Rawlings-Blake Makes History as the First African American Female President of the Organization
The presidential gavel was officially handed to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake by outgoing US Conference of Mayors (USCM) President, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, appointing her head of the nonpartisan organization during the 83rd Annual Meeting of the USCM Annual Meeting held recently in San Francisco, CA.
There have been five women mayor presidents of the organization–Elizabeth Kautz of Burnsville, MN, Beverly O’Neill of Long Beach, CA, Deedee Corradini of Salt Lake City, UT, Kathryn Whitmire of Houston TX and Helen Boosalis of Lincoln, NE.
Rawlings-Blake is the sixth woman president and the first African American female to take the post in the eighty-three year history of the organization.
During the four-day gathering of nearly 300 mayors, city leaders met to discuss a broad range of policy issues impacting America’s cities and their economic health including community policing, federal investment in America’s cities and public-partnerships that drive innovation and efficiency.
As Conference President, Mayor Rawlings-Blake will set the organization’s agenda, appoint committee and task force chairs and serve as the national spokesperson for the June 2015 to June 2016 term. In her inaugural remarks, Mayor Rawlings-Blake spoke to issues of community policing and its direct connection to the lack of opportunity in many communities.
“At a time when women and African American women especially, still face many challenges, the honor of being a female President of this organization and the first African American female President is not lost on me. We often talk about how cities are on the upswing. Articles and books are being written about the new renaissance that’s taking place reversing a trend of decades of decline within cities. And it [the progress] is all great. But as you all saw two months ago there are still very large segments of our cities that feel disenfranchised, disaffected and disgusted.
“They don’t see the growth and positivity that occurs in other parts of town. It’s an issue of opportunity as much as it is an issue of policing. It’s as much an issue of jobs as it is policing. It’s as much an issue of community development as it is policing. It is as much an issue of education as it is community policing. And we don’t lose sight of that.”
Rawlings-Blake underscored the strength of cities and explained she would ensure that urban issues are infused into the 2016 political discussion. “We will make sure that our priorities are part of the national debate and commitments are made to our cities and urban America. I want this year to be the year that we make our voices heard and drive the agenda. Washington needs to step up.” She also reminded the mayors of power of bipartisan organization.
I spent a precious few minutes with President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake during a short break from conference activities—
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: Congratulations on your appointment to lead this august body. What are your plans?
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: I am very excited about the opportunity to lead the country’s mayors at a very critical time in our country; we are facing some very serious issues that require unity and [collectively] the mayors of our country to speak with one voice whether it’s on our need for infrastructure investment or help with community policing. We have to work in a bi-partisan way and we have a strong track record of doing that; America wants to see us do more than debate, to do more than argue and this is our opportunity.
Talk2SV: Does this task in any way feel more daunting than the one you have as Mayor of Baltimore?
Mayor Rawlings-Blake: I don’t think it’s daunting at all. I think it’s an incredible opportunity–at this time when my city has so many challenges that need resources, which need attention–I have a national platform. During a time when African American women are facing challenges in our country, women in general, facing wage discrimination, trying to figure out if they are able to have a career and a family. I have a national platform that can be a role model, inspiration, and a fighter for women to say, ‘you don’t have to make those sacrifices to have a family…you can have a career.’ There is a woman in this position that will fight to help end health disparities in the African American community, particularly for women, so I think this is a remarkable opportunity at the right time.
Talk2SV: As such, where do you strike the balance between being Mayor of Baltimore and now the governing leadership of this body of US mayors?
Mayor Rawlings-Blake: I think it is a balance. But my focus is Mayor of the city of Baltimore just as every president before me. Geographically, I have the benefit of being in Baltimore right down the road from Washington DC, where most of our advocacy work takes place. That alone is an extra bonus of convenience and in the wake of so much technology; we can physically be in one place while talking to mayors from all over the country. Yes, I think this role is a big responsibility but there are so many ways to get the work done–it is not daunting at all, it’s exciting.
