Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has decided to pull out of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in order to save the city money and instead form his own progressive mayors’ group.
Cieslewicz spokesperson Melanie Conklin said the mayor does not see much value in the prestigious conference.
“When the mayor was at the U.S. Conference of Mayors this summer, he saw a lot of backslapping, a lot of lectures by corporations who were sponsoring the conference, not a lot of serious policy discussion. He felt it was possibly a waste of the city’s money,” Conklin said.
The mayor saw contradictions in the events at the conference, Conklin said. For example, he did not understand how a serious discussion on recycling could take place while the lecture was sponsored by a waste-management company.
Conklin said the cost of the conference is $11,500 per year, plus additional costs to attend all of the events and conferences.
P.J. Johnston, spokesperson for San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, said the conference is indeed a worthwhile city expense, however.
“The mayor’s conference is the premier venue for mayors across the country to voice their concerns to the federal government and to make sure the needs of cities remain at the forefront of politicians’ concerns,” Johnston said.
He said the conference is an opportunity for cities to share their best practices.
“Mayor Willie Brown has been active in the conference since he took office,” Johnston said.
Johnston added that the corporate influence Cieslewicz worried about is an irrelevant concern.
“Sponsors set up booths like any other conference,” he said.
He said the sponsors do not overshadow the discussions about important topics, such as housing, transportation or the need to support law enforcement.
According to Conklin, Cieslewicz has set $6,000 aside to help begin forming a new progressive group, the “New Cities Project.” She said the new group will hopefully include small- to medium-sized liberal cities. They will discuss serious policy issues such as transportation, land use, environment and education.
“National experts would be brought in to sit and hash what cities are doing and come up with some innovative solutions,” Conklin said.
She added that Cieslewicz would like the mayors of the cities to get together in Wisconsin to talk about these issues.
City Council District 8 alderman Austin King said he was happy about the mayor’s decision.
“It is a great move. Not only is it fiscally responsible, but it makes long-term sense,” King said.
He said the U.S. Conference of Mayors focuses on corporate sponsors and issues that do not have anything to do with Madison, such as homeland-security policies. He added that Madison is dealing with other issues, such as housing and economic policies.
According to the U.S Conference of Mayors official website, www.usmayors.org, the primary role of the Conference of Mayors is “to promote the development of effective national urban/suburban policy; strengthen federal-city relationships; ensure that federal policy meets urban needs; provide mayors with leadership and management tools; and create a forum in which mayors can share ideas and information.”