marlienebastien_fc.jpgThis past weekend, hundreds of mayors gathered in Miami for their 76th annual meeting of what is known as The United States Conference of Mayors.

Besides partying in style at Vizcaya and other ritzy venues known only to the privileged few, they spent time discussing – among other issues – our deteriorating economy, without venturing near its root causes.

They also discussed global warming, the high school dropout rate, the upcoming Census, immigration and other issues.

They will send their positions on these issues to members of Congress and both presidential candidates.

Conference organizers boasted about their newly earned environmental consciousness, the presence of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, and the installation of their 66th president, who is none other than city of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

It is certainly a great honor to be chosen by one’s peers to be the “mayor of mayors,” so congratulations are in order.

Many, however, seemed oblivious to this whole situation, not only because they are blasé about Miami politics, but also because their mayor, the “People’s Mayor,” was not allowed at the table. And who might that be? I’m referring to Sushma Sheth, dubbed
“The People’s Mayor” ever since Miami Herald columnist Ana Menendez claimed that “she should be.”

A 2001 graduate of Brown University, Ms. Sheth received the Ford Foundation’s New Voices Fellowship Award, and joined the Miami Workers Center, a grassroots organization engaged in organizing depressed neighborhoods.

Sheth began calling to task the city’s power brokers as the center’s media and communication director in 2002. Sheth is currently the center’s director of programs.

The Miami Workers Center actually organized its own summit and marched to the city last week while the mayors coalesced.

Sheth has been instrumental in bringing the concerns of the displaced, the marginalized  and the oppressed to the forefront of our consciousness. She was the quiet force behind the development of LIFT (Low Income Families Fighting Together), which advocates for affordable housing and employment. It also fights the cancer of gentrification, among other things.

Not only did she come from a highly socially conscious family, but prior to coming to the “City of the Extreme,” where shameful mega wealth co-exists with dire poverty, she was chairperson of Visions Worldwide, an international public health organization that organized students in the U.S.

Chief among her many accomplishments is her effort to bring all communities – African-American, Haitian-American, Caribbean-American and Hispano-American – together, political clout or not.

Max Rameau, founder of Take Back The Land, mused, “While the mayors’ conference was important because of what it did – allow the mayors and their staff to share ideas, best practices and common experiences – the peoples’ summit was important because it exposed what the mayors’ conference failed to do: Develop a comprehensive agenda with the people the mayors are supposed to represent.’’

Ramaeu continued: “While elected officials from cities across the United States caucused in posh ballrooms, arriving in limousines and dining on fine foods, all at the courtesy of the taxpayers, they declined to meet with the real people the conference, and their tenures as mayor, should help the most. For example, as several dozen gathered to lament the impact of the growing foreclosure crisis on their individual cities, the mayor of Louisville, Ky. complained loudly about the grass growing in front of the vacant homes and how the city was forced to cut those lawns….’’

And, Rameau said, “As the other mayors sat riveted listening to a story about grass, they refused to hear from those gathered several miles across town – people who are directly impacted by the foreclosure crisis. This past weekend, Manny Diaz was named the president of the mayor's conference, essentially making him the mayor of the mayors. But the poor people of the city of Miami are still waiting for their mayor: someone who will listen to their stories and find solutions to their problems.”

For many who walked under the rainy deluge last Friday, June 20, however, there is no need to look any further, they already have their mayor: “The People’s Mayor.’’

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.