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NYC Mayor Eric Adams Participates in “Mayors’ Roundtable” at Essence Festival of Culture’s Global Black Economic Forum

Mayor Adams: There’s a real full circle in connection to New Orleans. I was down here during the storm bringing the supplies years ago with Noble and the Guardians. But really, Essence, 19 years ago I remember reading one of the stories and immediately after I read it I got in my tub with my bubble baths and my flower pellets and I realized that men like that as well. So it’s full circle.

The role as mayor, particularly now, this historical moment, four of our top cities, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, are all mayors of color. But there’s something that is happening that people are missing that if we’re not careful it’s going to undermine our cities. Houston started to deal with the asylum issue. Chicago is dealing with the asylum issue. New York is dealing with the asylum issues, over 70,000. 

Now we get a mayor of color in Los Angeles, and you know what she received? She’s starting to receive asylums also, asylum seekers. The asylum crisis can undermine all the progress that we are making as we moved our cities forward and deal with the real crisis that we are facing. I have a double A bond rating in my city. We’re seeing a decrease in shooting, decrease in homicide, decrease in our major crimes. 99 percent of our jobs have recovered pre-pandemic post-pandemic. You’re seeing the turn-arounding of the city. And as soon as we started turning around, what happened? Texas started busing thousands of migrants into our city, undermining our already safety net that has been broken.

We are carrying the weight of a national issue on a local problem, and if we don’t focus on that, we are going to have a real problem. I never thought in my life I would be able to use the term that Malcolm X used, we are being hoodwink right now. We’re being bamboozled. We’re being duped into believing that this is happening by accident. I think this is a well orchestrated plan to destabilize the big cities, which happened to have mayors of color right now.

Mayor Cantrell: Absolutely. Give it up for Mayor Adams, he’s speaking the truth on that. And let’s just getting a little bit deeper as it relates to that. Now in many of our respective cities and like New Orleans, we are democratic city in a Republican state. We have to fight for direct allocation because when the dollars go to the state, they don’t somehow get to the City of New Orleans and it’s not by accident. But I know that some of you are dealing with preemption legislation and the like, share with us what’s going on, Mayor Dickens?

Mayor Dickens: Yeah. What Mayor Cantrell is talking about is that cities are just creatures of the state. So if the state has a law that supersedes the city’s law then your law is void. So I want to do rent control in the City of Atlanta, you can’t do it because the state prohibits rent control. I want to set a higher minimum wage in the City of Atlanta, you can’t do it because the state prohibits a minimum wage being set. The minimum wage in the State of Georgia is $7.25 an hour. I was able to make the city’s minimum wage $15 an hour about six years ago as a City Council member. And now I want to raise it to $19 or $20 an hour but it only accounts for city employees because those are the people that’s under my leadership.

But think about it, the various things that you want to do in a city have preemption laws that the state. So that’s why your state legislature and your governor’s races are critical and important. The mayors are the ones that you see on TV every day, so everybody beat us up about potholes and every little issue here and there. But some of the things that we want to do we’re handcuffed because of state laws and it’s called preemption, and you should look at it. There’s a number of laws, preemption, you think about gun laws. In the State of Georgia, it’s a open carry state. You do not have to get a license or anything. You have a carrying permit that’s just given to you. We don’t have red flag laws. So we’re trying to make sure we bring down the homicide rate, which we have, we’re down 35 percent this year in the City of Atlanta. Homicides are down. Rapes are down over 50 percent. Shootings are down. Burglaries are down. But we’re doing that through a myriad of policing and non policing tactics. But we are still handcuffed by anybody can have a gun and walk around the City of Atlanta or anywhere else in the State of Georgia because the state legislature.

So this is why we have to be very, very, very dedicated to our state elections and the elections of our state legislature because they have a tremendous amount of control when it comes to this thing called preemption, home rules so to speak.

Mayor Cantrell: Absolutely. And Mayor Bibb, tell us a little bit what’s going on in Cleveland.

