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Interview with Mayor Kurt Schmoke

by Joan M. Veon


UN Habitat II, Istanbul, Turkey

Question: Mayor, being on the U.S. Delegation, what does that mean to you and to the State of Maryland?

Mayor: Well, I have tried to do here is to let the other members of the delegation and those from around the world know how important this conference is to mayors in the US. We have had representatives from both democratic and republican parties, mayors from cities throughout the country and we just wanted people to know how important this conference is. It is the beginning of a new era with local government officials being listened to in the development of UN documents and we see this as kind of the wave of the future. There will be more and more of these conferences in which we try to solve local problems through these international forums. (emphasis added)

Q. Why do you think that is necessary from staying domestically in the United States?

A. Well the problems that we are dealing with for example, environmental issues are global in nature. The problems that of housing are also global and what we are trying to do is learn from one another. One of the best parts of this conference for me has been the Best Practices Exhibit and we can take a lot of information back from one another and try and model some of the practices we have been successful in other cities and use them in our cities.

Q. With regard to Baltimore, has Baltimore implemented or are they in the process of implementing any aspects of sustainable development, sustainable living or sustainable, sustainable?

A. We have already started on that as you know, President Clinton had this grant program called the "Empowerment Zones' and hundreds of cities competed for that. Six cities were selected and Baltimore was one of them as a part of our proposal, we had to present ideas for sustainable development in some of the low income areas of the city. Those ideas are consistent with some of the sustainable development projects that have been talked about at the Habitat Conferences, so the President's Initiatives are in sink with what has been talked about here.

Q. Could you outline what is involved in the Empowerment Zones.

A. Just briefly there are three areas of low income areas of our city that have been designated to receive about $100M in grants and $225 million tax credits for businesses who will relocate in the zone as a part of the effort, however, we are trying to create more small businesses or in the words of this conference, "micro-enterprises" that can develop from the neighborhoods and sustain themselves over time. Businesses that will hire people from the neighborhoods and be successful in strengthening those communities. Also there are a number of housing programs that are involved with the empowerment zone, designation and so on. It is a bit different from urban renewal programs. This is focused on economic development and sustainable development.

Mayor Kurt Schmoke

by Joan M. Veon - Page Two

Q. Does it have anything to do with keeping population down to zero? After all, American has the highest percentage of unwed single girls?

A. Well, there has not been a specific focus on keeping population down, though we know just by past studies when we have families who are men/women employed where there is a strong family, they are able to control their population growth better than families let's say are economically deprived. That has not been a specific focus on the empowerment zone but I certainly think that it has been the focus of my administration. We have tried to reduce the level of teen pregnancy in our cities.

Q. How many mayors--what is the organization that you are part of--is this a new affiliation with the United Nations? How is the structure set up?

A. Well, there are two major organizations that mayors in the United States deal with. One is the National League of Cities and the president is a Republican who attended this conference, Greg Lashutka from Columbus OH. The other organization which deals with big cities is the US Conference of Mayors and they sent a representative here, a Mr. Eugene Lowes. An observer for the conference of mayors and will be reporting back here to both of the organizations on what is going on and now there is an International Union of Local Authorities in which many U.S. mayors participate in. So there are a lot of international contacts and we are hoping will strengthen Habitat II.

Q. There was a unprecedented accord that Gov. Glendenning signed with the WHO. Do you see this setting a new precedence where state governments will go directly or sign accords with various agencies of the UN?

A. I don't think the states will sign documents that are in conflict with national policy so although I do see....

Q. It was business generated...

A. Cities and states getting more involved in international forums and in also agreeing to participate in international programs and I want to make clear that it means we are not going to operate our own foreign policy in conflict with the national government because I know that some of the cities in other countries that has been a concern and the central governments are very concerned about empowering the local governments for fear that people will become a power or separate from the national government. That won't happen in the United States.