Bel Air Mayor Susan Burdette still isn’t sure why she received the invite, but she was happy to be able to attend Women Mayors of America White House Conference last month.
“I thought why not go,” said Burdette, who had never been to the White House before, so she went to Washington and attended the Sept. 20 gathering, the purpose of which, according to the White House, was to discuss “shared priorities and coordinated efforts between federal, state and local government.”
Although President Donald Trump did not attend, Vice President Mike Pence gave welcoming remarks on the president’s behalf and introduced his wife, Karen, who hosted the conference.
The vice president conveyed greetings from the president, including Trump’s comments about local government being closest to the people.
“The president said he figures we couldn’t get through the supermarket in less than 30 minutes, and he’s right,” Burdette told her fellow town commissioners during their most recent meeting Oct. 15. “I know it takes me at least an hour when I go to the ShopRite up on Main Street and stop to talk with all the people who come up to me.”
“I think they are right,” she said of the president and vice president. “We are the ones at our level who know the people the best.”
Burdette said about 100 mayors or other community leaders attended the conference, and she believes the invitation list wasn’t based upon political party affiliations.
Although Burdette is a Republican, Bel Air’s elections are non-partisan. She said she met one other municipal official from Maryland, a Democrat from Montgomery County.
Also attending from the Trump administration were Education Secretary Betsy Devos; Senior White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway; Senior Advisor Mercedes Schlapp; and Director of Legislative Affairs Shahira Knight, as well as Linda McMahon, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Devos and McMahon spoke individually to the group and Conway, Schlapp and Knight participated in a panel discussion. The conference was sponsored by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Pence tweeted that he was proud to introduce his wife – “a champion for military families” – and said the administration “is committed to improving relationships between federal and local governments and creating opportunity for all Americans.”
Karen Pence and McMahon also tweeted about the conference.
Burdette said she was able to go into the White House and look around; however, the conference itself was held next door in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
She was able to take plenty of photos, both of those who spoke at the conference and the surroundings. She took a photo of McMahon, the wife of WWE founder Vince McMahon and a herself a former executive with the enterprise, because Burdette’s son is a big wrestling and WWE fan.
Burdette said she was fascinated by the huge library inside the Eisenhower Building where visitors can only photograph the ornate floor and ceiling but not the book collection. She did take photographs of what was allowed.
“It’s a magnificent room,” she said.
Bel Air is governed by a board of five commissioners, who hire and oversee the town administrator who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the town. The five-member board elects a chairman, who holds the ceremonial title of mayor.
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Burdette was elected to the Board of Town Commissioners in 2011 and again in 2015. She has been chairman since November 2015.