Mayor Bibb: Same thing happened in Cleveland. I had one Republican lawmaker tell me, if you ran your city like you run our townships, Cleveland would be a lot better off. That was a racist comment. And we have Republicans in my state who want to blame me for crime. And I said, not one Republican’s going to lecture me on public safety until our legislature passes common sense gun reform in our state. And so we have to vote in the state house races. We have to vote for good governors in our states because they are quietly trying to attack Black and brown cities across this country. And we are handicapped by racist lawmakers in our state houses who are scared of what powerful Black political leadership looks like in our country. We got to keep fighting. We got to keep fighting on this issue.

Mayor Cantrell: Thank you Mayor Bibb for that. And I also understand there are issues around, I was talking with Mayor Adams about prisons. And here in the City of New Orleans we have a consent decree in terms of our jail. We have a federal judge that is mandating the city spends 80 million to build a mental health facility for our inmate population, which we want to serve. But that number is 40 people. And so I’m not against building a mental health facility, but I need it for my general population that could also serve my inmate population. But this is what the federal judge is telling us. But Mayor Adams, you’re experiencing something a little bit similar in New York.

Mayor Adams: We have a jail that’s called Rikers Island that the previous administration would like to see closed down, which we would follow the law to do so. But they’re calling to build four smaller jails. Current prison population is over 5,000, the four jails that they’re built could hold a little over 3000. The price tag went up from $8 billion to anywhere to probably $13, $14 billion. The 50 percent of my inmate population dealing with mental health issues, roughly 18 percent are dealing with severe mental health issues. If we were to build suitable, respectable, humane mental health locations to give people the support and care they need then we won’t be using the criminal justice system as a form of mental health support. That is where our focus should go. Our focus should go using those dollars to build appropriate mental health facilities to give people the support they need so they won’t be on the revolving door of waiting until they commit a crime before we give them the help that they need. That’s the proactive approach that we would like to do.

Mayor Cantrell: Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. Also, you heard Reverend Al and even Marc Morial talk about what we know we’re all experiencing, homelessness. The ability and our focus is wanting to meet our people where they are with the tools and resources that they need. We have some mayors that are doing some cutting edge work. We’re seeing it even in New Orleans, but Mayor Bass, tell us about what you’re doing in LA.

Mayor Bass: Absolutely. Well, as I mentioned before, 40,000 people, that’s just in the city by the way. LA County has 88 cities in it. If you add it all together, we’re talking about 70,000 people on the street. And what we’re doing is that we’re moving people off the streets, out at tents in motels. What’s most important about that is that the myth about homelessness is that people want to be in the tents. And just think about that because that’s what happens when it’s a social economic or a health issue then people say, 
“Well, they’re having a problem because they’re choosing to have that problem.” And that’s not the case. I’m going to tell you, the fastest growing population of homeless in Los Angeles are senior citizens. Senior citizens who worked at the service economy. Maybe they worked in retail, they didn’t have a pension, they didn’t have a 401k. They get up in age and they can’t afford the rent anymore, they’re priced out of the market. So it’s the stereotype of people being homeless and they’re all drug addicts and that’s not the case.

So we’re taking them out of tents, we’re putting them in motels. We’ve had very few people in six months say they don’t want to go. Our people do not want to be on these streets. Thank you. Just this week in one tent, we found a mother and three children. There’s thousands of children on the streets. I declared a state of emergency on the first day when I took office. Instead of going to City Hall, I went to the Emergency Management Department. We’ve put everybody on notice. We have fast tracked building, but it takes a while to build. Even if you build as fast as possible, we need some place for people to be for about a year, a year and a half, while building is taking place.

2000 people died on the streets in LA last year. 22 people died in the first 3 months on our transit system. Our folks are dying every day and we have to intervene like, because it is, an emergency, it’s a humanitarian crisis.

Mayor Cantrell: Absolutely. Now, we also know that we want to prevent our people from even being homeless—

Mayor Bass: That’s right.

