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Cities can't do everything for themselves, new league chief says

Local elected officials face closer citizen scrutiny than the president and Congress, say delegates to the annual Congress of the National League of Cities, which met here last week. ``We take the criticism from citizens'' wanting action on the federal deficit, drug abuse, crime, and a shortfall in funds for urban revival, ``problems we don't always create,'' says Mayor Terry Goddard of Phoenix, the new league president.

``Cities can do much for themselves, but even Phoenix, with ... a growing economy, a supportive business community, and progressive citizen backing, needs help, especially from federal and state governments.''

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Mr. Goddard's immediate goal as league president is to bring federal and state agencies and league leaders together in an Urban summit in Washington, D.C., a goal set by Pamela P. Plumb, the league's retiring president.

``We want this meeting held as soon as possible after the Bush administration has taken over the White House,'' Goddard says. Ms. Plumb had proposed a Jan. 27-29 summit. But that would be only a week after George Bush's inaugural, ``too soon'' for an administration to set goals for its own urban affairs team, Goddard says.

``We are already setting the stage for preliminary meetings. ... We'll meet separately with leaders from the House, the Senate, and the administration in the next month. The next stage will be the summit. We want ... to inform the new administration that cities are in crisis. We want Capitol Hill to be aware of our needs before it sets a national policy....''

The convention's 5,000 delegates approved more than 100 pages of resolutions outlining league goals. These included quality education for youth in public schools and the retraining for workers whose jobs have been phased out.

He talked about Phoenix as he explained what urban communities can do for themselves to create economic progress. ``In Phoenix we borrowed $1 billion to do things for ourselves once done by the federal government,'' he says. ``We issued bonds to finance the purification of our water. ... We also built or repaired bridges, ... provided needed funds to mental health.''

Ms. Plumb, a city councilor from Portland, Maine, cited the need for affordable housing and more sources of revenue.

Goddard has already set goals for the summit conference. ``Our fundamental needs are education, public transportation, environmental improvements,'' he says. The president and federal agencies have the power to deal with domestic issues. But in the past eight years, he says, cities have suffered from budget cuts.

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``Look at housing. Contracts that set subsidies for newly constructed affordable housing built in the '60s and '70s are expiring. The feds have cut back new housing during the '80s. We are looking at more homelessness today.''

Congress failed to pass a clean-air bill. ``And we all are fighting the issue of what to do with our garbage,'' he says. ``The new administration can't ignore these issues.''

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