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Black Mayors Meet in Louisiana

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The nation's black mayors are in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for a five-day meeting of the National Conference of Black Mayors.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

Mayors from some of the America's small towns and big cities are in Baton Rouge, Louisiana this week for the national conference of black mayors. They're swapping ideas. They are lobbying for more attention from the federal government. They're listening to speeches by Democratic presidential candidates.

And NPR's David Greene is also there, reporting the mayors are also unloading on the media.

DAVID GREENE: It all started yesterday with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. He recalled a comment he made back in January of 2006, calling on New Orleans residents to rebuild a chocolate city. He said the press gave him a hard time about it for no reason.

Mayor RAY NAGIN (Democrat, New Orleans): To me that meant New Orleans was just a city that was African-American from the standpoint of its leadership, but it was a diverse city. And that's the city that I wanted to see going forward. You know the media did with that. You know, it tried to paint me as racist and all that good stuff.

GREENE: Nagin was leading a panel discussion called Lessons Learned, a workshop where veteran mayors were sharing war stories with about 100 of their colleagues. John Marks, the Mayor of Tallahassee, said he thinks he's been attacked in the media, in part because newspapers these days are in financial trouble.

Mayor JOHN MARKS (Democrat, Tallahassee): They are looking at the bottom line so very, very much they can't hire a seasoned reporter to really give the kind of coverage that's necessary, you know, in a city like the city of Tallahassee. And as a result of that, we get articles that are either inappropriate, distorted or biased.

GREENE: At this point, Nagin reminded his colleagues that there were actually journalist in the room with them.

Mayor NAGIN: This is being aired by C-SPAN, by the way.

GREENE: But that didn't seem to slow anyone down. In fact, things got a little more heated when Denver's former mayor, Wellington Webb, took the floor.

Mr. WELLINGTON WEBB (Former Mayor, Denver): The reality is that the coverage of black elected officials is not the same as the coverage of white elected officials. The standard is different.

GREENE: Reporters, Webb argued, are more likely to charge a black mayor with cronyism.

Mr. WEBB: There is some semblance of belief that if there's anybody black that works for you, they either related by blood, marriage, adoption, or somebody you went to school with, regardless of their level of competency.

GREENE: Webb then brought up a white mayor, who he said got off the hook because of a tragedy. He wouldn't offer a name but he was clearly talking about New York's former mayor, Rudy Giuliani, and the tabloids before 9/11.

Mr. WEBB: Papers were reporting every day about how bad it is on how he's treating his wife and this and that. And then all of a sudden the plane hits.

GREENE: And then, Webb said, the journalists moved on.

Mr. WEBB: They have just discard that issue and gone from 9/11 front and discarded anything that happened before 9/11.

GREENE: Many of the mayors in the room seemed to agree with what they were hearing. There were exceptions.

Mayor JOHNNY FORD (Tuskegee, Alabama): I'm Johnny Ford, mayor of Tuskegee, Alabama.

GREENE: Mayor Ford had few complaints.

Mayor FORD: I love the press. I try to utilize the press to get the message out by Tuskegee, Alabama, the home of Tuskegee University, pride of the swift growing South, home of the Tuskegee airmen.

GREENE: Ford even gave a shout out to C-SPAN. He said he was glad the network was there to help the conference of black mayors get its message out.

David Greene, NPR News, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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