the same. Period,” he said. “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” and still not get unbiased coverage, he added.

Turner said he never received criticism for any of the trade missions he led to Europe, Latin America, Israel and Asia. But a reporter started asking whether a recent trip to Africa was a “junket” or a waste of taxpayer money. “This says more about them and their views than the city and me,” he said. 

Bass said local media asked whether she would be “like Eric Garcetti,” her (white) predecessor who is now the U.S. ambassador to India. But she was already a well-known figure in California, serving as a member of the U.S. House and as speaker of the California House of Representatives. 

Adams said he confronts a tough media environment in New York, where the press can be so hostile that pro athletes won’t even move there. Being portrayed as an “angry Black man” in the media can prevent a leader from being effective. But worrying about that depiction can damage your health, he said. So he said he tries not to let it get to him.

“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,” he said. “And then I’m going to move on, because I got a city to run.”

Keep reading as there’s more news to use below, and make sure to come back here for the week’s highlights. If you don’t already and would prefer to get it in your inbox, you can subscribe to this newsletter here. We’ll see you next week.

News to Use

Trends, Common Challenges, Cool Ideas, FYIs, and Notable Events

  • AP psychology is “effectively banned” in Florida. The College Board announced Thursday that Florida school districts should no longer offer Advanced Placement Psychology. Under a Florida rule, instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation is restricted in most cases through the 12th grade. The College Board, the nonprofit that oversees advanced placement courses and the SAT, revoked its support for AP Psychology in Florida, saying it would not abide by the state’s demand to remove a longstanding section on gender and sexual orientation. “The Florida Department of Education has effectively banned AP Psychology in the state,” the group said in a statement.
  • New Jersey’s trailblazing lieutenant governor has died. Sheila Oliver, New Jersey’s lieutenant governor and the first Black woman to hold statewide elected office there, died Tuesday after being rushed to the hospital the day before. She was 71. Oliver, a Democrat, was elected lieutenant governor in 2017 as Gov. Phil Murphy’s running mate after serving for more than 15 years in the legislature. In 2010, she became the first Black woman to lead the predominantly male state Assembly. Oliver had been serving as acting governor of New Jersey since Murphy and his family left last weekend for a vacation in Italy. The gubernatorial responsibilities shifted to the Senate president, Nick Scutari, as dictated by the state Constitution, after Oliver died.
  • With a newly liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court, legislative maps challenged in court. One day after control of the state Supreme Court flipped to a liberal-leaning majority, voting rights groups filed a lawsuit seeking to have the state’s legislative maps declared unconstitutional for favoring Republicans. The lawsuit argues that the maps have skewed Wisconsin’s elections toward Republicans since 2012 by dividing communities and cramming Democratic voters into as few districts as possible. The suit does not challenge the state’s congressional maps. Wisconsin’s legislative maps are considered one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in the country, allowing Republicans to hold near-super majorities in both legislative houses despite the state’s 50-50 political divide.
  • Alabama’s congressional map battle continues. Voting rights activists returned to court last week to fight Alabama’s redrawn congressional districts, saying state Republicans failed to follow federal court orders to create a district that is fair to Black voters. The plaintiffs accused state Republicans of flouting a judicial order to create a second majority-Black district or “something quite close to it.” Instead, they said, GOP lawmakers passed a map that continues to discriminate against Black voters. A special three-judge panel in 2022 ordered a new congressional map that includes two districts where “Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority” or something close. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court concurred.
  • Interest has waned in Elon Musk’s tunnels, except in Las Vegas. Musk’s tunneling company gained permission to significantly expand its operations under the city of Las Vegas. Last month, the city council voted unanimously to approve the Boring Company’s plan to dig more tunnels under the city, following in the steps of Clark County, which in May gave a similar thumbs-up to the tunneling concern. The company’s plan calls for 68 miles of tunnels and 81 stations, served by a fleet of Tesla electric vehicles, each able to carry three passengers at a time. Both the city of Las Vegas and Clark County expect to get a portion of the revenue generated by the rides on the system.
  • Cyberattack costs have soared in Louisiana. Around the time school boards across Louisiana were hit with an alarming cyberattack in 2019, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration tapped a handful of state employees for a team that would respond to cyberattacks much in the way the state responds to hurricanes or chemical spills. The assumption was that the group would be activated infrequently, responding to cyberattacks sporadically. Instead, the officials have found themselves responding to cyberattacks more or less nonstop for the past four years. And the costs to the state and local government agencies have spiraled over that time, state data shows. Since its inception, the group has responded to more than 130 attacks, and in the most recent fiscal year, the state spent $20.6 million—or nine times what it spent three years earlier.
  • State AGs join suit against law restricting out-of-state abortions. About 20 states this week joined a lawsuit seeking to strike down Idaho’s new law that makes it a crime to assist minors in seeking abortions outside the state. Attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia filed a friend-of-the-court brief Monday alleging the law violates residents’ constitutional rights. “The Constitution protects the individual right to travel between states, and Idaho’s radical Legislature cannot abolish that right,” Bob Ferguson, Washington state’s AG, said in a statement. Ferguson’s brief argues that Idaho’s new law interferes with states that have less restrictive abortion policies, while also infringing on residents’ rights to interstate travel.
  • Don’t call it “toilet to tap.” Californians could drink highly purified sewage water that is piped directly into drinking water supplies for the first time under proposed rules unveiled by state water officials. The drought-prone state has turned to recycled water for more than 60 years to bolster its scarce supplies, but the current regulations require it to first make a pit stop in a reservoir or an aquifer before it can flow to taps. The new rules, mandated by state law, would require extensive treatment and monitoring before wastewater can be piped to taps or mingled with raw water upstream of a drinking water treatment plant.
  • An effort to “defossilize” city buildings in Boston. Mayor Michelle Wu signed an executive order that prohibits new or newly renovated city-owned buildings from using natural gas, oil or coal for heating, air conditioning, producing hot water or cooking. The order, which went into effect Monday, complements the mayor’s larger effort to implement a similar ban on new residential buildings, her office said, a plan that has drawn the ire of certain real-estate groups. Municipal emissions constitute 2.3% of all of Boston’s carbon emissions, and more than 70% of the city’s emissions are from buildings, according to Wu’s office.
  • Under NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Dan Doctoroff remade the city at top speed. His role as deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding in the Bloomberg administration was to adopt ideas (some his, many not), convince others that they were feasible and good, then maneuver those concepts into reality. Years later, it would be hard to spend a day in New York and not encounter at least one item on his long list of urban accomplishments. His stint in government lasted from 2002 to 2008, surely among the most consequential half-dozen years of any city builder’s term in New York history. He wasn’t, as some have claimed, the 21st-century Robert Moses; he was Moses in a hurry, the New York Magazine profile said.

