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Published: Saturday, 2/21/2009

Obama warns mayors to spend stimulus monies wisely

McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

WASHINGTON - The nation's mayors promised transparency and no political pork after meeting yesterday with President Obama, who warned he would "call them out" if they waste the federal stimulus dollars they've eagerly sought.

Mr. Obama urged 80 mayors - from Seattle to Boston - to spend the federal dollars wisely.

"What I will need from all of you is unprecedented responsibility and accountability. " he said. "The American people are watching.

"They need this plan to work," the President said. "They expect to see the money that they've earned, that they've worked so hard to earn, spent in its intended purposes without waste, without inefficiency, without fraud."

Mr. Obama said he expects 'unprecedented responsibility.' Mr. Obama said he expects 'unprecedented responsibility.'
CHARLES DHARAPAK / AP Enlarge

Mr. Obama, who has spent considerable political capital on the stimulus package, told the mayors he was assigning a team of managers to ensure that every dollar is well spent.

"We cannot tolerate business as usual - not in Washington, not in our state capitols, not in America's cities and towns," he said.

"If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it and put a stop to it.

"And I want everybody here to be on notice that if a local government does the same, I will call them out on it and use the full power of my office and our administration to stop it," he said.

President Obama addresses mayors in the White House East Room. He is to meet with the nation s governors on Monday.  President Obama addresses mayors in the White House East Room. He is to meet with the nation s governors on Monday.
CHARLES DHARAPAK / AP Enlarge

The mayors in December issued a massive wish list of projects, some of which were criticized as pork-barrel spending.

But they said after meeting with Mr. Obama and members of his Cabinet that they are prepared for a barrage of scrutiny.

"We get called out every day," said Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "We have plenty of constituents who would be doing that before the President does it."

At a press conference in Toledo yesterday, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said the mayors meeting at the White House was a "show and tell" and that the city is not harmed by him not attending.

He said the stimulus money is going through the state capitals.

"I didn't miss anything at the White House today," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "The work that needs to be done in terms of Toledo's assistance is now being directed toward Gov. [Ted] Strickland, where the money resides. We won't miss a beat. That I promise you."

In Washington, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the President's message wasn't aimed at mayors in particular.

He said Mr. Obama will deliver "the very same message" when he meets with the nation's governors Monday at the White House.

"That is, if you're seeking to simply fund a personal agenda at the expense of creating jobs and using taxpayer money to do it, the President will call that out and stop it," Mr. Gibbs said. "That's true for agencies and members of this administration. That's true for governors. That's true for mayors. That's true for anybody that might take part in any amount of this funding."

The mayors are eager to get the money.

Some funds - in the form of Community Development Block Grants - could begin flowing within a few weeks.

The meeting with the mayors was held a day after the administration created a new office of urban affairs, led by former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion. He'll report directly to Mr. Obama and coordinate federal urban programs.

Mr. Obama said the office is aimed at bringing "long overdue attention" to cities and ensure that federal dollars targeted to urban areas are effectively spent.

The economic plan will inject a sudden boost of cash into transportation, education, energy, and health care.

Beyond new spending, it aims to aid people through a package of tax cuts, extended unemployment benefits, and short-term health insurance help.

Mr. Obama said government leaders have asked for the "unprecedented trust of the American people."

"With that comes unprecedented obligations to spend that money wisely, free from politics and free from personal agendas," he said.

The President did not specify how, exactly, he would call out one of his own agencies or a local government about wasteful projects.

The Blade staff and Associated Press contributed to this report.



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