By Leslie Wollack
In the theme of the 2013 Congressional City Conference ‘Stand up for Cities,' closing session speakers called on city officials to help carry the message and lead the nation on issues important to cities.
Vice President Joe Biden and Senator John McCain exhorted a packed room of city leaders to carry the message on the key issues of reducing gun violence and sensible immigration reform.
"You have significant influence," the Vice President said, "They know you. If you share our view that these are sensible policies, speak up in your community," on policies for reducing gun violence.
In the speech, he told attendees that the nation needs to take a holistic approach to reducing gun violence, which includes reducing high capacity magazines, improving mental health services and studying the causes of gun violence. He implored the attendees to push their federal legislators to address the issue, believing that now is the moment for action.
Biden went on to challenge the city leaders to get involved and make their voices heard on the issue.
"Speak up in your communities because I believe we have the chance to make rational progress on a problem that's real," Biden said.
In addition to supporting gun control legislation in Congress, Biden also spoke about his campaign for increased community policing, and his work to provide more funding to the COPS program, to put officers on streets around the country. Summer months are especially deadly for cities, and the Vice President ask the elected officials to establish programs and partnerships that provide at-risk you with paid summer employment opportunities.
Earlier in the session, Senator McCain spoke about the need for sensible immigration reform in the United States. NLC President Marie Lopez Rogers greeted her hometown Senator with a hug and introduced him as "leading the fight for fair and just immigration reform."
"Your involvement, engagement and support will be vital to passing common sense immigration reform, " Sen. McCain, told the at-capacity audience of local officials.
McCain spoke about the bipartisan Senate effort to develop a comprehensive reform plan and called for a national conversation on the illegal drug trade that takes place along the nation's southern border. Noting the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the shadows, the Senator suggested that this situation is inconsistent with the U.S. being a nation of immigrants and reminded the audience that 40 percent of those in this country illegally did not cross a border illegally, but entered legally and overstayed their visa.
Sen. McCain called for an expedited path to citizenship, a tamper proof social security card to help with workplace enforcement against hiring undocumented workers and expressed "guarded confidence" in Congress' ability to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year. He called on local leaders to carry the message that the current system has resulted in the inhumane treatment of people trying to cross the border and we need to show the "greatness and strength" of this great nation by passing immigration reform which "is a human issue."
US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned of two great challenges to the nation relative to nutrition: obesity and hunger. Vilsack called on local officials and governors to partner with USDA in its mission to increase the fitness level of the next generation and expand nutrition programs.
Vilsack noted the need to create economic opportunity in rural areas to counter poverty and highlights USDA's "Four Cornerstones for a New Rural Economy." These include supporting an increase in farm production; assist to local and regional food systems known as Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer; enhancing economic opportunities through tourism through America's Great Outdoors Initiative; and boosting bio-based manufactured products.
Secretary Vilsack also noted the detrimental impact of sequestration cut backs on food safety. With furloughs of inspectors, companies cannot sell their products.
J.C. Watts, former Oklahoma Congressman lamented the lack of civility in today's politics and asked how leaders can get beyond partisanship to solve the problems of the day. He offered the common characteristics of the leaders he most admires: interested in public service because they want to serve others, willing to listen and learn from others, willing to change their mind when it is the right thing to do and valuing teamwork. Watts also expressed admiration for the work of local officials and their willingness to be on front lines of government.