“Nothing troubles people more than infrastructure that doesn’t work for them.” – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

This post is part of a series on the 2016 national political conventions. Read our takeaways from the Republican National Convention here. (Photo by Erin Schaff)

Tampa, Florida, Mayor Bob Buckhorn didn’t speak long at the National League of Cities (NLC) briefing on Tuesday afternoon, but he spoke sharply in defending the overlooked role of city leadership in America. “Mayors are different,” he said. “We aren’t afforded the luxury of rhetorical excesses.”

Mayor Buckhorn was joined by colleagues from coast-to-coast with similarly crafted messages. In the festive environment of a big-tent political convention, the “how we get it done,” according to mayors, matters as much as the “why.” City leaders see a problem with political narratives that fail to find footing in the web of federal, state and local government. When mayors hear lofty promises of economic growth that are not paired with actionable plans, mayors see the scaffolding of a building destined to collapse.

If we come to party conventions to remind ourselves why we remain on this road of American democracy, we do ourselves a disservice not to accommodate the asphalt and paving, the plans and partnerships, the white and blue-collar public servants needed to form and maintain the road.

This is a message we heard from mayors at both the RNC and DNC conventions. However, the similarities between the two conventions pretty much end there. After what was an often hot, congested and spirited convention, here are five takeaways from this past week in Philly.

1. Local Leaders Continue to Beat the Drum on Infrastructure Investment

At the NLC and Build America Mutual (BAM) briefing on Tuesday at Philadelphia City Hall, local leaders including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, and Tampa, Florida, Mayor Bob Buckhorn championed a more practical approach to national politics, calling for greater investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

“Nothing troubles people more than infrastructure that doesn’t work for them,” said Mayor de Blasio. He voiced confidence in citizens’ understanding of the importance of roads, bridges, transit, waste water and other infrastructure systems, saying, “when the public sector focuses on infrastructure, the public gets it.” Mayor Reed echoed this sentiment, saying about infrastructure, “the public is way ahead of us.”

NLC CEO Clarence Anthony ended with a call-to-action to the nation’s mayors. “The choice of our next president is a big deal if we are to continue to see the opportunity and prosperity this country has come to offer,” said Anthony. “We have an opportunity to stand up for cities — and demand the recognition and funding city leaders need to grow our local economies.”

2. Mayors, Local Level Experience Take Center Stage

“If I learned anything in politics, it’s because I started at the local level,” said democratic vice presidential nominee and former Richmond, Virginia, mayor and council member, Tim Kaine during his primetime speech on Wednesday night. In introducing President Obama, Sharon Belkofer recalled being inspired to jump into public service. “I knew my community’s schools needed more resources,” she said. “So at age 73, I took a leap of faith and ran for my local school board.” Belkofer won her election.

The local government perspective was further featured with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin; Tallahassee, Florida, Mayor Andrew Gillum; Flint, Michigan, Mayor Karen Weaver; Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; among others, addressing delegates during the four-day convention.

Beyond the convention walls, a number of sessions took place featuring city leaders. In addition to NLC and BAM’s briefing, the Progressive Policy Institute held a conversation with mayors at City Hall, which also featured NLC CEO Clarence Anthony. Americans for the Arts featured mayors in their panel discussion about the arts and education, and the Brady Campaign hosted city leaders in their session on the expansion of background checks to all gun sales.

3. Democrats Take Strong Stance on Climate Change and Reducing Gun Violence

While income inequality, money in politics and child and family policy were key drivers of the DNC message throughout the week – democrats took strong stances on climate change and reducing gun violence. The mothers of men and women killed by police and gun violence, including Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Hadiya Pendelton, Dontre Hamilton, Michael Brown, and Oscar Grant joined the DNC stage. The group is known collectively as the “mothers of the movement.”

“We’re going to keep building a future where police officers and communities of color work together in mutual respect to keep children, like Jordan, safe,” said Lucia McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012. “Because the majority of police officers are good people doing a good job.”

With regard to climate change, striking a strong tone, democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said, “I believe in science. I believe that climate change is real and that we can save our planet while creating millions of good-paying clean energy jobs.”

4. As a Transportation Solution for Large Scale Events, UBER Has a Few Kinks to Work Out

Symbolic of its increasing dominance in the on-demand transportation marketplace, and the lengths it still must go to better serve the public, UBER’s large presence at the DNC fell frustratingly short. Exuberant convention-goers were left stranded in the less than pedestrian-friendly security perimeter as their promised 10-minute wait times turned into hours.

UBER having such a prominent presence in a city where it has clashed with local authorities was quite remarkable. The company continues to irk local leaders, in Philadelphia and elsewhere, who feel the company could do a better job of considering the public interest, rather than its disrupt-at-all-costs expansion philosophy. In Austin, Texas, UBER, along with its rival Lyft, stopped operating after the city voted against allowing the companies to use their own background check systems — once again showing resistance to locally crafted regulatory systems.

Last week at the RNC, Mayor Mick Cornett summed up the future of autonomous vehicles in a way that could equally be applied to ride-hailing services. “People are talking about autonomous cars being here in 5 years, and having a high-level of penetration in 10 years,” he said. “But so far there’s been no conversation between the people who are creating the technology and the people running cities.” Let’s hope for better communication and collaboration going forward.

5. Everyone Must Get Involved – Beyond the 2016 Election

Amidst the 24/7 coverage of the 2016 presidential election, ongoing for over a year now, one might think this is the only election of note for American democracy. But you’d be wrong. In his speech, President Obama made an important point about the democratic realities in our nation.

“If you want more justice in the justice system, then we’ve all got to vote – not just for a president, but for mayors, and sheriffs, and state’s attorneys, and state legislators,” said President Obama. “That’s where the criminal law is made. And we’ve got to work with police and protesters until laws and practices are changed. That’s how democracy works.”

If you want to stand with cities and ensure that the issues most important to your community have a presence in the national political debate this year, join us and sign onto our city issues platform.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 8.58.14 AMAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Program Manager for Content and Social Media at the National League of Cities. Follow Tim at @TimMudd.

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