Kai Ryssdal: You can make a pretty good case that in the American political hierarchy, city mayors have it perhaps toughest of all. They’re within arms reach of the people they serve and yet have to answer to state and federal governments that often don’t appreciate their problems.
Eight of the country’s 25 biggest cities and hundreds of smaller ones went to the polls yesterday. So this morning we got on the phone with some newly elected and re-elected mayors to ask about what’s on a lot of people’s minds wherever they live. The economy. Jobs. Growth. You know the list.
Annise Parker: Hi, this is Annise.
Ryssdal: Annise Parker is the mayor of Houston, Texas.
Parker: Our focus has been on bringing international investment and businesses that have an international component into Houston. But we’re also a growing manufacturing center. And the city of Houston is blessed with lots of available land and a very competitive cost of living.
Ryssdal: You know, when you took office two — almost three years ago I guess now…
Parker: Two years ago.
Ryssdal: Two years. You had a budget shortfall, you had some other problems to deal with, how have you been able to do that and maintain the competitive economy that any big city in this country needs?
Parker: It hasn’t been easy, but people continue to move to Houston. And we’ve had an expanding sales tax base. We didn’t have a housing bubble. We didn’t have a housing collapse and our real estate values held. So every little item adding up has helped us weather the storm a little bit better than everybody else.
Ryssdal: Greg Stanton, the soon to be mayor of Phoenix, Arizona.
Greg Stanton: In Phoenix, we really need to be working with local entrepreneurs, with local business — we need to be working with the federal government as well — to make sure that Phoenix and Arizona get more than our fair share of the jobs program that has been introduced through Congress. And we need to market Phoenix differently — because of some of the laws passed by our state legislature — we sent the wrong message about who we are here in this community.
Ryssdal: Let’s be clear that’s the immigration law.
Parker: Immigration. Look we sent a message that we’re not a welcoming community. In the Phoenix I know we respect diversity. And I think that the voters overwhelmingly supported that message with the election results from last night. We want your jobs, we want you’re tourism. We like and respect diversity. We’re a welcoming community and that’s the kind of mayor I’m going to be.
Ryssdal: Finally, Jim Snyder, the newly elected mayor of Portage, Indiana.
Jim Snyder: Portage, Indiana is located on the southern tip of Lake Michigan. We have the largest port on in the Great Lakes. We have I-94 runs through the city and we’re about 30 minutes from Chicago. I want to make Portage more of a business-friendly city so we can get more jobs.
Ryssdal: Tell me how you’re going to do that, though, because cities are squeezed, municipalities are having very difficult times. How is it all going to work?
Snyder: One of the things we can do to make things a little bit easier is our sign ordinance. We have three distinct areas in Portage. We have Portage north, which is 94. And we have downtown Portage and then we have the south side, which is more commerce driven. And we have one sign ordinance for the entire city, which is landmark signs. Well, businesses that want to locate near 94 don’t want landmark signs. They want signs that people can see so they can come. So I would like to see us come up with a better sign ordinance that’s more friendly towards business to allow more businesses to come.
Ryssdal: That is actually a great story: different parts of a city want different kinds of sign ordinances. I mean it sounds really basic, but it’s so real, you know?
Snyder: It’s common sense, isn’t it?
Snyder: It’s kind of frustrating because it seems like common sense doesn’t typically prevail in government, and that’s what we intend to do is make it prevail.
Ryssdal: Right. And you’re in a position now to do that.
Snyder: Yes. You bet.
Ryssdal: Jim Snyder takes over as mayor of Portage, Ind., in January. Greg Stanton takes over in Phoenix, Ariz., about two days later. And Annise Parker is incumbent mayor of Houston, Texas.
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