Editor’s note: Chad Blair and Cory Lum are in Washington, D.C., this week, reporting for Civil Beat.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The vice president of the United States paid a high compliment to county officials attending an annual conference in Washington, D.C., Monday.

“You are the most important, least appreciated form of government in all the United States of America,” said Joe Biden.

The veep’s comments were delivered at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park, where the National Association of Counties is meeting.

It’s the first such meeting for Honolulu City Council newbies Trevor Ozawa and Brendon Elefante.

Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking at to the National Associate of Counties national meeting at Washington Marriot Wardman Park.  23 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking at to the National Associate of Counties annual meeting.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Joey Manahan, dressed warmly — the temperature was 28 degrees and falling — is also attending the NACo conference, along with council leaders Ernie Martin and Ikaika Anderson.

Another local angle: The NACo’s new president is Maui County Councilmember Riki Hokama, who took over last July.

“Decisions made by the White House, Congress and the federal courts have major impacts on our communities,” he told delegates. “That’s why we are here today.”

The conference began Saturday and runs until Wednesday. More than 1,500 officials are advocating for legislative issues facing local governments.

Honolulu City Council members left, Trevor Ozawa and right, Brandon Elefante at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference held at the  Washington Marriot Wardman Park Hotel. Washington DC. 23 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Honolulu City Council members Trevor Ozawa and Brandon Elefante make their way to their table at the NACo conference.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Priorities include preserving the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds, enabling counties to collect on existing sales taxes on remote and online sales, and protecting the federal-state-local partnership for Medicaid.

NACo says that counties own and maintain 45 percent of the nation’s road miles and nearly 40 percent of bridges.

Biden, who was running about 15 minutes late, joked to the audience that it was great to wake up early Monday morning to start talking about infrastructure.

As is often the case with the vice president, he was informal in his remarks.

A former council member himself, Biden gave a shout out from the stage to the Delaware delegation — “Hey, buddy, how are you?” — and said he ran for the U.S. Senate because work on the New Castle Council was “too hard.”

Maui City Council member and National Association of Counties President Riki Hokama waves to crowd before giving a short speech and before introducing Vice President Biden at the Washington Marriot Wardman Park.  23 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Maui City Council member and NACo President Riki Hokama.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Biden also hit the Obama administration’s current talking points: The economy is resurgent, but the priority must be helping the middle class share in the recovery.

Also addressing the NACo gathering was Jerry Abramson, a longtime Kentucky official who is President Barack’s Obama’s liaison to state and local governments.

Emphasizing the need to help local governments with infrastructure and transportation, Abramson said the administration was in the “fourth quarter” — another favored talking point during Obama’s last two years in office.

Fans of the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, he said, know the importance of the fourth quarter. The reference was to shocking late-in-the-game losses by both teams earlier this year.

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