With Donald Trump’s choices for secretaries of transportation and of housing and urban development — Elaine Chao and Dr. Ben Carson, respectively — there may be hints about the urban agenda Trump’s administration may be shaping.
Some big-city mayors say they’re worried about potential cuts in federal funding that candidate Trump warned about on the stump, and they are reaching out to the president-elect. They say they have plenty of ideas they want to share about the country’s cities.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former chief of staff to President Obama, met Wednesday with Trump, at Trump’s invitation. It gave Emanuel a chance to hand-deliver a letter from mayors of some of the country’s largest cities.
The letter asks Trump to continue the Obama administration policy that prevents the deportation of so-called DREAMers — young immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16 years old and so named for meeting the requirements under the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act proposal that would have created a pathway to citizenship for them.
“We are clear as mayors that these are DREAMers who are seeking the American dream, and we should embrace them rather than do a bait-and-switch,” Emanuel says.
During his campaign, Trump said he would reverse protections, but recently he said he would work to find a solution for DREAMers. He made another related promise, though, in a campaign speech on immigration last August that has many mayors concerned.
“Block funding for sanctuary cities,” Trump told a cheering crowd in Phoenix. “We block the funding, no more funding.”
Hundreds of so-called sanctuary cities across the country limit their cooperation with federal authorities when it comes to people who are in the country illegally. Trump warned during his speech that cities that refused to cooperate would not receive taxpayer dollars, and his administration would work with Congress to pass legislation to protect jurisdictions that do assist the federal government’s deportation efforts.
Authorities in San Francisco say their policy will stay intact. City Attorney Dennis Herrera says San Francisco receives about $1 billion a year from the federal government — though he is quick to note that plenty of tax dollars flow from his city and state to Washington.
“There may be possible avenues that the federal government will take under President-elect Trump, but we’re going to wait and see what happens,” Herrera says. “And I have every confidence that when you look at what we contribute and what we’re legally entitled to, that we’re going to be able to keep the vast majority of the dollars that we have been receiving.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump painted a dark picture of many of the country’s cities. He called Chicago a gang-infested war zone, he blasted Democratic mayors — the leaders of a majority of the country’s largest cities — and had harsh words about inner cities, calling them “a disaster, educationwise, jobwise, safetywise in every way possible.”
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, a Republican who heads the U.S. Conference of Mayors, says he thinks these comments about some urban areas were part of Trump’s campaign and his effort to woo rural voters.
Cornett says his 1,400 members consider cities the key to economic growth and innovation. Nearly two-thirds of Americans live in cities, and Cornett says he doesn’t have any reason to believe that Trump won’t stand up for cities.
“He grew up in New York City; he’s generally always lived in cities; he’s invested in cities,” Cornett says.
When it comes to an urban agenda under a Trump administration, Cornett says, the U.S. Conference of Mayors thinks priorities should include rebuilding crumbling roads and water systems, affordable housing, and public transit and safety.
The president-elect has promised $1 trillion to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, but he has provided few details. Critics call it a potential boondoggle that would benefit investors and could lead to higher fees and more toll roads.
Meanwhile, some cities are making sure they have federal funds in hand before President Obama leaves office.
Rolf Pendall, co-director of the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute, says cities are under constant pressure to do more with less and have had to be creative as federal funds shrink. He says that could soon be a reality again.
“But I think it is too early to say that everyone should be panicking,” Pendall says. “Instead, the undefined nature of the urban agenda of the next administration leaves an opportunity to develop a clear picture.”
Leaders with the U.S. Conference of Mayors invited Trump to meet with them — without success — during the campaign. They’re now hoping to make the case that investments in their cities benefit the entire country.