5 Things We Learned at the Congressional City Conference

This week, more than 2,300 city leaders and delegates from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia convened in Washington to deliver a simple message to Congress and the Trump Administration: Rebuild With Us and fix America’s infrastructure.

For four days starting March 10, delegates to the Congressional City Conference shared solutions to common challenges and met with federal officials including White House Senior Advisor DJ Gribbin, U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

On Wednesday, city leaders descended on Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress to tell them why a federal-local partnership is critical to investing in infrastructure and building strong local economies.

Here are just a few of the lessons we learned over the five day conference:

Infrastructure is a local priority.

Declining funding, increasing mandates and misaligned priorities at the federal and state levels have placed the responsibility squarely on local governments to maintain roads, upgrade water and wastewater systems and accommodate growing transit ridership.

But to be economically competitive, cities need infrastructure that accounts for modern-day needs, such as broadband, smart city initiatives and 21st century transportation solutions.


Bipartisan solutions are possible. 

If there’s one thing every local leaders knows it’s this: potholes aren’t partisan. Across the country, municipal officials don’t let partisan politics stand in the way of getting the job done. At the Congressional City Conference, officials from both sides of the aisle came together to talk about America’s infrastructure problem.

On Monday, Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) joined Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) to talk about bipartisan leadership in Washington. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, NLC President Mayor Mark Stodola awarded the President’s Award to Representative Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) and Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL) for their bipartisan work to protect city priorities through the tax reform process.

Republican Senator Tim Scott (L) joined Democratic Senator Cory Booker on stage at the Congressional City Conference.

Women are Leading the Way

One of the highlights from the conference was the Tuesday, March 13 General Session panel on infrastructure. Featuring Dr. María Meléndez Altieri, mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico, Rachel Hundley, councilmember from Sonoma, California, and Councilmember Rebecca Viagran of San Antonio, the panel centered on how all three communities had recovered from or dealt with natural disasters.

Throughout the conference, female elected officials from around the country served on panels, led discussions and advocated for their communities. The Women in Municipal Government constituency group also hosted several events, reaffirming their commitment to connecting and supporting female local leaders.

(L-R) NLC CEO Clarence E. Anthony moderates a panel with Sonoma, California, Councilmember Rachel Hundley, San Antonio Councilmember Rebecca Viagran, and Ponce, Puerto Rico Mayor María Meléndez Altieri.

Geographic Location Does Not Necessarily Limit Economic Growth

Bridging the Urban-Rural Economic Divide (pdf)

Released at the Congressional City Conference, NLC’s newest report, Bridging the Urban-Rural Economic Divide, reexamines the typical narratives that govern how we view the urban-rural relationship. But the truth is more complex than the stories suggest.

This report challenges the conventional notion that geographic area limits economic growth potential. Stronger links between urban and rural areas can spur local, regional and state economic growth.

By examining four key areas — broadband access, educational attainment, high-value business growth and prosperity growth — the report offers policymakers glimpses into policy and program opportunities to bridge the urban-rural divide.

City Leaders Can Make a Difference in Washington

We’ll admit: we cheated a little bit on this one. NLC knows the power that city leaders have in their communities and in Washington. Whether meeting with Republicans or Democrats, Congress needs to hear the voice of cities so that they understand why it’s important to #RebuildWithUS.

And when city leaders speak, Congress listens.

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City leaders meet with Representative Bill Flores (R-TX).


Meri_readyAbout the author: Meri St. Jean is a communications specialist at the National League of Cities.