Mayors talk pandemic response, crisis management in virtual roundtable

Wednesday, September 30, 2020 - 7:04pm

The Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning welcomed mayors from multiple cities to a YouTube lifestream panel Wednesday morning.

The Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning welcomed mayors from multiple cities to a YouTube lifestream panel Wednesday morning. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Ben Vassar

Cities and local leaders across the country have faced economic and social turmoil throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday morning, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning welcomed mayors Jacob Frey of Minneapolis, Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, Libby Schaaf of Oakland, Calif. and Michael Tubbs of Stockton, Calif., to a panel titled “America’s Mayors on Crisis and Change.”

University President Mark Schlissel opened the event by describing cities as “laboratories for democracy.” He thanked the Poverty Solutions Initiative and Taubman for collaborating on hosting the event.

Taubman Dean Jonathan Massey introduced the panel’s members. He noted that Lightfoot is the first Black woman and first openly gay mayor of Chicago, while Tubbs is Stockton’s first Black mayor and the youngest mayor of any city with more than 100,000 residents.

Massey asked Tubbs and Schaaf about their Universal Basic Income initiatives, which would provide an “unconditional periodic payment” to their cities’ poorest residents. Tubbs said the pandemic reaffirmed his plans to provide a UBI, adding that poverty is the result of policymakers’ decisions.

According to Schaaf a UBI would encourage socioeconomic mobility.

“People spend this unconditional cash on basic needs,” Schaaf said. “In fact, sometimes people take this little extra pillow so that they can quit their third job and look to upgrade their skills.”

Massey’s next question focused on how mayors can simultaneously appease constituents protesting police brutality while maintaining a good relationship with their police forces. Frey, whose city was at the center of this issue this summer after police officers killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, said mayors have to uphold freedom of speech.

“It is incumbent on mayors to be ardent defenders of our First Amendment,” Frey said. 

Frey then denounced property destruction and looting that took place in the wake of Floyd’s murder. He was met with pushback in the comments section, where some people demanded he acknowledge that most protests were peaceful. 

One of the people tied to the looting was later connected to a white supremacist group and “specifically sought to inflame racial tensions,” according to police.

Massey asked about strategies to dismantle white supremacy. Frey pointed to redlining in Minneapolis.

“We literally have maps at city hall dating back 80 to a hundred years that define North Minneapolis as a slum for Blacks and Jews,” Frey said. 

Frey continued, advocating for homeownership as a method to generate intergenerational wealth. 

Other cities have pursued different avenues of economic revitalization.

In East Oakland, Calif., Schaaf said community members proposed the creation of an aquaponics farm in an abandoned greenhouse and a bike-share program where bikes could serve as art to be decorated. Schaaf said she was excited the project had recently won a $28-million grant from the Transformative Climate Communities program to move forward. 

Schaaf noted how her city implements a community-oriented design process for some of its construction projects.

“This year for the first time we’re actually inviting communities to propose capital improvement projects,” Schaaf said. 

The panel took questions from the live comments section. Rackham student Nana Andoh asked if any of the mayors enacted policies during the pandemic that they hope to keep permanently.

Lightfoot, who started a Racial Equity Rapid Response Team at the beginning of the pandemic, said she hoped some of those programs would stay. Established in April of 2020, the team is meant to “address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on African-American communities.”

“I don’t want to build temporary scaffolding around anything,” Lightfoot said.

Public Policy graduate student Kyle Slugg asked how the mayors are making sense of the current crisis. Tubbs said a large part of his job is “reckoning with whether the status quo is truly untenable.”

Massey closed the panel by asking what leadership principle each would bring if they ran for president of the United States, to which Lightfoot answered, “never, ever, ever.”

Daily News Contributor Ben Vassar can be reached at benvas@umich.edu.


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