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US Mayors' plea: Don't balance budget at our expense

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As the US economy slides deeper into recession, big-city mayors worry increasingly about the urban impact of federal attempts at recovery. In this presidential election year, when they might be expected to have considerable influence over the shape of urban policy, mayors also are feeling frustrated by their apparent lack of clout.

These are the underlying perceptions as the US Conference of Mayors opens its annual meeting here June 9.

Most Democratic mayors support the re-election of President Carter and expect him to win in November. They applaud him for allowing urban officials better access to the White House. But they also criticize his cutting back on certain key urban programs and warn that the political consequences could be serious.

"President Carter would not carry New York today," said that city's mayor, Edward I. Koch. "It relates to a failure in dealing with some of our major urban problems."

While professing his staunch support for Mr. Carter, Major Koch also points out that the unemployment rate in New York City is 8.4 percent. That is well above the recently announced 7.8 percent national figure, which surprised White House economists June 6. Unemployment in other metropolitan areas also surpasses the national average, officials here note.

Democratic mayors do not openly fault President Carter for this, but they do express concern about his reaction to it.

"Our concern at this point is that the gains made in the past few years not be lost in the fever to balance the federal budget, fight inflation, and support a strong defense establishment," said Richard Hatcher, mayor of Gary, Ind., and incoming president of the US Conference of Mayors.

It appears, however, that city halls around the country will, indeed, feel a severe federally imposed belt-tightening in coming months. And this will come just as the effects of recession fall more heavily on urban areas.

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