WASHINGTON – When President Barack Obama said the word "livable," he had Boise Mayor Dave Bieter's attention.
Bieter, in Washington for the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, was among more than 200 mayors at the White House on Thursday, for a reception with the president. The mayors at the White House gave the president a standing ovation when he was introduced by Vice President Joe Biden. Many interrupted their applause to take cell-phone photos of the host.
"First, we'll build strong regional backbones for our economy by coordinating federal investments in economic and workforce development -- because today's metropolitan areas don't stop at downtown," Obama said. "What's good for Denver, for example, is usually good for places like Aurora and Boulder, too. Strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America."
Obama spoke mostly about job creation and economic development, but Bieter said he was especially pleased when the president said his administration would have "focus on creating more livable and environmentally sustainable communities."
"We talk a lot about livability in Boise," Bieter said. "And that’s exactly the playbook of the administration, especially on transportation issues. It's very refreshing."
The president also focused on a complaint by mayors, who were unhappy cities had little direct access to federal economic stimulus money. Much of it went to states, rather than through cities. If there’s a second stimulus, many mayors would like to see that change, Bieter said.
"To us, that is just music," he said.
The president elicited laughter and applause when he told the mayors they have the hardest job in public service.
"It was President Johnson who once said, 'When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor,'" Obama said.
Other mayors attending included Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, Thomas Leppert of Dallas, Dave Bing of Detroit, Michael McGinn of Seattle, John Hickenlooper of Denver, and Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C.
Bieter said he had visited the White House before, for a brief meeting last year with Jim Messina, who has Idaho roots and serves as the president’s deputy chief of staff.