Robert Dole photo

Remarks to the United States Conference of Mayors in Miami

June 17, 1995

Thank you, Senator Kempthorne, and thank you all for that kind welcome. It's a privilege to speak with you today. I've been eager to participate in your discussion about how to solve some of America's toughest problems; how to make our cities once again a source of American strength. And I come in awe and admiration: you've got, perhaps, the toughest job in politics.

Sometimes, when it's two in the morning and even C-SPAN's audience has gone to bed - when 100 Senators are pulling in 100 different directions, when there's an abundance of good ideas, urgent causes and absolutely no money I think what a hopeless, thankless task I have. But then I always pause and say, "Well, at least I'm not a mayor."

You have a most difficult job, but also a most exciting one. America's cities concentrate every problem in our society, but also every resource of our national spirit. You have been tapped by history to serve during a great turning point in America's experiment with democracy. And you are rising nobly to the challenge.

For decades now our cities have been known as cauldrons of unrest. Today they are also hotbeds of innovation. A critical mass of progress is erupting around the country, led by mayors of both parties. In Indianapolis, Steve Goldsmith has tapped the competitive power of the marketplace to make government more efficient. In Columbus, Greg Lashutka has led the national fight against unfunded mandates. In Chicago, Richard Daley has been a pioneer in privatization and a warrior against Federal programs that entrench bureaucracy and reward special interests. In Jersey City, Bret Schundler has built a coalition for empowerment across the lines of class and race.

You have rediscovered things we never should have forgotten: that when individuals are not crushed by taxes or repressed by regulation, they perform wonders of renewal and hope. That the poor are not problems to be solved, they are people waiting to be included. That the wealth of our cities is not built on Federal handouts or even determined by the luck of natural advantages. Successful cities rely on the enterprise and creativity of the people who live in them, and no amount of Federal intervention or redistribution of wealth will ever change that fact.

I come from a small town on a vast plain. But I know that our cities embody the aspirations of our nation.

I serve in the Congress and I'm running for President. But I know that the Federal Government is not and should no longer be the focus of power in America.

And I am a Republican — a leader in a party not always known as the first friend of cities, not always thought of as the champion of those who feel shut out of the American dream. But that perception is changing.

For this much is clear for all who would lead: we are one America. Our destiny cannot be divided. There will be no renewal apart from the renewal of our cities. So we must offer an agenda for the future that counts on the success of urban America.

Federal paternalism is the dying doctrine of the Great Society. But what should we offer in its place? We must create a new Federal partnership with our cities. For our nation to overcome the problems that plague us, power and resources must be returned to their source, to you — to the American people and to the states and cities they more directly control.

For example, unfunded mandates have been flooding out of Washington in recent years, drowning you in other people's priorities while forcing you to ignore many of your own. More than a third of many city budgets is dedicated to complying with Federal mandates - promises made by Congress it could not afford to keep, so instead it forced you to keep them.

On the first day of the new Congress we started action to stop that. Washington now will live by a simple rule: if it's important enough to mandate, it's important enough to pay for. But stopping new mandates is just the first step. We'll continue to look at existing requirements and consider revision or repeal. Two of the grandest sounding have caused the most problems. The Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act are two of the most burdensome programs passed by Congress — and I will do all in my power to reopen them to bring you the relief you need.

And I propose going further. If our cities are to marshal their own resources to meet their own problems, they must not suffer trickle-down mandates from state governments, either. Many of the responsibilities shed by Washington will not end up in statehouses, but in the city halls of America. When our cities must pick up the slack we must make sure they don't have to pick up the tab, too.

And speaking of picking up the money, later this year the Senate will revisit the 1994 Crime Bill. As part of this effort, we will transform the $9 billion police-hiring program into a law-enforcement block grant, giving states and cities the flexibility they need to fight crime on their streets, not statistics in a national trend. What does your city need most? Is it more police? Or better technology? Maybe it's more squad cars. One thing for sure, you don't need more opinions from Washington bureaucrats. You are on the front lines in the war against crime and you must be given a free hand to fight it.

Mayor Ashe recently dropped by my office and made it very clear how important it is to you that the cities be allowed to apply directly for the block grant funds. I am working with my colleague, Sen. Hatch, to make sure that happens.

It is my belief that our block grant legislation should differ in three ways from President Clinton's proposal. First, it should provide more resources for law enforcement, perhaps as much as $12 billion total. Second, as I have mentioned, it should provide more flexibility for Mayors and local officials. And finally, it should target a portion of the funds to those cities that are in the most urgent need of help — cities with the highest violent crime rates.

