Barack Obama, America's 44th President, promises to focus on urban issues

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Obama promises to become
America’s first urban president

By Tony Favro, USA Editor

25 November 2008: Barack Obama has promised to advance a number of issues important to mayors of US cities soon after he takes office on 20 January 2009. America's 44th President says he will create 2.5 million well-paying jobs during the first two years of his administration by renovating infrastructure and schools and developing alternative energy sources.

“We'll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels,” Obama said as he announced his economic plan.

This is welcome news for urban mayors who often felt abandoned by the Bush administration. More people are without jobs in US cities than at any time since the early-1990s, and wages for the working poor have not kept pace with inflation for a number of years.

Obama and his advisors have signaled that they will also respond quickly to other pressing concerns of US mayors:

• Immigration: There is an agreement between Obama and his opponent for the presidency, Senator John McCain, to move forward on immigration reform. Illegal immigrants are important contributors to the US economy, but most find it difficult to legalize their status in America or apply for citizenship. Cites often bear the burden of providing services for illegal immigrants. While the debate over immigration has been contentious in recent years, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, led by President Obama, should be able to pass a new immigration policy without much controversy.

• Aid to cities and states: Cities and states are facing critical financial problems, and some like Philadelphia and Arizona have called on the federal government to help.  Obama and congressional Democrats have said the will review programs like federal medical assistance percentages – that is, federal matching funds for social service programs – that are designed to help cities and states but are largely ineffective or insufficient.

• Presidential orders: Presidential orders are rules made by the President that need no congressional approval. In his final months in office, George Bush is initiating orders that would eviscerate very important environmental and worker protections. Congressional Democrats, with the consent of President-elect Obama, have said they will try to repeal the most damaging of Bush's presidential orders.

• Mortgage foreclosures: Obama and congressional Democrats have promised to put more money into programs to stop homes from going into foreclosure. The urban poor and elderly have been particularly vulnerable to predatory lending practices and subprime mortgages.

• Health Care: Universal health care may be the most important issue facing America, and also the most difficult to accomplish. Adequate, affordable health care for all Americans is a goal of President-elect Obama. Cities are on the front line of America's health care crisis. According to a 2008 report by Families USA, a nonprofit advocacy organization, most US cities fund “some combination of public hospitals, maternal and child health clinics, school-based health centers, substance abuse clinics, and mental health clinics. In addition, many cities operate dental clinics, health care services for the homeless, and a host of other health programs designed to meet the unique needs of their residents. Together, these programs comprise the health care safety net that vulnerable populations rely on for access to health services." *

President-elect Obama has also indicated that his stance towards gun control, tax policy, trade unions, and other issues will likely be aligned with the views of the majority of mayors of US cities. It is precisely for his commitment to positively impact the lives of a broad spectrum of Americans that mayors across the US enthusiastically endorsed Barack Obama for President, and millions of new urban voters flocked to the Democratic Party.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson spoke for many US mayors when he expressed his confidence that “Obama will institute policies that will help urban areas do better.”

* Families USA. America's Health Care Crisis: Cities on the Front Line, June 2008

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