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Washington • Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has gone to the White House 40 times during President Barack Obama's tenure, according to official visitor logs.
And that's exactly 40 more times than he, or his predecessor Rocky Anderson, dropped by 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. during President George W. Bush's eight years in office.
Last week, Becker, the president of the National League of Cities, got the honor of introducing Obama to city officials from across the country at the group's annual conference, and the president made clear he's a big fan of city leaders.
"You all have something in common, and that is that every day you wake up ready to solve problems, and you know that people are depending on you to make sure your streets are safe and your schools are strong, trash gets picked up, roads getting cleared," Obama said. "You have to spend time thinking in very practical terms about whether people are getting good jobs and whether they're able to support a family."
In Washington, where manufactured fiscal cliffs are the norm, problem solvers are anomalies. Members of Congress can block budgets over policy disputes, but mayors and city council members can't halt snowplows or shut down water service just to make a point. Their constituents wouldn't stand for it.
It almost seems like Obama is a little jealous. Perhaps it's a throwback to his days as a community organizer in Chicago where partisan fights didn't upend efforts to help people with job training or quash an eviction.
"There's a lot of work we've done together, and a lot more we can do," Obama told the city officials last week. The crowd, with a clear majority leaning to the Democratic side, loved that.
Becker, who grew up in Washington, says he's heard from fellow city officials who have been in office for decades that "there has never been a better friend to cities, and someone we can really look to as a partner, than this administration."
"[Obama] really understands cities," Becker adds. "It's a natural spot for him."
Becker's friendly relationship has helped Salt Lake City, his office notes, pointing to the grants the city has received during Obama's time in office, the most prominent of which was $26 million in federal money to help build the Sugar House Streetcar.
Obama also appointed Becker to the White House Climate Task Force and helped steer Salt Lake City visits by Cabinet members, including the secretaries of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Interior and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
First lady Michelle Obama, too, highlighted Salt Lake City's efforts to end homelessness for veterans during a White House ceremony last July.
After Becker introduced Obama at the event last week, Obama not only shook the mayor's hand, he gave him a hug.
"Thank you, Mayor Becker, for the wonderful introduction and the great job that you are doing every single day," Obama said.
Becker went to the White House later that day for meetings. Here's guessing it won't be his last visit.
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Burr has reported for nearly a decade from Washington, D.C., for The Salt Lake Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @thomaswburr.