Mayor Cantrell: So affordable housing is something that is a priority in our cities as well. Keeping people in their homes, making sure they’re not priced out of the neighborhoods that they’ve been in for generations, making sure that you put resources to help them renovate owner or occupied units in the life again, keeping up with how the area or neighborhood may be being redeveloped. But Mayor Dickens tell us about some affordable housing programs that you’ve spearheaded in Atlanta.

Mayor Dickens: Yeah, absolutely. Affordable housing is one of the most critical things that we can do as mayors is to make sure that people are housed. To me, housing is a right. It’s a human right to be housed. We have to take care of people’s mental health, we have to take care of people’s physical health, but we have to make sure people are housed because the other things are more challenging when you don’t have a house. Food insecurity, medical challenges. And so what we end up dealing with is trying to make sure that people that have more month than money, at the end of the month you got more month left and you ain’t got enough money. So we have to work on this thing in two ways, making sure that we build or preserve the affordable housing units so that more people can be housed, but also you want to make sure that people’s incomes are rising so that they can grow out of subsidized housing so that we can put somebody else in there.

And so the goal is twofold, to increase incomes by workforce development getting people jobs and technology and thriving sectors, and then making sure that they have the incomes to compete. But also building as fast as we can affordable housing units, whether that’s through construction, getting rid of permitting red tape and all that kind of stuff and then incentivizing a large amount of developers. And we want developers that are nonprofits and churches who have a mission that’s dedicated to it. So they don’t just take your tax incentives and then sell the property out later and then end up going up on the rents to market rates. So it’s a complex puzzle, but we have just raised $250 million in the City of Atlanta to be able to do more affordable housing. We have a goal of 20,000 units, so we’re well on our way we’re building as fast as we can. We got Black developers, we got nonprofit developers. We’re taking churches, church land. All them big parking lots your churches got that everybody ain’t going to no more the way it used to be, we building housing on there. Because we all say we want to do right.

And I’ll tell you this too, the other thing is, we are not allowing that conversation. Everybody say we want people to be housed, we want people off the street. But when you say, “I’m going to build this in your neighborhood,” people’ll be like, “No, not in my backyard.” We getting rid of that. Every district in Atlanta is about to have some affordable housing is my goal.

Mayor Cantrell: All right. Now, diversifying our economy, again, has to be front and center in the work that we do. We have industries in the city of New Orleans. We’re leading in technology, science, STEM across the board, engineering, you name it. But I know, Mayor Bibb, you’re doing some creative things in Cleveland, definitely, around artificial intelligence as well. But share something about that.

Mayor Bibb: Yeah. Well, I think it’s important for us to give kudos to President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris. Through the American Rescue Plan dollars, our cities are putting real money to create the next generation of black wealth all across the country. We receive $511 million from the American Rescue Plan, and our largest pot of money is creating a $50 million site fund for good jobs. To take a thousand acres of vacant land we own all across the city of Cleveland and make those brownfield sites, greenfield sites, to create jobs in the urban core of our city. A job where you can walk to work to.

And while Intel is going to Columbus two hours south of us, we want Cleveland to be the hub of those supply chain companies that are going to support Intel, Google and Amazon. Because our city helped fuel the first industrial revolution with John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, I believe that Cleveland can help lead the next industrial revolution with healthcare, advanced manufacturing. And we also just did a ribbon cutting. We now have the largest quantum computer in our city right at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. So we’re ready to get to work.

Mayor Adams: Mayor, if I could just jump in?

Mayor Cantrell: Absolutely.

Mayor Adams: What is so important about these jobs is building out the pipeline to fill the jobs. I’ll never forget speaking with a group of superintendents and educators, and I put up a picture of the first telephone that Alexander Graham Bell had. And I put up a picture of a classroom of what that classroom looked like when he had the first phone. Then I showed the picture of a smartphone. And I showed the picture of the classroom of today with the smartphone.

Our children are learning Alexander Graham Bell technology instead of learning the smartphone technology. We need to start building out a pipeline, because too many of the employees are saying, “Your children are not coming in with the skills that are needed to fill these jobs.” So we partnered with Google to do a great internship program. We need to look at some of the skills that our young people need so they can be prepared to fill these jobs.

