MARQUETTE - The economic and social future of the Great Lakes states may be decided not by politicians in Lansing or Washington, D.C., but by coalitions of cooperating municipal managers from across the Midwest, according to longtime Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley.
Daley, speaking in Marquette Thursday during the annual conference of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, said he decided to start the binational a decade ago because he thought mayors were the most driven to work toward solutions benefiting the Great Lakes.
"To me, the power has been the mayors from Canada and the United States that are passionate and committed about the Great Lakes," he said. "That's why we get things done. We are more concerned about it on a daily basis than the state or provincial governments."
Richard M. Daley, the former longtime mayor of Chicago, speaks Thursday during the annual conference of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. Daley, who started the initiative a decade ago, told the crowd that the future of the Great Lakes will not be decided by state or federal officials, but by the hundreds of regional mayors who deal with Great Lakes issues on a daily basis. (Journal photo by Kyle Whitney)
The GLSLCI is a non-profit coalition that works to advance protection and restoration efforts related to the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.
Officials said that while some issues - including the impact of invasive species and the effects of climate change - are too broad for most cities to tackle alone, a coalition like the GLSLCI helps small cities to gain a voice.
After starting with 20 member cities, the organization "has grown to 103 mayors representing over 16 million people across the basin," according to Thunder Bay, Ontario Mayor Keith Hobbs, who also addressed the gathering Thursday.
Hobbs, who was elected to chair the GLSLCI for the next year, said the goal for the organization was always to "put mayors front and center in the defense of these precious waters."
"We have done that in spades," he said. "(The GLCSI) is now represented at every major Great Lakes and St. Lawrence decision-making table."
Daley, who served as mayor of Chicago for 22 years, told the assembled officials that the group needed to show everyone that the Great Lakes are a key resource not only for the U.S. and Canada, but for the world.
"This organization represents what Ottawa and Washington, D.C.. could find out," he said. "We don't talk about what party you belong to, what political philosophy you're involved in. Doesn't matter.
"To me, that's why democracy has survived. It lives in local government and we should lead the way."
The conference included panel discussions on a sustainable Great Lakes economy, the struggle to balance economic and environmental concerns in mining endeavors, climate change and shoreline protection efforts.
The group also launched its Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Service for municipalities.
The program will provide cities with an interactive forum from which to learn about climate impacts and adaptation, as well as staff training resources and up-to-date climate information.
The conference concludes today with tours of the area. Next year's GLSLCI conference is scheduled to be held in Thunder Bay.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.