USCM’s Crabb takes sister cities helm
Relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were still in the frosty stages of the Cold War when Juanita Crabb got involved with Sister Cities International. As major of Binghamton, N.Y., from 1982 to 1993, she spearheaded an effort to establish a sister city relationship with Borovici, Russia, but the icy atmosphere between their respective countries made the going difficult.
That, however, is part of the reason Crabb and Binghamton got involved in Sister Cities in the first place.
“We felt like, instead of leaving the peace efforts up to the national leaders, we would do our part,” Crabb says. For six years, the two cities worked toward establishing a relationship. The success of that effort led Binghamton to look at additional pairings. Under Crabb’s leadership, the city established ties with La Teste, France, and, when she left office in 1993, it was working toward relationships with Wuxi, China, and El Chacon, El Salvador.
Consequently, Crabb’s sister cities credentials were firmly established when, on Nov. 18, 1994, she was appointed executive director of Sister Cities International. The position was a natural for Crabb who had local government roots and a national reputation. Crabb’s three terms as mayor of Binghamton were marked by first. Not only did the city establish its first sister city relationship, but it also won its first ever AAA rating, instituted its first Affirmative Action guidelines, established the financial vehicles that resulted in the creation of more than 2,300 jobs and began an infrastructure investment program responsible for more than $50 million in improvements.
Crabb was also a force within the U.S. Conference of Mayors and, prior to being named Sister Cities Executive Director, was the conference’s director of membership services.
The enthusiasm that Crabb took from Binghamton to Washington, D.C., should translate well at Sister Cities International, a non-profit organization dedicated to the ideals that the world is a single community and that cooperation among cities can solve the world’s most pressing problems.
Currently, more than 1,000 U.S. cities, representing more than 125 million Americans, are linked with 1,743 foreign cities in 114 countries, in partnerships that deal with traditional aspects like music, education and art, as well as the more non-traditional matters, such as business and trade and cultural diversity. Additionally, the end of the Cold War and the rise of young democracies has prompted the organization to look into using its resources to help train newly elected foreign officials.
As for matchmaking, Crabb says, “cities usually have an idea of what they would like. They most often want a city with the same population base or some kind of geographic continuity. Most want a relationship with a city that closely resembles themselves.”
In the past, Crabb notes, cities often chose sisters for simpler reasons, such as sharing a name. In fact, La Teste chose to match up with Binghamton partly because the French city had a baseball team and no one to play with. More and more, however, cities are looking at Asia and Africa because of new perceptions about the global economy. “There’s been a huge increase in interest in the program with the Summit of the Americas in Miami and NAFTA,” Crabb says. “It is one very effective way for communities to reach out to other cities in very personal ways.”