Tom Manger, Jorge Elorza, Steve Adler

New Orleans, La. Mayor Mitch Landrieu, center, flanked by Providence, R.I. Mayor Jorge Elorza, left, and Austin, Texas Mayor Steve Adler, accompanied by members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors leadership, speaks to reporters outside the Justice Department in Washington, Tuesday, April 25, 2017, following a meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) 

Manuel Balce Ceneta

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, taking the helm of the influential U.S. Conference of Mayors at its annual gathering Monday in Miami Beach, urged his counterparts across the country to combat the partisan warfare in Washington, D.C., with a more unifying approach to leading at the local level. 

He also detailed the organization's 2017 agenda, which urges the national government to invest in public safety, create jobs, fix crumbling infrastructure and combat inequality. 

“In this political climate, we mayors must fight to occupy the radical center, where idealism meets reality, and where we put people over politics,” Landrieu said in his address beginning a one-year term as the group's president. 

Landrieu, 56, is the fifth mayor from New Orleans to lead the nonpartisan mayors’ conference, which draws its 1,408 members from cities with 30,000 or more residents. 

The previous presidents from New Orleans were Landrieu's father, Maurice "Moon" Landrieu, who was in the audience for his son's speech; Ernest "Dutch" Morial and his son, Marc Morial; and T. Semmes Walmsley.

With Landrieu's election, New Orleans has had more mayors become president of the organization than any other city in the country.

The new post also positions Landrieu again in the national spotlight, after he attracted a healthy dose of media attention following the city's removal of four Confederate monuments this spring. Columnists and editors at The New York Times, The Atlantic and elsewhere gave glowing praise to the mayor's speech in May justifying the removals, and national outlets from far and wide covered the story.

Landrieu’s name has been repeatedly mentioned as a potential Democratic challenger to President Donald Trump in 2020, though he has tried to stamp out such talk.

He did, however, point Monday to the powerful influence that mayors around the country can wield, using his May speech as an example of what can happen when a city leader stands up for his convictions.

“This is the one thing that’s seared in my mind. ... In a time of great turmoil, a mayor talked, and the nation listened,” he said to the roomful of mayors before urging them to do the same on similar issues.

A $600,000 grant to the organization from Bloomberg Philanthropies, announced by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg shortly before Landrieu spoke, will help mayors do just that. Bloomberg, who has long been friendly with Landrieu, will pay a public relations firm to elevate mayors in the national press.

That grant dovetails with Bloomberg’s $200 million American Cities Initiative, also announced Monday as a way to invest in landmark local policies and give mayors more say in national politics amid the political turbulence in Washington.

Mayors working collaboratively to solve the nation’s problems would be nothing new, Landrieu said as he highlighted the organization’s 85-year history.

Leaders such as his father, who led the mayors’ conference in the 1970s during New York City’s financial crisis, and Marc Morial, who was president of the group during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, should be lauded, Landrieu said.

In a departure from his script, Landrieu turned to his father and said, “Daddy, I love you,” before continuing with his speech. 

Landrieu, a Democrat, also expressed frustration with the Republican-controlled Congress over its proposed health care legislation and took a tacit jab at President Donald Trump, decrying “demagogues with their own political agendas seeking to divide us.”

Despite that, people can come together amid chaos, he said.

No better example of that can be found than what occurred after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans, he said.

“When everybody is wet, and everybody needs to be saved, and everybody needs to be pulled out of the water, nobody worries about what boat they are getting in,” he said. “You just get in the damn boat.”

Landrieu also referenced the organization’s agenda, which comprises a list of recommendations for Congress and the Trump administration that Landrieu said will bring “security, jobs and opportunity” for America’s families.

Among dozens of other requests, the group is asking the administration to invest in infrastructure, housing, transportation and education programs. It also wants the federal government to promote jobs and eliminate discrimination in federal programs.

Read the full speech, below: 

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.