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National Politics Mon Mar 10 2014

Big City Mayors, Including Emanuel, Talk Challenges, Success at UChicago Panel

1780704_428485477284572_1392924816_n.jpgPhoto courtesy of University of Chicago Institute of Politics' Facebook Page

The University of Chicago's Institute of Politics hosted a discussion last week on leading America's largest cities. The discussion featured Mayors Bill de Blasio, Rahm Emanuel, Eric Garcetti and Kasim Reed, of New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta, respectively.

About a fifth of the country lives in one of these four metro areas.

Moderated by David Axelrod, director of the Institute and former White House chief of staff, the discussion centered around the challenges mayors of large cities face. Each mayor explained his city's unique challenges, from infrastructure in Atlanta to the inequality crisis in New York City. All four mayors agreed that Washington serves somewhat as a roadblock to his city's success, and that the federal government should reexamine its relationship with cities.

Each mayor began with an elevator pitch on why his city is great. Mayor Emanuel explained that Chicago is the most American of American cities, has the second most competitive economy in North America with a workforce and great institutions to back it up, is a city of immigrants, has a downtown region that's one of the fastest growing commercial area in the country and has an airport that can get someone anywhere around the world, weather permitting, he explained, jokingly.

But despite all the successes of our city, Emanuel said that success of the city is defined by if our neighborhood children can see themselves having a future in their city.

Emanuel also noted that the pension crisis is a huge issue. The news of the new digital manufacturing lab on Goose Island was overshadowed just a week later by Moody's downgrading of Chicago's credit. This is an example of how the pension crisis can rob the future, he said.

The mayors then talked about education. Charter schools, vocational skills, parent/teacher conferences and the "summer slide" were all on the table. Garcetti said he'd like to emulate Emanuel's summer job initiative for keeping kids productive during the summer.

At the end of the conversation, Axelrod said he was surprised not one of the mayors talked about crime -- he asked how big of a problem it was.

At many points, the mayors poked fun at one another. Garcetti said he wasn't used to snow and touted Los Angeles' weather. Reed, who is the youngest of the four, joked he wasn't around to remember the '60s.

The mayors then took a few questions from the audience, but did not sit down with reporters. They did, however, take a selfie with several University of Chicago students.

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