America's mayors remain optimistic that President-elect Bil Clinton will reverse 12 years of what they call federal indifference toward cities, despite his backpedaling on other campaign promises, including the handling of Haitian refugees and the cutting of the federal budget deficit.
More than 200 of the mayors were in Baltimore last night for a glittering Convention Center celebration of cities that also was intended to press their need for help.
"I don't think anybody expects the federal government to solve all their problems," said Boston Mayor Raymond L. Flynn. "But we can't afford another absentee government in Washington."
For the mayors, many of whom have tried to implement policies (( in the face of declining federal support, this week's inaugural celebration is a time of great optimism because Mr. Clinton has cast himself as a friend of cities.
"Cities are back; we have a friend in the White House," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who was host of the event, along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Edward Rendell, mayor of Philadelphia, said he is not expecting miracles from Mr. Clinton. Instead, he said, he expects some sensitivity for cities that he said was lacking during the Reagan-Bush years.
"I think we are kidding ourselves if we think he has billions of dollars to give us," Mr. Rendell said. "But even if he does some of the things not directed at cities per se, like get health insurance for everyone, that would have major implications."
Far from being content with Mr. Clinton's campaign promises, the mayors have been working to keep the plight of cities near the top of the Clinton agenda.
Last month, the mayors sent a delegation including Mr. Schmoke to meet with Mr. Clinton's transition chairman, Vernon Jordan. Their message: Don't forget the cities. Last night's party was seen by organizers as another way to keep the plight of cities on the front burner.
And apparently they have had some success. In a videotaped greeting, Mr. Clinton pledged a "new kind of partnership" between the federal government and cities. He said he will always have an "open door" for the mayors.
Mr. Clinton also described cities as areas of expanding opportunities. Many mayors say that is significant.
"The past administrations saw cities as shelters for the poor," Mr. Schmoke said.
Henry Cisneros, the former mayor of San Antonio, who has been nominated as the new administration's secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, attended the affair and promised to work on behalf of cities.
The mayors want Washington to spend more money on cities, reversing a trend of federal disinvestment in cities that began in the 1980s. They also want more flexibility over how federal aid is spent.
During the 1980s, federal money as a percentage of city budgets fell by more than 64 percent, from an average of 17.7 percent in 1980 to 6.4 percent in 1990, according to a 50-city survey done by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
In his campaign, Mr. Clinton made promises that so pleased the U.S. Conference of Mayors that it dropped its own plan in favor of Mr. Clinton's. Among his proposals:
* Targeting Community Development Block Grants to build urban roads, bridges, and water- and sewage-treatment plants and urban-housing.
* Creating a network of community development banks. The banks would provide small loans to low-income business people and urban home buyers.
* Creating enterprise zones that would offer a package of incentives and tax breaks for businesses in depressed areas.
* Strengthening rules for banks to make loans in poor communities.
* Giving cities more flexibility over how they use federal aid.
* Initiating a police corps that would put 100,000 police officers on the streets of cities.
"We recognize that the country has a lot of problems," said Patrick Hays, mayor of North Little Rock, Ark., a city of 65,000. "It's going to be difficult for the new administration to do anything other than make tough choices. I know he can't fulfill all his promises. But I think he has a real commitment to cities."