For the first time in history, Black mayors are leading America’s four largest cities.
ABC News’ Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl recently sat down with three of them — New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner — in Washington, D.C., on the sidelines of the annual gathering of the countries’ mayors.
“It’s a moment for us,” Adams told Karl in the interview, which aired on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s a moment that we are now really going after those tough challenges and historical problems that we fought for many years to be in the driver’s seat.”
Turner, who was first elected in 2016 and is currently serving a second term, said that while their mayoralities signal that “progress is being made,” he hopes that enough Black mayors are elected “to the point where it doesn’t stand out.”
Big cities facing same problems
“What is, in your view, the No. 1 issue facing your city?” Karl asked the three.
Their cities may be spread out across the country, but Turner, Adams and Bass are grappling with similar problems and challenges: For Turner and Adams, it’s “public safety,” while Bass is confronting homelessness in Los Angeles, they said.
“In Los Angeles, without a doubt, it’s homelessness,” Bass said. “But it’s the intersection of income inequality and also public safety. And because income inequality is so severe in Los Angeles, the most extreme manifestation of that is 47,000 people [sleeping] on the streets in tents, every night, in the city.”
While Adams campaigned on fighting crime in New York as a former police officer, the city is still struggling with major crimes, which rose more than 20% last year, despite homicides hitting their lowest level since 2019.
Bass and Turner elaborated on Adams’ notion that addressing public safety is key to solving multi-pronged issues in their cities. Turner said the approach was about “revitalizing our communities that have been underserved for a long, long time, dealing with issues of homelessness and those things that put people on the street.”
Karl pressed Bass on her comments about defunding the police — a progressive slogan for a push by some liberals to redirect police funding toward other community safety and service programs in an effort to reduce crime — while campaigning to be mayor.
“You called defunding the police ‘probably one of the worst slogans ever’ — why did you say that?” Karl asked.
“What I believe is that over time, especially the federal government, state and cities have divested, defunded social services,” Bass said. “So I think when a person goes into the academy, they don’t go in to address homelessness, addiction, mental illness. And so we need to refund our communities, build out the social safety net so that people don’t fall into crime.”
Turner said the “defund the police” movement — which gained popularity amid the nationwide protests for racial justice following the 2020 murder of George Floyd — received “too much play in the first place.”
“If you look at many of the cities, they were funding their police. The city of Houston never defunded its police,” said Turner.
“You wanted an increase in police funding,” Karl added.
“In fact, right at that time, we passed a 13% increase,” Turner said. “It’s not about defunding police, it’s about investing in communities.”
Migration straining big cities
Karl also asked Adams about his recent trip to El Paso, Texas, to see the U.S.-Mexico border. His office says more than 40,000 migrants have arrived in his city since the spring, including thousands bused to New York from Texas by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. Adams has warned that the flow of migrants to New York has strained city resources, and he’s asked New York state and the federal government for help.
“This should not happen to any city in America — El Paso, Houston, Chicago, New York, Washington,” he said. “This is a national problem and our national government, Congress and the White House must do a long-term, comprehensive immigration policy. But the White House must deal with the immediate emergency we have now.”
Turner and Bass sympathized with Adams over the issue, both arguing that Abbott’s busing migrants north was an ineffective strategy.
“No. 1, you need comprehensive immigration reform,” said Turner. “No. 2, if you’re going to send people anywhere, there needs to be dialogue and collaboration — between, for example, the governor of New York or Denver or Chicago, wherever that’s taking place.”
“And if you want to score political points, that’s one way to do it,” Turner added. “But that doesn’t solve the problem and, quite frankly, migrants shouldn’t be used as political pawns on this chess board.”
Abbott has said he’s busing migrants to so-called sanctuary cities, cities which locally protect immigrants and refugees from deportation by federal authorities, to show them what border states are dealing with.
Bass said it was “very cynical” of Abbott and that “it’s a way of attempting to deliberately undermine New York City and Democratic-run cities that welcome immigrants.”
“Does something need to be done though to slow the flow of migrants over the border?” Karl pressed the mayors.
All three applauded the immigration plan put forth by the Biden administration earlier this month, which expanded the use of Title 42 and established a process for more immigrants to apply for asylum if they have a U.S.-based sponsor and set up an appointment at a port of entry.
“I think we need to use this opportunity now to really look at how do we have a real decompression strategy?” Adams said. “If we’re going to allow those that are coming in who have relationships here in the country, sponsors, if it’s coordinated in the proper way, we can absorb it throughout the entire country. You cannot absorb it just in a few cities that we’re witnessing right now, with each one of those cities acting independently to address a national crisis. That’s not how to do it.”
Karl also asked all three if they’d back President Joe Biden for a second term. Adams, Bass and Turner unanimously said they’d support Biden if he chooses to run again.