WASHINGTON — Boston Mayor Michelle Wu traveled to the White House on Tuesday for meetings with top administration officials — and some unexpected time with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — delivering a message that the city is prepared to lead the way in showing how federal money can fuel the recovery from the pandemic.
Wu was invited along with nine other mayors elected this year, including Eric Adams, the incoming mayor of New York City, to discuss priorities for cities as the administration rolls out $1.2 trillion in funding from the recently signed bipartisan infrastructure law. In meetings with Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge and others, the White House said they discussed racial equity, affordable housing, emergency rental assistance and climate change.
One of three mayors in the group who have already taken office, Wu said she left feeling confident Boston would secure federal money for her priorities.
“So many of the challenges that we face are incredible opportunities to address climate and racial and economic justice, and we’re ready to go with projects that represent community input and the type of bold transformation that our families deserve,” Wu said outside the White House as she prepared to go to the airport to catch a flight back to Boston.
The meetings lasted longer than anticipated in part because Harris and Biden made unscheduled appearances.
“President Biden walked us all around the Oval Office,” Wu said. The White House described Biden’s meeting with the mayors as impromptu, with a “casual” conversation “focused on ways to work together on issues such as infrastructure, the Build Back Better agenda and COVID.”
Asked if she pushed the administration to do more on COVID-19, such as providing free rapid home test kits the way Boston and Massachusetts are for some residents, Wu said, “We all need to be doing more.”
“We talked about vaccinations, we talked about the continued impact on the economy and our housing situation,” Wu said. “It’s good to be in a situation with mayors who are facing the same challenges.”
In addition to Adams and Wu, the group included Mayor-elect Ken Welch of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Mayor Jim Ross of Arlington, Texas; Mayor Tim Kelly of Chattanooga, Tenn.; Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell of Seattle; Mayor-elect Aftab Pureval of Cincinnati; Mayor-elect Andre Dickens of Atlanta; Mayor-elect Justin Bibb of Cleveland; and Mayor-elect Daniel Rickenmann of Columbia, S.C.
Most were elected in nonpartisan elections but are affiliated with the Democratic Party. Rickenmann is affiliated with the Republicans and Kelly is unaffiliated with either party.
“One of the best things that came out of today was a group of mayors of different colors, of different ages, of different parties, working together to try to do best for their community, and that’s exactly what we expect Congress to do,” Ross told reporters after the meetings. “We share ideas. We strategize and collaborate together. We expect Congress to do the same thing.”
Kelly said all the mayors “expressed a great deal of appreciation” for the infrastructure law and the funding it will produce.
“We’re going to have an historic opportunity to fix our most urgent problems, and it’s an incredible privilege to be a mayor of an American city at this point in time,” he said.
Welch said the common theme from the mayors was that infrastructure funding is best allocated at the local level for problems like climate change, which is a major threat to a coastal city like his.
“We are very hopeful because now there is real funding for us to address problems,” he said.
Pureval, who like Wu is the first Asian American elected as mayor of his city, said the main issues were consistent across the different-sized cities represented in the White House meeting: affordable housing, climate change, criminal violence, supporting small businesses, and the economic recovery. And there was a common thread to all of those concerns from the mayors and administration officials — racial equity, he said.
“They said over and over again we start with racial equity and we build around that,” Pureval said.
Jim Puzzanghera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera.