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Phoenix anti-homeless efforts cited in White House meeting with mayors

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WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Friday cited Phoenix’s efforts to reduce veteran homelessness during a White House meeting with hundreds of mayors from across country, including several from Arizona.

The gathering at the White House capped a week of meetings of the U.S. Conference of Mayors that Arizona officials who attended said left them eager to get home and apply the knowledge they gained.

“It’s really exciting to see that we’re doing some things that are actually happening back here and we can get some assistance from the federal government,” Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell said after Friday’s meeting at the White House. “The administration has been very helpful to the mayors across the country and the cities and towns.”

Mitchell was one of four Arizona mayors in Washington this week, along with Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, Mesa Mayor John Giles and Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney. All but Stanton, who had already headed home, were at the White House Friday afternoon.

They were among more than 200 mayors who the White House said turned out to meet with administration officials and Cabinet secretaries and to hear from the president, who pushed initiatives from his State of the Union address this week while praising the mayors and their cities as “the place where change happens fastest.”

“I have confidence in you because the fact is that you can’t afford to be ideological,” Obama said, according to a transcript of the meeting provided by the White House. “I don’t care whether you’re Republican, Democratic or independent — the truth of the matter is folks want to make sure that their garbage is picked up, that their roads are functioning properly and traffic isn’t sucking away their days.”

He went on to say that if “cities are successful, then America is going to be successful.”

“The truth is, in every state of our union, the city and its health become a bellwether for how well the state as a whole is doing,” Obama said.

Friday’s meeting rehashed many of the themes from Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, ranging from immigration to education, manufacturing to the president’s “My Brother’s Keeper” program. He noted that some cities have already moved forward on climate change, a higher minimum wage and paid leave for workers – all initiatives the administration is putting forward.

The president also called out Phoenix, and Stanton, for “closing in on that goal” of ending veteran homelessness, along with New Orleans and Salt Lake City. The White House also said Phoenix will be one of the cities hosting an “informational session” in the next two weeks on the president’s executive action on immigration.

Despite the wide-ranging topics of the day, Giles said the most important message was economic.

“I think the overall arching theme of really everything that’s been here (in Washington) has been the economy, what we can do to as mayors to improve our cities’ abilities to respond better to the economic downturn,” Giles said.

Mitchell agreed that “cities are the economic engines.”

“If we have a strong city, we have a strong state, if we have a strong city we have a stronger union,” Mitchell said.

Barney said that’s true even in a small city like Queen Creek.

“Working together is always a good thing and Queen Creek is smaller than a lot of communities,” he said Friday. “But we work together as a whole and as we work together, we improve as a country.”