27 February 2003 Edition

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Maskey meets mayors of ten US cities

Belfast Mayor Alex Maskey's tour of the US started in New York on the day the city and the northeast coast was hit by a snowstorm that left more than two feet of snow from Boston to Washington DC. However, only his first engagements in Boston had to be cancelled.

When I spoke to him on Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Maskey, who is also a Sinn Féin Assembly member, had already visited New York, Washington DC, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago and was getting ready to head for the west coast, where he had appointments in Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle.

In each city, Alex has met with his mayoral counterpart, as well as council members, trade union leaders, labour movement representatives and, of course, members of the Irish-American community.

Alex undertook the coast-to-coast trip to promote the peace process and, in his role as mayor, to promote the city of belfast, seeking investment, asking people to visit and building civic links with cities across the United States.

"My meeting with Mayor Bloomberg in New York was very productive," said Alex. "We discussed the current difficulties in the peace process and the need for inward investment and job creation in Ireland's second largest city, Belfast.

"While our cities are very different, there are many experiences we share as mayors. Mayor Bloomberg spoke of his efforts to promote equality and respect for all of the diverse cultures and ethnicities that make up the City of New York and I discussed my ongoing efforts to tackle sectarianism in Belfast.

"We agreed to keep in touch in the coming months and to investigate ways of developing closer civic links between our two cities. Mayor Bloomberg expressed interest in visiting Belfast to consolidate these ties. I look forward to welcoming him to the city of Belfast."

From New York to Washington DC by train the next day, Alex met Mayor Anthony Williams in the morning and Mayor Michael O'Malley of Baltimore in the afternoon. The core of both meetings was mutual experiences of divided cities and the responsibilities of civic leaders to promote equality and respect diversity.

In spite of the severe weather still making travel difficult and slow, Alex made it to Philadelphia to meet the Mayor of the City of Brotherly Love, John Street. The mayor presented Alex with a model of the famed Liberty Bell, which hangs in Philadelphia.

At a community event in the Irish Center of Philadelphia, Alex was delighted to meet former world champion boxer Joe Frazier, who expressed interest in visiting Belfast's many boxing clubs.

Alex particularly praised all those people in New York, Washington and Philadelphia who braved the elements and hazardous driving conditions to attend receptions in his honour.

From Philadelphia then to Cleveland, Ohio, for a meeting with the city's first female mayor, Jane Campbell. Pittsburg was the next stop, for meetings with the mayor and city officials.

Alex then travelled to Chicago and met Mayor Daly.

In California he was scheduled to meet the Mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown and Mayor Willy Brown of San Francisco. His tour ends in Seattle on Friday 28 February with visits with Mayor Greg Nickels and civic leaders before his return to Belfast.

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