Parsing mayors' words, study finds economy most common focus

AP News
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Posted: Jul 09, 2015 9:38 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — Economic development, infrastructure and public safety were top concerns as U.S. mayors summed up the state of their cities this year, but current events helped frame those longstanding issues in discussions of race and inequality, a new study finds.

Remarks on the economy often included calls for raising the minimum wage, for instance, and talk of public safety often touched on officer-worn body cameras and other measures aimed at building trust between police and citizens, according to a National League of Cities analysis being released Thursday of 100 "state of the city" speeches.

Mayors of cities from Seattle to Philadelphia to Grand Rapids, Michigan, alluded to the racial divide spotlighted by deadly police encounters in New York, Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere.

"Mayors are responsive to what's happening on the ground now, wanting to make sure they're meeting their citizens' needs," said Brooks Rainwater, one of the study's authors. Last year's speeches evoked similar overall priorities, but the emphasis within them shifted toward addressing race and equity, he said.

The 100-speech sample reflects a range of population sizes and geographic regions. The league, a Washington-based city advocacy group, scrutinized the texts for topics discussed as priorities.

Three-quarters of this year's speeches stressed economic development, in forms ranging from job and business growth to minimum wage increases and revitalizing downtowns. It was the most-covered subject except among cities with fewer than 50,000 residents, where public safety was number one.

Infrastructure also was on mayors' minds. Roads, drinking water and sewers got widespread attention, but broadband and Internet-related initiatives also got a spotlight in some cities and rail service in others.

Housing was a top-five concern in cities of more than 100,000 people — it was the focus of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's speech on the nation's biggest city — but didn't make the top five in smaller ones.

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Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.