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The survey, released by the National League of Cities, is based on interviews with 115 mayors from 39 states.
Mayors are more likely to perceive discrimination nationally than in their own cities, according to a new report from the National League of Cities.
“For example, nearly one in four mayors (23 percent) report that transgender people face a lot of discrimination in their city, but when asked about discrimination in the country, more than six in 10 mayors (63 percent) report that transgender people face a lot of discrimination,” says the report, titled “Mayoral Views on Race and Discrimination.”
The survey, based on interviews with 115 mayors from 39 states, found that the starkest “city versus country” differences in perceptions of discrimination focused on sexual orientation and religion.
“Significantly more mayors perceive gay and lesbian (53 percentage points), Jewish (44 percentage points) and Muslim people (41 percentage points) as experiencing some or a lot of discrimination in the nation as a whole” compared with their own cities, it says.
All mayors agree that "immigrants, transgender individuals, black people and Muslims, as well as gay and lesbians, experience some level of discrimination, even if only a little, in the country.” Still, mayors also did acknowledge local problems, with almost one in four saying transgender people face "a lot" of discrimination locally and 89 percent answering that black residents face at least "a little" discrimination or more.
The perception of national discrimination may be higher among mayors because they have the ability to implement policies at the local level that can help fight inequity among marginalized groups, the report says.
For example, when interviewed for the survey, “one mayor noted, ‘Transgender people experience the most discrimination. We have a transgender liaison in our police department. As mayor, I try to include gender identity as a thing that is valued. We have a policy of nondiscrimination for public facilities like bathrooms, for example.’”
Survey results also indicate that mayors generally believe that white people have better access to services than people of color. Sixty-eight percent of mayors, for example, believe that white people have better access to job opportunities. A majority also see advantages for white people in access to health care (60 percent), primary and secondary education (59 percent) and safe and affordable housing (58 percent).
Publicly subsidized housing is the lone exception. Mayors generally believe that subsidized housing is “equally” accessible to white people and people of color, while 20 percent believe that access is actually better for people of color.
Most housing subsidy programs are funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Data from the agency indicates that those programs are accessed more often by people of color, but that’s not necessarily proof of better access, “but rather a demonstration of higher need,” according to the report.
The report highlights several cities that have implemented programs to begin to address local inequalities. Boston, for example, hosted a town hall forum called “Boston Talks About Racism” in 2016. More than 600 residents attended.
The event was followed by smaller, “neighborhood-level discussions facilitated by trained moderators” with the goal of building “capacity among local leaders to continue discussing the problems of discrimination and potential solutions. The intention was also to instill a sense of ownership among residents, so that individual neighborhoods could develop their own benchmarks and action plans.”
Similarly, in New Orleans, city officials hosted “dialogue circles” in six parts of the city and launched 22 reconciliation projects over a three-year period. The process led to the removal of four of the city’s Confederate monuments, creating “an opportunity for a communal reckoning with the city’s racialized past.”
That type of historical context is key for mayors who wish to begin having conversations about race and inequality in their cities, the report says.
“To address critical issues of racism and discrimination in their communities, mayors must first understand the historical forces that have shaped their communities and their own lives,” it says.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.