We’re closing in on San Francisco in startups and technology. We’re seeing how artificial intelligence is changing the game. But if we don’t prepare our young people while they’re in K through 12, and even feeding into K through 12, those skills that teach them the current state: critical thinking, working in groups, communication. All of those skills is what we believe we need to infuse in our young people so they can fill the jobs that are available and be ready for the future.

Mayor Cantrell: Absolutely. Training them up, making sure that we’re investing in them. But also, let’s talk about higher education just for a minute. We just had that ruling come down, Affirmative Action ruling. Just share with us… Mayor Adams, I’m going to stick with you. You got colleges, universities in New York. How is this going to impact our people there?

Mayor Adams: One of the best deals we have is our CUNY system, our city university. I’m a CUNY-twofer grad for my associate’s and my bachelor’s. We must make sure that our local community colleges can continue to recruit and be ready to again have that connectivity. What has happened, K through 12, we have basically allowed our children to fall off an educational cliff.

We have partnered with the chancellor at the state. The K through 12 must be K through career. And this ruling from the Supreme Court, you add that ruling with the women’s right to choose. You add that ruling with the open carry laws, the right for people to carry guns. You add that to the Affirmative Action. You are seeing a political court that’s undoing all of our rights, and we must adjust and pivot to make sure that we don’t allow their actions to get in the way of our actions.

Inaction is not going to be the answer, and we have to make sure that our children are educated to prepare for the future. This is a well-orchestrated plan that is being executed. That’s why it’s imperative for the Democrats to come up with our plan on how we’re going to move our communities forward and our cities forward in the right way.

Mayor Cantrell: Thank you, Mayor. Mayor Bass—

Mayor Dickens: Can I jump… Oh.

Mayor Cantrell: Mayor Bass. Let’s let Mayor Bass get in here. You have all these colleges and universities in California, Los Angeles specifically, how are you feeling this will impact?

Mayor Bass: Well, absolutely it will. But unfortunately, California led the way in anti-Affirmative Action legislation several years ago, and it impacted our UC system. We’ve started directing a lot of our kids to private schools, private schools in California, HBCUs, et cetera, because of the proposition that really curtailed Affirmative Action. And so, it absolutely has a big impact.

But here’s what I’m hoping. I’m hoping that Democrats finally get the judiciary, because it’s been Republicans that have paid attention to the judicial system and we have not. And to me, the ruling that they did on LGBTQ is equally important to non-LGBTQ people. Because if you can say a private business can discriminate, then why can’t the restaurant say, “I don’t want to serve black people.”? Why can’t the restaurant say, “This is my restaurant. I don’t want Black folks using that restroom.”?

We have to be very, very careful. And on the migrant issue, we received 42 migrants yesterday. And the mayor over here has warned me, that’s how it started in New York. It was a trickle, and then it was an onslaught. But we have to be careful to not allow that issue to divide us. Because it’s being portrayed as a Latino issue and that’s not who’s coming in the cities. I mean, yes, they’re Latinos. They’re Black Latinos coming from Belize. We have folks coming from Africa, folks coming from Haiti. And so, we have to be very careful.

It is a plan to destabilize our cities, in the same way that we know next year going into the election, homelessness is going to be used, just like the year before it was crime. So you’re reducing crime in Atlanta, but you won’t get credit for it. They’re still going to say you defunded the police, even though you have done the opposite, even though I have done the opposite. And so, we have to make sure that we are smart when these issues come up and not allow these issues to divide us.

Mayor Cantrell: Let’s give it up. Now, we have a couple of mayors where their populations are majority African American, but also home to HBCUs. And how will this ruling you believe will impact HBCUs in your community, Andre?

