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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Brewer meets with Obama, invites president to Wichita

By BRENT D. WISTROM
Eagle Topeka bureau

TOPEKA – Mayor Carl Brewer met with President Obama in the Oval Office Monday and invited him again to visit Wichita.

No commitments there. But Brewer said he also had a chance to urge the president to ease regulations on exports and increase federal funding for technical education and transportation, issues Brewer sees as key to diversifying and expanding the local economy.

“I believe that he was listening and that we were having a good two-way conversation about our issues,” said Brewer, who was one of 10 mayors invited to the White House to discuss local issues as part of the National League of Cities Congressional Cities Conference. “It was an exciting day.”

When Brewer introduced himself as mayor of Wichita, Obama told the mayors about his connection to Kansas, where his mother, Shirley Ann Dunham, was born. Obama’s grandfather Stanley Dunham was raised in El Dorado and his grandmother Madelyn Payne Dunham grew up in Augusta.

Brewer said he and other mayors were discussing issues with Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, and David Agnew, director of intergovernmental affairs, in the Roosevelt Room adjacent to the Oval Office when Obama emerged.

Obama invited the mayors into his office to talk. Brewer went in first and had a few minutes to chat before the other mayors trickled in.

Brewer said he took advantage of a little extra face time.

“That was more than the time that was allotted for me,” he said. “But I figured that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Brewer invited the president to visit Wichita, which he and other political leaders have requested in the past. Brewer was among a bipartisan group of politicians who criticized Obama’s comments about tax breaks for corporate jets last year.

“No sooner than I did it, you had like three other cities doing the same thing trying to get him to come there also,” he said.

Brewer has met Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. But this was his most extensive conversation with a commander in chief.

“You have this opportunity to have a face-to-face and talk about real issues that concern your community and then going into the Oval Office with him and talk. ... You’re kind of looking around and you’re in awe. I can’t believe I’m standing here.”

Brewer, a Democrat, voted for Obama. But he has otherwise tried to steer clear of partisan politics because Wichita’s mayor and council are nonpartisan positions. Brewer did not attend Obama’s visit to El Dorado in 2008.

“When it comes to partisan politics, you must keep your personal opinion to yourself,” he said. “You represent all parties and the city.”

Reach Brent Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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