Local Issues at Forefront During 5-Candidate Local America Presidential Forum in Waterloo

"America's mayors will engage with those seeking the highest office in this land," L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said. "Yes, we need a leader in the White House, but we also need a local partner in America's cities."

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

By Amie Rivers

WATERLOO, Iowa -- Five presidential candidates speaking back-to-back in one place doesn't happen often in Waterloo. And it hasn't happened nationally either, at least not with candidates being asked about local issues by mayors from across the United States.

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"What is happening today has never happened before," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at the start of the Local America Presidential Forum, a five-hour event held last Friday at the Cedar Valley Sportsplex in Waterloo that drew a few hundred people.

Garcetti said it was important for the five Democratic presidential candidates -- Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., businessman Tom Steyer and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg -- to understand why local issues mattered.

"America's mayors will engage with those seeking the highest office in this land," Garcetti said. "Yes, we need a leader in the White House, but we also need a local partner in America's cities."

First up was Klobuchar, paired with Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart. Klobuchar, one of two candidates on stage besides Steyer to have never served as a mayor, touted her eight years as a county attorney.

There's nothing sexier than a good water/sewer project," Klobuchar said, talking about her infrastructure proposal, which includes fixing roads, crumbling schools and expanding broadband Internet.

"If we put this major investment in infrastructure ... that will be a great help to the cities of this country, and they can get to jobs and they can get to hope," she said.

Noting "so much work is being done by local governments and local business," Klobuchar said the federal government had a role to help, including her plan for Progress Partnerships, which would match local and state dollars in schools.

"You have to match our education system with our economic system, and that means making sure you're rewarding kids and rewarding schools for pairing education with jobs," she said.

Castro said his time as mayor of San Antonio taught him about the value of investing in local communities.

What I found out when I got into local government was, there are a lot of things you can do, but you need a strong partner in the state and you need a strong partner in the federal government," Castro said.

He said he'd begin with his former federal agency, Housing and Urban Development, by funding as well as changing the formula for community development block grants, or helping start partnerships between Internet service providers and housing authorities to offer free and reduced broadband to seniors and low-income communities.

"It's a fight just to get crumbs for a project it you're a smaller community," Castro said. "We can think in creative ways to leverage our resources and make our dollars go even further."

Booker, who was the mayor of Newark, talked with Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott extensively about the partnerships he formed, and said whenever he met another mayor he would ask about their successful initiatives and try to replicate them.

"But, God, it was so hard. We had to fight bureaucracy in order to get control of land in our own city," Booker said of an urban food network he implemented.

Dear God, we need a mayor in the White House," Booker said.

Booker, who just released his rural America plan, talked about how he'd create revenue streams for farmers and encourage responsible land practices.

"The disappearance of the American farmer is the shame of this country," Booker said. "We have got to empower our farmers economically."

Steyer, who lamented that people have made him feel like "a Monopoly character" for his immense wealth, instead talked up his Iowa family connections and his plans to spread wealth by providing a Medicare public option, investing in unions and "middle-class jobs" and implementing a progressive tax code.

"The corporations are gonna scream like hell," Steyer said. "If they aren't screaming, I'm not doing my job."

He also talked about founding Need to Impeach, which had pushed for President Donald Trump's impeachment long before the current proceedings were underway.

"I started Need to Impeach because there's something wrong, and it's deep. There's never just one cockroach," Steyer said.

The last candidate on stage, Buttigieg, is atop polls of likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers and the only current mayor of the bunch.

The right role of Washington is to encourage, support, cross-pollinate and fund the local issues," Buttigieg told Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Lightfoot, unlike the other mayors, repeatedly challenged Buttigieg on everything from whether he would break his nondisclosure agreement with his former employer McKinsey on his past work (he said he's asking McKinsey), to his challenges connecting with black voters.

"There's a lot of hurdles to get over," he admitted. "I'm from a city with a complicated story and past. ... We have had to face that, and work side by side in order to reach the solutions."

Hart was a proud mayor at the forum's conclusion.

"I think it was an incredible opportunity for Waterloo, an incredible opportunity for Iowa and an incredible opportunity for the entire country," Hart said. "I probably won't sleep for three days."

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