Cities lobby for homeland aid

Nearly 100 mayors and police and fire chiefs converged on Capitol Hill Sept.

26 to lobby for direct homeland security funding, demanding federal officials

put aside their rhetoric and provide promised funds for better training

and equipment for first responders.

In a crowded Senate building room, the municipal officials sharply criticized

the federal government for not being a good partner in homeland security

initiatives. They were joined by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y), who has sponsored

legislation calling for direct federal funding to municipalities rather

than money filtered through state governments.

"The funding that is needed must go directly to the people who will

utilize it, not take a U-turn or a detour, but get into the hands of these

mayors, their elected council, and then get into the hands of the fire chiefs,

the police chiefs and the EMTs," she said. "Help is not on the way for our

cities, and I think we need to do so much more to support what the cities

are already doing. We need to be good partners here at the federal level."

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, a nonprofit national association that

represents cities with a population of 30,000 or more, sponsored the event,

which included 50 mayors and 40 police and fire chiefs. They met with Homeland

Security Director Tom Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft as well as

House and Senate leaders of both parties.

Their comments were similar to those made by a half-dozen mayors during

another Washington, D.C., press conference nearly three weeks ago, sponsored

by the same organization. The group has said that cities expect to spend

more than $2.6 billion on security costs by the end of this year.

President Bush pledged $3.5 billion in federal funds earmarked for first

responders, but that money would flow through state governments, which would

disperse the funds. Supplemental funds have also been tied up to help state

and local governments. Just last week, several governors also complained

that the federal government wasn't doing enough to help states financially.

"I guess what I'm really here to say more than anything, on behalf of

many of the police chiefs that are here, is that we're really angry and

frustrated," said Detroit Police Chief Jerry Oliver Sr., adding that his

city has special security concerns because it is near the Canadian border

and also has the largest Arab-American community outside of the Middle East.

"We're still, every single day, stepping up to the plate, paying overtime,"

he said. "We're out for the training we're giving our employees. We don't

have the equipment that we need. We don't have the technology that we need.

We don't have the apparatus that we need. We're putting our people in harm's

way and yet there's this rhetoric and there's this debate and there's this

gamesmanship that's going on now at the White House and at the Congress.

We're tired of it and we're here to say we need the money."


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