State Municipal Leagues Build Relationships with New Congress

This week, more than 40 executive directors and local leaders from 19 state municipal leagues across the country traveled to Washington, D.C., for NLC’s third annual state municipal league fly-in.

At meetings and a briefing on Capitol Hill, state municipal league partners and NLC staff advocated for NLC’s top legislative priorities, including infrastructure investment, preventing future federal government shutdowns and broadband expansion. Together, we ensured that federal decision-makers heard loud and clear that city advocates are ready to build local-federal partnerships that will help to move America forward.

The fly-in began on Wednesday, February 6, with a briefing hosted by NLC’s Federal Advocacy staff who provided an update on the current political dynamics in Washington, D.C. and potential for an infrastructure package this year, as well as substantive updates on NLC’s 2019 federal legislative priorities.

NLC Immediate Past President Matt Zone, councilmember, Cleveland, Ohio, and NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony welcomed attendees to NLC’s offices and spoke about the importance of advocating for cities during this crucial time in Washington.

On Thursday, the state league leaders descended on Capitol Hill for a day of action to advocate for city priorities. They came prepared with the stories of their communities and residents, eager to amplify their voices and city priorities in the on-going policy and legislative conversations happening in our nation’s capital. In meetings with Members of Congress and congressional staff, the attendees presented NLC’s guiding principles for rebuilding and reimagining America’s infrastructure and 50 ideas for what cities need in an infrastructure plan. They also educated Members of Congress and congressional staff about the roles and responsibilities of cities.

In their time on the Hill, state league leaders met with more than 45 congressional offices across 21 states, and built relationships with 23 newly-elected Members of Congress.

Local Leaders Call on Congress to Prioritize Infrastructure

Thursday’s day of action opened with a NLC Congressional briefing, “City Hall 101: The Role of Cities in Moving America Forward,” to urge members of Congress to partner with cities to solve the most pressing challenges of our time.

With a focus on the economy, infrastructure and public safety, NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony highlighted how leaders across America – federal, state and local – share the same goals and values and that it is crucial for the federal government to work with local leaders on solutions that fit our cities and residents’ needs.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), a former Genesee County Commissioner, provided keynote remarks on the need for the 116th Congress to prioritize policy that invests in America’s cities, towns and villages. “Cities are the United States of America, not a special interest group. The state of the union is the state of our cities,” said Rep. Kildee. “There is not a circumstance where our nation is prosperous, and our cities are struggling. We have an opportunity right now for a major federal infrastructure investment. I’m going to push for a very specific, very clear Marshall plan to rebuild our cities”.

Christy McFarland, NLC Research Director, discussed two NLC reports, City Fiscal Conditions and State of the Cities, which served as background on the health of city budgets, including revenue and expenditures, and the fiscal capacity of cities to be a partner with federal government.

NLC Immediate Past President Matt Zone, councilmember from Cleveland, Ohio, Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities Vice President Daniel Corona, mayor of West Wendover, Nevada, and Maryland Municipal League President Bridget Donnell Newton, mayor of Rockville, Maryland, also shared experiences from their cities on some of the challenges they are facing at the local level.

NLC Immediate Past President Zone discussed the importance of multi-modal transportation options to the economic development and prosperity of the city, as well as to improving mobility for the most vulnerable populations in the community. Councilmember Zone also shared Cleveland’s experience with the Opportunity Zones program and the hope it spurs private investment in low income areas. City leaders stand ready to work with federal agency partners to ensure the program is implemented carefully and effectively in their communities.

Mayor Corona shared how West Wendover is utilizing the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), alongside city funds, to develop downtown infrastructure for new small businesses and residences. The area is expanding to provide affordable housing and create economic opportunities, primarily for low income residents. As a medium-sized city in Nevada and as a tourist destination and gateway many national parks, the city is looking to expand, but needs the federal government as a partner.

Finally, Mayor Donnell Newton, discussed maintaining and expanding the city’s water and transportation infrastructure to keep up with population growth, as well as the importance of providing new modes of transportation to support first and last mile connections. Mayor Newton also discussed the emphasis on community broadband access to bridge the digital divide and the need for federal legislation to combat the preemption of local authority in the deployment of broadband networks.

This engaging panel showed the strength of our nation’s cities and the benefits of an open dialogue and local-federal partnership.

Reflections and Next Steps

It was a week of leadership and relationship building in Washington, DC. Local and federal leaders have a tremendous opportunity this year to come together and drive forward-thinking legislation that serves all of America’s communities.  The fly-in helped build strong relationships with many newly-elected Members of Congress and jump-started national conversations around rebuilding and reimagining America’s infrastructure.

On March 10 – 13, city leaders will gather in Washington, D.C., for the Congressional City Conference (CCC) to speak up for city priorities. Learn more at

Ashley Smith big.jpgAbout the Author: Ashley Smith is the Senior Associate for Grassroots Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow Ashley @AshleyN_Smith.