Mayor Dickens: Yeah. Well, one of the things that’s going to be probably an unintended consequence of it is that we’re going to start going back and taking stronger looks at HBCUs, right? So Atlanta has a high concentration of HBCUs. We got the AUC center. Of course, Morehouse, Spelman, Clark, Morris Brown, ITC. We got a lot of Black folks that’s educated, great talent coming out of the City of Atlanta, so we want everybody to come here. Of course you got Dillard, Xavier. You got Southern. You got a lot here in New Orleans and across the country. But I think that, as we were just talking about, Democrats got to start thinking about what we going to do. Democrats got to start doing what we should do.

Mayor Cantrell: Thank you.

Mayor Dickens: And it’s time to implement. When we got the ball, we need to do something with it. So you saw Trump appointed three justices in his four years. Now, if you got the ball for four years or eight years, we need to do something like that. Judiciary, as you just said, Mayor Bass, matters now.

“Oh, now we get it.” On one Friday, you end up having three historically discriminatory laws passed and we sitting up there, all we got to do now is talk about it. But what we need to start doing next time we get the ball is implement change. And we don’t have to just think about it. Start doing it. We don’t need any more reports, studies or anything. It’s time to start manning up and getting the job done.

Mayor Cantrell: Amen.

Mayor Bass: Madam Mayor?

Mayor Cantrell: Yes, Mayor?

Mayor Bass: What we’ve watched the court do is reverse years of struggle. It took organizing, it took campaigns, it took movements to get the rulings, the legislation that we need. So we need to reinvigorate our movements to make sure that we organize, that we go out and vote, that we pressure every level of government. Because that is what will ultimately bring about change. Change ain’t passive.

Mayor Cantrell: That’s right. Absolutely. I know we’re close to running out of time, but I really wanted to ask just before we get off, just share what keeps you up at night? Go, Bibb.

Mayor Bibb: It’s gun violence. We have to change the culture of how we think about guns in this country. And we need to make sure we do everything to vote in 2024 to make sure we put people in DC and in our legislatures to pass common sense gun reform. Getting those calls on a weekly basis about people dying in my city is the thing that I pray that we find a way to change how we think about guns and gun violence in our country. And we all have a role to play to make that change happen in this nation.

Mayor Cantrell: Thank you, Mayor Bibb. Andre?

Mayor Dickens: Yeah. We’ve been managing the gun violence recently through policing and non-policing tactics. We’re using baseball, basketballs. We’re using camp, and education, and everything else to bring down the violence.

Mayor Cantrell: What keeps you up?

Mayor Dickens: But what keeps me up at night is inequity. I see a train that’s steady coming, where people are again being priced out. All of our upward mobility that’s happening, all this great new development in our city, we have individuals that’s been living on the margins and now I’m trying to make sure we have balanced growth. So every day I think about, how can I make sure we have balanced growth. So every day I think about how can I make sure Ms. Jones, who’ve been living in that house for 40 years and now there’s Atlanta, that’s growth, cranes are everywhere, how to make sure that she can stay in that house and still be able to benefit from this growth. That’s the challenge is to have balanced growth, growth all across the city and still being able to have legacy residents still benefit from this great growth that’s happening.

Mayor Cantrell: Thank you. Mayor Bass. 

Mayor Bass: Well, the idea that we might take for granted that President Biden and Vice President Harris will be reelected because we think that fool is going to be the nominee and we don’t need to worry about it. The other thing that keeps me up at night is to know that tonight, three to five folks will die in Los Angeles in tents.

Mayor Adams: For me, it’s education. You look across the entire country, particularly in urban centers, 80 percent of Americans are going to be living in urban centers. When you look at the numbers, it’s dismal.
New York, I know when I took office 65 percent of Black and brown children didn’t reach proficiency. I’m seeing the numbers in all of my big cities. It can’t be a coincidence that everywhere you go that we are failing in education. And if we don’t turn around our educational system, which all of our budgets are spending probably the largest amount of money, but we keep producing an inferior product. We have to do better.

If we don’t educate our children, they no longer are going to fail in their neighborhood, they going to fail on the globe. We have to address the educational system. That feeds everything else. It feeds violence, it feeds unemployment, it feeds homelessness, it feeds domestic violence. Education is the cornerstone of our inequities and our failure in this country. We have to educate our children.

