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They are what the mayors of the United States face right now, big problems and plenty of them.

That is why Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad went to the United States Conference of Mayors in Miami, Fla., last week. When it comes to facing problems, it's nice to have a little help from your friends.

'It is such a good conference,' said Hammerstad, who is heading into the last six months of her second term as mayor of Lake Oswego. 'We have the absolute most timely speakers. We hear right from the people who know, the outstanding leaders and political leaders.'

The times they are exciting, if troubling, in the U.S. in 2008, and the mayors meeting provided a suitable stage for people right at the center of activity for this election year - former President Bill Clinton; Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, widely seen as a potential running mate for Republican presidential candidate John McCain; and, most of all, Barack Obama, the likely presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

'I can't think of another time when I've been in a room of people so enthused about a speaker,' Hammerstad said. 'The excitement was palpable. Reaction was overwhelming.'

While noting Obama's 'rock star' quality, Hammerstad was even happier to note that 'he truly understands how the infrastructure needs of cities have gone unaddressed. It's impressive what he wants to do.'

The real work of the mayors, however, was done away from the spotlight as they considered a vast array of challenges and problems. Two problems seemed to stand out: Greenhouse gas emissions and the country's aging infrastructure.

'The mayors and governors are taking over the issue of climate change,' Hammerstad said. 'Now, 800 mayors have signed on to do something about this by cutting carbon emissions and starting practices that will lessen greenhouse gas emissions.

'It's nice to be part of a group taking leadership on this. We want to form legislative proposals for the next administration.'

This strong focus on climate earned this 2008 gathering the label of 'the greenest mayors conference ever.' But the infrastructure focus - coming in the wake of the collapse of the Mississippi River Bridge in Minnesota - is suddenly a very hot issue.

'Our aging infrastructure is a dire problem,' Hammerstad said. 'It has taken awhile for people to become aware of it, but it is now being seriously addressed.'

Of course, the staggering American economy, with the sharply rising prices of gas and food, was never far from the mayors' thoughts. As a member of two committees, transportation and arts and tourism, Hammerstad got to look at the situation up close. In fact, the situation is so bad that there is trouble even in paradise.

'The mayor of Honolulu said that the price of jet fuel is killing them,' Hammerstad said. 'If this is not turned around, Hawaii will be very severely impacted.'

One of Hammerstad's primary goals in attending the conference was to craft some action that can help her successor as mayor of Lake Oswego, especially in getting the jump on obtaining federal funding that can build projects in this city.

Most of all Hammerstad wants to set the stage for hope, not doom and gloom, with a new presidential administration in 2009.

'You come back with the hope that solutions will soon be available to you,' Hammerstad said. 'Solutions that you haven't had before. This is something I can pass on to the next mayor.'

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