Picture of the Week

“When it comes to official portraits of governors past, size apparently matters,” wrote Maryland Matters, in a story about the sudden disappearance of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s official portrait. The portrait was unveiled in July and sent to what was to be its home in the Governor’s Reception Room inside the State House. But O’Malley’s portrait, hanging on the wall between former Govs. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Larry Hogan, was noticeably smaller. How much smaller? According to the publication, at 1,200 square inches, O’Malley’s was roughly 30% smaller than either Ehrlich’s or Hogan’s. It was more than 55% smaller than those of Govs. Parris Glendening and William Donald Schaefer. Now, the artist who painted O’Malley’s portrait will paint a new portrait that better matches the size of the other gubernatorial portraits. (Photo by Joe Andrucyk, courtesy of the Executive Office of the Governor)

Government in Numbers


The number of states that ban self-serve gas. Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek will let a bill allowing self-serve gasoline across the state become law, ending a 72-year ban on most drivers pumping their own gas. Announcing a slate of potential vetoes, as required by the Oregon Constitution, Kotek did not include House Bill 2426, which will permit Oregon gas stations to open up to half of their pumps for self-serve gas. The law will still require gas stations to staff at least half their pumps for people who can’t, or don’t want to, pump their own gas. After the Oregon bill becomes law, New Jersey will be the only state that bans self-serve gas.


For states, the rollout of 988 still faces some challenges

One year in, states are struggling to staff up the suicide prevention lifeline and get the word out about its existence.


After enacting strict abortion laws, many states are turning to tax breaks for expectant parents

Four states have approved new tax credits or deductions that allow taxpayers to claim unborn children. Nearly a dozen are expected to follow. But do these laws actually help expectant mothers?


In national race to build EV chargers, a few states emerge as big winners

State policy, the electric grid and business considerations can all determine how many public charging stations a state’s residents will see.


Turning workplace fatigue around with better data, policies

When managers use dashboards to see how many hours staff members are putting in, they can head off the negative consequences of worker fatigue.


HUD offers $85M to communities actively eliminating housing barriers

Through the competitive grant program, state and local governments can address some of the obstacles to expanding affordable housing.


Passions run high over speed limits, but data is hard to come by

A recent study by the AAA Foundation tried to determine whether drivers changed their habits with new speed limits. Instead, the group discovered the limits of the data states collect on the safety of their roads.


Regional partnerships can bring a refreshing solution to aging water infrastructure

When legacy water systems lack adequate data collection and monitoring capabilities, communities face an uphill battle delivering clean, safe water to residents.


Transit agencies prep for new data requirements

Around 500 or so transit systems are scrambling to get in compliance with the new standard, which the Federal Transit Administration and planners will use to improve service.


An underused approach to fighting cyberattacks

The Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center offers free services to help localities with cybersecurity. Why aren’t more governments using them?


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