Talk2SV: Much is being made of the Year of the Woman in business and politics among citizens of all backgrounds. Here we are poised on the virtual eve of what may be our first woman president of the United States. If that historical account is imminent, what role will you play?
Mayor Rawlings-Blake: My role as the President of the US Council of Mayors is to bring a unified bi-partisan agenda to the presidential debates: 90% of the people in our country live in cities, 90% of the jobs are in the metro areas. We represent this country in a major way. When you take a look at the reduction in Community Development Block Grants, when you take a look at the stalled transportation efforts, there is much that we need from these candidates who want to be the leader of our country. My goal will be to take our agenda to them.
Talk2SV: Lastly, in our remaining minutes of conversation, for young women looking to follow in your footsteps what do you want them to know?
Mayor Rawlings-Blake: I want them to know that they can achieve their dreams. I’ve wanted to be in public service since I was in 3rd or 4th grade. I worked very hard, every step of the way, to get here. I want them to know this level of achievement is possible for them as well; [to know] that I made some tough decisions when many of my friends were doing things that they shouldn’t have. I knew that I wanted to have a life of public service that would be scrutinized. I knew I couldn’t do certain things because it would divert me from my goal. I knew that if I wanted to rise to the level of a public servant I had to put in the time; I spent time in student government as a young Democrat working my way up to City Council. I want them to know that whatever their aspiration, if they invest in themselves, they can achieve it as well. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity. I see the look in young girls’ eyes when they see me. I remember being a young child, introduced to some very powerful women in my community and, how those encounters made me feel. Now, to know that I represent that for this next generation is awesome.
Tom Cochran, USCM CEO and Executive Director stated, “She’s been elected by her peers and this is one of the highest honors you can have as a mayor. For one year, she’s America’s mayor. It’s a very powerful position.”
Prior to becoming the President of the Conference of Mayors, Rawlings-Blake served as Vice President over the past year. Before being elected to serve on the organization’s Executive Committee, she was a member of the Mayors’ Water Council for two years (2010-2012), and became its co-chair in 2012.
Most recently, Rawlings-Blake served on a special working group of mayors and police chiefs put together by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson during his Presidency (of the US Conference of Mayors) to develop a series of recommendations for local and national actions intended to improve policing in America. The group presented its final recommendations to President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing at its Winter Meeting in January in Washington, D.C.
Under her leadership, Baltimore has received numerous awards from the USCM. At the concluding session of the conference, the mayors debated and voted on policy recommendations to present to the current White House administration. The group passed resolutions in support of trade, a long-term, locally-focused federal transportation bill, municipal bonds, water conservation, marketplace fairness, education, workforce development and apprenticeship programs for youth, technology and innovation, energy efficiency, income equality, parental paid leave, community policing, human trafficking and more.
The group’s newly elected leadership is as follows: President: Baltimore (MD) Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; Vice President: Oklahoma City (OK) Mayor Mick Cornett; Second Vice President: New Orleans (LA) Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Mitch Landrieu was elected to the office of USCM Second Vice President, which means he will ascend to the office of USCM President in June of 2017. Mayor Landrieu, issued a statement of support, “Congratulations to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. She is an inspiring leader and will undoubtedly serve as an impressive president of USCM…America’s mayors stand at the forefront of the most pressing issues directly affecting our day-to-day lives. USCM is a bipartisan organization uniquely positioned to tackle these challenges. I am honored to join the leadership team as Second Vice Chair and support the hundreds of talented member mayors. There is no better
time for mayors to stand up and lead than right now.”
Additional highlights of the conference include US President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, both addressing the group on separate occasions.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are 1,210 such cities in the country today. Each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor. To view Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s entire inaugural speech, visit www.usmayors.org.
Sponsors of this year’s conference include: Google, Uber, Kaiser Permanente, Wells Fargo, Salesforce, Twitter, Walgreens, Bank of America, Lyft, Lennar Urban, PG&E, Union Bank, Autodesk, Accela, Comcast, Dignity Health, and Kilroy Realty among others.