SALT LAKE CITY — President-elect Joe Biden sought to send a message of depoliticized support to cities across the U.S. in a speech Friday during the closing session of the National League of Cities’ virtual conference.
Biden committed to working closely with local governments across the nation when he’s sworn in as president on Jan. 20 — particularly when it comes to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic now ravaging the country. He promised to do so — regardless of whether those cities’ home states voted for him or not.
“I want you to know that my administration will have your back, I promise you,” Biden said in his address in a video recording broadcast during the league’s all-virtual City Summit.
“There are no red cities. There are no blue cities. There are only American cities. American states — period. I really mean that. These are American challenges. We have to meet them with one country, as one country. Not as, as I said, with red and blue states, but the United States. And Vice President-elect (Kamala) Harris and I are committed to being real partners to you so we can coordinate a real nationwide response to these crises.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she was encouraged by Biden’s words and what they mean to Utah’s capital city — a blue island in the very red state of Utah where a majority of voters supported President Donald Trump.
“As we look ahead to what will be to months of work and eventually recovery for Salt Lakers in the wake of this pandemic, I’m heartened to hear President-elect Biden’s acknowledgment that American cities are on the front lines of the nations challenges, and that his administration has our back,” Mendenhall said in a prepared statement.
“The Biden administration clearly wants to face what’s ahead as one country, and knowing that city leaders have a seat at the table as partners in that recovery is going to be crucial as we look to rebuild stronger and more equitably in our communities.”
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson — a Democrat who won reelection against her Republican opponent in Utah’s most populous county, which also leans more liberal compared to the rest of Utah — said Biden’s words were “music to my ears.”
“There has been a disconnect between the federal government and local governmental needs during this administration, and it’s reassuring to hear that we will have a president that is engaged with local governments and shows a commitment to local government.”
Wilson said there’s “no doubt” that Utah’s COVID-19 surge is “largely due to lack of clarity” from President Donald Trump’s local-control approach to COVID-19.
“Lives have been lost,” Wilson said. “It’s true in our own state and even in my own county, I think if we had a president committed to embracing science, embracing solutions for all, our nation would be in a much, much better place.”
Wilson said she expects bipartisanship to make a comeback with Biden as president — perhaps “even more so than (former President Barack) Obama and certainly more than Trump.”
“It’s wonderful to hear that the president is sending the right message that he’s a president for all Americans,” she said. “That’s just a basic principle of government, but one, however that was ignored by Trump. And the idea that we have a president that is willing to serve all is refreshing and takes us back to the basic civility that we as Americans deserve.”
Biden’s speech to the National League of Cities came the day after Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, joined Biden and his staff on a conference call with other governors to discuss ongoing efforts to stop the spread of disease. Herbert said the governors and the president-elect “had a good discussion about how states and the federal government can work together in the nationwide fight against COVID-19.” He was also hopeful the new administration would continue to allow states to manage their own responses to the pandemic.
Biden said the U.S. is facing “the darkest days of our nation” with an economy “still in crisis.”
“We’re recovering much too slowly, in my view,” Biden said. “We’re experiencing a long, overdue reckoning on racial justice and we have to take serious actions to address the existential threat of climate change. American cities are on the front lines of all of these crises.”
Biden said it’s local government leaders whom U.S. citizens “look to first for your leadership, your guidance.”
“I know it’s been hard,” Biden said, with COVID-19 “straining your health care systems, burning out your health care providers,” and essential workers “putting their lives and their health at risk to keep your communities running.” Biden said he knows cities aren’t “getting the support you need.”
“I know it must be frustrating,” Biden said, “Yet in the face of these challenges you’ve all stepped up. I want to thank you for being there for your communities.”
And Biden sought to deliver a promise of better days to come.
“People probably are literally knocking on some of your doors. Your doors. You, city managers, city mayors, councilpersons. I want to thank you all,” Biden said. “And you’re not asking anybody when they ask for help whether they’re Democrat or Republican or independent. You’re stepping up. I promise you I will do that. And you have a seat at my table at the White House when I am sworn in. I genuinely mean it.”