I know many of you have concerns about adopting this approach when it comes to welfare, but we must. To cling to the failure of the current system would betray the trust of our offices. Throughout our history America has been the country where anyone could make it; where the poor didn't begrudge the rich because they intended to be rich one day, too. Parents would sweat and sacrifice, sure in the knowledge that their children's lives would be better than their own. Sons of immigrants and daughters of the underprivileged would stand on the shoulders of the generation who came before. But today we are on the brink of creating a permanent underclass in America. What chance does a child really have when he is born into a family without a father, when the mother is an addict and the culture teaches him not to marry, not to work and to mock the sanctity of human life?

The final welfare reform bill has not been passed, but the outlines are clear. We will transform welfare from a tangle of red tape into a block grant to create local flexibility and encourage homegrown innovation. Our goal is not to provide waivers at the end of a paperwork trail, but to provide states and cities with freedom itself. Our objective is not to give you permission, it is to give you power.

This same philosophy also should be applied to your most awesome responsibility: educating your cities' children. Our public schools were once the source of hope and opportunity. Too often today they have become dangerous and demoralizing places. I have proposed abolishing the Department of Education and sending the money to parents and communities and school districts. And to give parents even more control, we should establish education vouchers so they can choose the best school for their child.

And while we're at it, we should shut down the Department of Housing and Urban Development, too. We should privatize many of its functions and get the Federal Government out of the landlord business all together. The hundreds of Federal urban aid programs administered by over 15,000 bureaucrats should be rolled into a single block grant and given to you to do with as you see fit.

President Clinton has warned that giving states the kind of flexibility I am describing could become "a race to the bottom" — as if only the Federal Government can be trusted to care for our children and elevate the poor.

That's not only wrong, it's insulting. It assumes that state and local government leaders are just waiting for the chance to betray their own people. But betrayal has come from only one direction: an aristocracy of Federal experts whose faces you do not know and whose values you may not share. When Federal officials claim a monopoly on public spirit, they demonstrate the arrogance of a failed elite and the ignorance of those who will not learn.

I do not accept a philosophy of "every man for himself." I do not believe that government is always the enemy. But in communities that work for everyone, we learn some basic lessons — lessons of leadership that apply to cities in the shadow of smokestacks, or towns in the middle of wheat fields:

The lesson that compassion is most powerful in local communities, not in distant bureaucracies.

That accountability is most direct at levels of government that people can touch.

That benefits without expectations will undermine our character and frustrate all our good intentions.

That work gives meaning to our lives, and that we should expect it of every able-bodied American.

That it is ultimately more important to punish crime than to explain it.

And there is one more element of leadership that demands our attention. It is increasingly clear that many of the problems we face as a nation concern not our economy, but our national character. Violence, illegitimacy, a declining work ethic — all these things have a moral component that laws cannot reach.

To put it simply: values count, not just in our lives, but in our society. The economy will never be strong enough to transform a neighborhood where 80 percent of children lack a father, and legitimate jobs are dismissed as "chump change." There will never be enough prisons or police to enforce order in our society if there is growing disorder in our souls.

This places public officials at every level in a new role — a role that may not be comfortable, but which has become essential. We must speak, not just for innovative policies, but for enduring values like family, work, responsibility and tolerance. I decided that I must use the bully pulpit to discuss these issues if I am to lead. And I urge you to conclude the same. Our times demand more of us than policies and programs - they require a vision of the kind of people we aim to be.

And yes, this means speaking out about our popular culture and entertainment - the most powerful and pervasive teacher of our children. It is harder to rise out of poverty when your culture derides the values that make that effort possible. It is harder to control crime when "role models" preach impulsive violence.

When large companies market music that celebrates the murder of policemen and the rape of women, they say they are responding to consumer demand. But while they reap the profits, our cities reap a bitter harvest of violence. And while those who would market evil through commerce hate the light of scrutiny, I will continue to use my freedom to call them to account. I will name their names until they feel the shame their actions deserve. This is not a matter of right and left, it is a matter of right and wrong. And I hope that you will join me.

Your cities award cable franchises. Speak to the corporations which seek them. Make their impact and their responsibility clear. You grant business licenses to local music stores and outlets for national chains. Speak to their CEOs about what bothers you about their business. You can at least be heard. And that may be enough.

You and I must make a choice in politics: we can fight change or use it; abandon hope or instill it. We can be rivals for power or allies in innovation.

Urban America is beset with many problems. But a thousand cities may have a thousand solutions, and they must be free to pursue them. Once we spoke of America as a "city on a hill." Today, if we are to reclaim her greatness, we must share a vision of many shining cities, on many hills, each with the power to build a future of freedom and opportunity and hope for every man, woman, and child who calls them home.

Thank you very much.

Robert Dole, Remarks to the United States Conference of Mayors in Miami Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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