Mayor Cantrell: Very good. And I would just ask my brothers and my sister mayor, if we can just continue to be united, continue to build relationships amongst one another so that we can serve our folks. But also, focusing on mental health and mental wellness of our people.

If you can join me and the US Conference of Mayors in pushing this, this is something that will impact our cities, our people, meeting them where they are. I know that we can do it together.

We’re going to end as we close. Well, end as we opened, hearing from Marc Morial, our president, of course, of Urban League. And of course, Reverend Sharpton. All right.

Morial: Let’s give these mayors a big round of applause. Warm round of applause. And I think we have had an opportunity to witness intelligent, forceful, insightful and dynamic leaders, brothers and sisters who are leading their cities.

I want to underscore one thing that they’ve said, and this has a historical dynamic to it. In the 1970s, in the 1980s when the historic generation of first Black mayors took power, American cities were attacked. The money was stripped away. In this city and in Atlanta, there were efforts to take over the airport, take over the zoo. There was a pernicious effort to undermine our electoral success by using legislatures and federal policies and rhetoric from newspapers and pencil pushers and so-called good government groups to undermine power.

What we are going to witness in the next 18 months is an orchestrated effort to point the finger at American cities and their challenges and their problems to try to undermine the credibility of Black leadership and of American cities.

We need to be aware and we need to say, “What did you do when you were in power? You did not a damn thing about homelessness. You didn’t do a damn thing about education. You didn’t do a damn thing to try to sustain American cities.” So we need to be aware that behind a curtain somewhere in this country, there are people plotting, and they’re plotting to undermine the leadership of these mayors and of American cities.

First thing for us to be is to be aware. And I’ll say, yes, woke. Be woke. Because if you’re not woke, you are asleep. And we can’t be asleep. So, again, let’s give these mayors a warm round of applause. I want to thank them for their leadership. Rev.

Mayor Cantrell: Close us out, Rev.

Reverend Sharpton: Let me say that it is important that we understand right here as we look at history that our job is not to beat down who is trying to lift us up. If we have disagreements, we do not have to be disagreeable.

I see people in New York and LA and Cleveland that never, ever had a microphone in their mouth until a Black mayor comes in. And now all of a sudden they interview you prime time to beat down your own when you never had nothing to say before. I do not say to give them a pass, but don’t give them something you didn’t give their predecessors.

Mayor Cantrell: Absolutely.

Reverend Sharpton: No mayor on this stage invented homelessness. They didn’t invent police brutality. They did not invent migrants coming across the border. Don’t ask them to do in six months or two years what 40 years before it did not do and you had nothing to say about it.

Mayor Cantrell: All right now.

Reverend Sharpton: And every mayor on this platform had to fight a media that would not tell their story because they didn’t want your story. So you sitting up talking about, “Reverend Al, I read in the paper.” Of course. Because those that owned the papers never wanted them to be mayor. It was those of us that needed real mayors that need them there. Give them room to be a accountable to us, but not putting a double standard on them.

And lastly, we have nobody to depend on but us. I was reading in the social media, I’ve even talked to Rich Lou about it, some folk messing with this Essence stuff. But when I get off at this stage, I’m going to mess with them. We not going to have folk come in… Look, they the mayor. Rich Lou runs the business. I am in the butt-kicking business.

I do my job so they can do their job so we can deliver our kids. Because we all won’t be here forever.
And just like Ed Lewis passed the baton to Rich Lou, and just like a Dave Dinkins passed it to an Eric Adams and on and on, we’ve got to keep fighting. That’s why we marching in Washington on the 26th. We’ve got to back the right wing up.

We are at a time when you can shoot through a door and kill somebody. And I’ve got the mother here at the Essence Festival—

Mayor Cantrell: On another panel they’re here now. That’s messed up.

Reverend Sharpton: That’s right. We need to stop this mess of Black on Black infighting and try Black on Black exaltation. Thank you, Mayor Cantrell.

Mayor Cantrell: That part. All right. Thank y’all so much. Thank you so much.

July 2, 2023
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