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Obama, Verner talk trade

President Barack Obama addresses the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010. Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, not pictured, was in the audience. (Associated Press)
President Barack Obama addresses the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010. Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, not pictured, was in the audience. (Associated Press)

Spokane’s mayor on Thursday got a brief audience with President Barack Obama at the White House.

Mary Verner was one of about a half dozen mayors Obama picked to ask questions after he addressed the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors convention.

“To my surprise I was acknowledged by the president,” Verner said in a phone interview Thursday evening. “He gestured toward me and asked me, ‘And what is your question young lady?’ So my first response was to thank him for calling me a young lady.”

Verner said she asked Obama about “foreign policy impediments to our businesses” that want to export clean energy products and services to China or elsewhere.

Obama responded that boosting the “domestic clean energy economy” is “urgent” because China and European countries are gaining ground on the United States, said Verner, who was one of five Washington mayors in attendance.

“He does not want the United States to be at a competitive disadvantage in clean energy like we were at a competitive disadvantage in the automobile industry,” Verner said.

The mayor said she would have liked more detail, but that she was satisfied with the president’s response.

“He had a roomful of people asking questions, so his answers had to be succinct,” Verner said.

Verner said other mayors had already asked about other topics on her list, such as stimulus money for cities and strategies to get banks to loan more money to businesses that would create jobs.

Before the question-and-answer session, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden addressed the 200 mayors about economic development and other issues facing cities.

“Our strategy (is) to build economically competitive, environmentally sustainable, opportunity-rich communities that serve as the backbone for our long-term growth and prosperity,” Obama told the group, according to a White House transcript, which does not include the Q&A session. A recording of the meeting on whitehouse.gov also doesn’t include any of the mayors’ questions.

“I think all these cameras are going to move out, so you can tell me the truth,” Obama said, according to the transcript.

Spokane pays $15,000 a year to be a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said city spokeswoman Marlene Feist. Verner said this week’s meeting is the first time she has attended the national conference.

Last year, Verner visited Jilin City, China, one of Spokane’s sister cities, as part of a U.S. State Department program to help build trade partnerships. She said disagreements between the United States and China relating to climate change have hampered “our opportunity to establish direct business relationships between Spokane and our sister city.”

Local businesses that could benefit from fewer roadblocks in exporting green technology include Itron and control panel manufacturer Pantrol Inc., Verner said.

“We are eager to conduct some follow-through on that Chinese trade mission,” Verner said. “So I wanted to put that back on the president’s radar.”

Video: Obama’s address to the mayors

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