WASHINGTON -- Surprised, but mightily pleased that President Clinton's budget seeks to increase money for such inner-city needs as housing and summer jobs for young people, 35 of the nation's mayors, including Baltimore's Kurt L. Schmoke, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Mr. Clinton at the White House yesterday.
The event was carefully choreographed by White House political advisers to pressure Congress into allocating the $31 billion economic stimulus package the president has proposed. But even if the event had all the spontaneity of a laugh track on an "I Love Lucy" re-run, it may have worked: The mayors made good witnesses.
Some of the strongest testimonials even came from Republicans.
"On an issue this important, there should be no partisan lines," said Bill Althaus, the Republican mayor of York, Pa., and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "I endorse this for the homeless people in my city, for the women and children, the children who need Head Start, for my children, who should not have to be bankrupted by the deficit."
He and other mayors were lavishing praise on the stimulus measure even as new figures showing a big jump in job creation prompted a new round of attacks on the package by members of Congress.
"I tell them the recovery is not here yet," said Mr. Schmoke, responding those questioning the Clinton plan. "They should go out on the street and see a lot of the pain and hurt there."
The mayor said that, in Baltimore, the Clinton plan would result in an increase in the community bloc grants from $30 million to $48 million and would double the amount of summer youth jobs -- to a total of 7,500.
The biggest of the big-city mayors were there: David Dinkins of New York, Richard Daley of Chicago and Tom Bradley of Los Angeles. But so were Karen Humphrey of Fresno, Calif., Evelyn Lord of Beaumont, Tex., and John Rafferty of Hamilton Township, N.J.
Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore seemed particularly pleased that a half-dozen Republicans had made the trip. Mr. Gore even bent down and personally pulled out a footstool for San Diego Mayor Susan Golding to use at the lectern, a gesture that thrilled Ms. Golding.
"It's truly an honor," she gushed.
The pleasure was all theirs, though, as the president and vice president were both reconnecting with a number of old friends and familiar faces from the campaign.
In the second row, was Richie Daley of Chicago, who, a year ago, greased the machinery for a big Clinton campaign win in the St. Patrick's Day primary in Illinois. On the other side of the president was Dave Dinkins, who made sure last summer that New York's finest were two abreast on every Eighth Avenue corner from Madison Square Garden all the way to 57th Street so national convention delegates, Democrats and reporters could stagger unmolested back to their hotels.
In front of the president was Louis Saavedra of Albuquerque, N.M., who partied with Mr. Clinton at a 3 a.m. burrito bash in New Mexico at the last rally of the campaign.
"President Clinton understands that as our cities go, so goes our nation," said Mr. Dinkins.
"We finally have a president who understands the real needs of people," added Mr. Daley.
"I'm proud to support this program," said Mr. Saavedra.