PHILADELPHIA – The National Conference of Black Mayors (search) opened its 30th anniversary convention Wednesday with some members calling on the presidential candidates to pay more attention to urban issues.
Macon, Ga., Mayor Jack Ellis, a supporter of the presumed Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry (search), said he didn't think either candidate was paying close enough attention to issues that matter most to cities or minorities.
"What are we going to do about brownfields?" Ellis asked, referring to polluted urban sites. "What are we going to do about more money for the youth? Those are the issues we want to hear about from our candidates."
The group, which now boasts a record 535 black mayors, will celebrate its three-decade history during the four-day meeting, and simultaneously try to exploit an election-year opportunity to influence the national debate.
Blacks and city dwellers are expected to fall solidly in Kerry's column in the fall, and the Democrat will likely be on friendly political ground Thursday, when he is scheduled to address the convention.
But that doesn't mean Kerry won't have to court votes, said Milledgeville, Ga. Mayor Floyd Griffin.
"He has a responsibility to listen to us, and a responsibility to work with us," Griffith said.
The convention agenda this week includes workshops on higher rates of illness for blacks, a discussion of housing development in distressed areas and a seminar on how municipalities can give a financial lift to black-owned businesses.
Asked for their election-year wish list, mayors who attended a news conference Wednesday said they would like to see more money for city infrastructure, better access to health care and more funding to implement provisions of President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" (search) education reforms.
"We're very interested in helping frame the national debate on these issues," Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street said.
The annual gathering has been a magnet for Democratic presidential candidates in recent years. Rep. Dick Gephardt, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Al Sharpton addressed conventioneers last year, when their presidential candidacies were still alive.
An invitation to speak at the 2004 convention was also extended to President Bush, who respectfully declined, according to the group's president, Mayor Harvey Johnson of Jackson, Miss.