THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN CONFERENCE CALL ON THE INTERAGENCY TASK FORCE INITIATIVE FOR ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA
The Oval Office
9:50 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello.
MAYOR FISCHER: Hello.
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Mayor.
MAYOR FISCHER: This is Mayor Fischer here, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Mayor. It's nice to hear your voice. I'm here with the Vice President and Secretary Cisneros and Senator Bob Graham. And I think Congressman Young and Congressman Bilirakis are on the phone. And I know you've got some community leaders there. And I appreciate everyone being a part of this conference call today.
When we met in October, I was very impressed by your willingness and determination to address the longstanding problems in your city, and I sent Secretary Cisneros and an interagency task force to St. Petersburg. And as you know, they and your community leaders have agreed that more federal involvement is necessary. And we've had some recommendations for action that involve a real partnership among federal agencies, city officials, community leaders. And with that in mind, I have directed the federal agencies through their representatives here at the White House -- and they're all gathered here -- to begin with the proposed initiatives in the November 25th memo that Secretary Cisneros sent me.
A federal coordinator who will report to the community empowerment board which is chaired by the Vice President will be appointed to work on the ground with you in St. Petersburg. And I'd also like to see the necessary steps taken to put together a local advisory board with broad-based membership as outlined in the memo.
I think that this is going to be a difficult period for you, but I am very impressed by the work you've done, Mr. Mayor, and those who are supporting you. And I am confident that you can work through this. We want to be a good partner to you.
I want to thank all the Florida officials who have supported this. Governor Chiles is not on the phone today, but he talked to me about this extensively -- he and the Lt. Governor did --when I was with them. And Senator Graham is here with me and we had a long talk about it the last time I was in Florida. And I thank Congressman Young and Congressman Bilirakis for being on the phone. But most of all, we're proud to assist you. We know this is your challenge and your future, but we think we've got a good plan and we want to be a good partner.
And I'd like to ask the Vice President just to say a word, and then perhaps the others who are here will be able to speak as well.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President.
And, Mayor Fischer, I would just like to just briefly assure you and the community leaders in St. Petersburg that implementing the redevelopment plan that Secretary Cisneros developed based on conversations with all of you is one of our very top priorities. And I'm looking forward to working with everyone in St. Petersburg. And, Mr. Mayor, I was very pleased to hear that you're building on what was started when you first applied to become an enterprise community. And looking at these officials from throughout the President's administration gathered here in the Oval Office, I see what is, in essence, an empowerment zone in the making here.
And I would like to thank Secretary Cisneros for his extraordinary efforts in developing an understanding of the situation which was presented to the President and me, and a firsthand assessment of exactly what the situation is. And may I also say how much we appreciate the fast work done by each of the eight agencies involved in this federal working group. And the President's Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, organized this effort very, very quickly and Secretary Cisneros was right on the scene, and Senator Graham and Governor Chiles have been absolutely key in making all this happen.
So we're all going to be implementing the President's directive to be all over this with an all-out effort.
Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Thank you very much, Mr. President.
Let me just say that I want to thank my colleagues in the Cabinet who designated some key people, literally on a few days notice, to go to St. Petersburg. And for Mr. Mayor and the group in St. Petersburg, the people that you met from SBA, from the Department of Labor, from Commerce, from HUD, from Commerce, at the other departments are here in the Oval Office right now -- an excellent team of people who did a great job over a Friday, Saturday, Sunday combination. And it's those recommendations that they made which we preliminarily shared with you last week that the President has approved.
And, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, I assured the folks in St. Petersburg that it has been your pattern on these matters to be there as long as is necessary to get the job done. And we will reconvene the federal task force here next week and then we plan to be in St. Petersburg on December 20th for a status report on how these recommendations are being implemented. So we're serious about this and in it for as long as is necessary to get the job done.
The Vice President's leadership of the Community Empowerment Board has been very impressive all across the country. And one of the hallmarks of this administration, thanks to the President's push in this area, has been when there are flashpoints or disaster situations or other things that require an intervention, the federal government has really shone. And this is one of those cases.
THE PRESIDENT: Senator.
SENATOR GRAHAM: Mr. Mayor, St. Petersburg is a community with a great tradition and a tremendous quality of people. It has risen to deal with a number of challenges in the past and it has done so effectively and I'm confident it will do so here. As the President and the Vice President, Secretary Cisneros have said, the primary responsibility, as it should be, is going to be with you and the citizens of St. Petersburg. The federal role is going to be to assist in appropriate manners to be a neighbor and partner.
I'm pleased that Congressmen Young and Bilirakis have joined in this discussion and have clearly indicated this is going to be a bicameral, bipartisan, community-led effort with all America offering its support and assistance. And, David, I've enjoyed working with you in a number of -- do so on this one as well.
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Mr. President, I might just add that Senator Mack has been kept informed of this as well and he's been helpful in giving direction from the beginning.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I wonder if either of the Congressmen would like to say anything.
CONGRESSMAN YOUNG: Mr. President, this is Bill Young. I'd like to thank you very much for responding as rapidly as the administration has. We do have a tremendous community effort underway under the Mayor's leadership, and we're extremely confident that, working together, we're going to be able to resolve these problems.
CONGRESSMAN BILIRAKIS: Mr. President, this is Mike Bilirakis. I appreciate being included, even thought St. Petersburg is not directly in my district; it's Bill's. We represent the area just to the north of it and certainly are very much concerned because it's the same county, our home county.
I'm very impressed with the fact that you have moved as quickly as you have regarding this matter, and all of these committees and commissions and all indicate that there is a real problem down there. And hopefully, we're all well on a path of solving it. Thank you so much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
MAYOR FISCHER: Well, Mr. President, I want to thank you and all your staff, the Vice President, and especially Mr. Panetta, who met with us right away; to Secretary Cisneros, who came down and a former mayor who I think really grasped the situation quickly.
The response that you've done, and the focus that you've given I think has been terrific for us. And then by pulling in our congressional delegation, with Senator Graham, of course, and Mack, and with Mr. Bilirakis and Bill Young, it's just been a great effort on your part that we're very thankful for.
We realize that this is just a piece in the puzzle that we have to deal with as a community, and it's going to be up to us. But I think a couple -- I know that Senator Graham and Bill Young and Congressman Bilirakis, who know us real well, have already stated that this is a community that meets its challenges and we're going to do this one and we're going to do it right. And we've set the pace in many things, I think, for the country to look at in this community, and we're going to set the pace in this one, too.
The fact that the federal government is going to help us with this initiative and give us the horsepower to really develop an economic impetus will be very important for us. And so the fact that you've given us this piece to start with I think is going to get us right on our way. And so we can't thank you enough for your efforts.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I know you've got some other community leaders there, and let me just say to all of them, we're pulling for you; we appreciate what you're going through; we want to be here to support you. We know that you can realize your vision of how you want your community to work, how you want people to
feel who are living there, and we're determined to stay with you all the way through.
Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor, again, for contacting me, for coming to see me and for making me aware of the situation. We're going to keep going and we'll be there with you every step of the way.
MAYOR FISCHER: Well, thank you very much. We appreciate you calling us this morning and your response has been overwhelming. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Good-bye.
MAYOR FISCHER: Bye now.
END 10:00 A.M. EST