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US presidential candidates
largely ignore urban issues

By Tony Favro, US Correspondent

28 February 2008: US cities are struggling with unemployment, housing, underperforming schools, aging infrastructure, and poverty, while devoting more resources than ever to energy costs and homeland security. Mayors of the nation’s cities say that such concerns have been largely ignored in the presidential campaigns. The US Conference of Mayors has urged the presidential candidates to adopt their 10-point plan Strong Cities for a Strong America ’08. It asks candidates to commit to strengthening the economies of metropolitan areas.

“We must invest wisely in our youth, our workforce, and our infrastructure in ways that spur creativity and competitiveness,” says Douglas Palmer, the mayor of Trenton, New Jersey and president of the US Conference of Mayors which represents nearly 1,200 US cities with populations of more than 30,000. “Our national leaders – and those who seek to lead – must work directly with mayors on the 10 priorities identified by the members of the US Conference of Mayors.”

The National League of Cities, which has 1,700 member cities of all sizes, is urging the presidential candidates to adopt a similar agenda.

As the New York Times wrote in a recent editorial calling for a national urban policy, “For more than a generation, presidential aspirants have mostly resisted acknowledging the importance of the cities’ well being.”

Part of the reason is that urban concerns are overshadowed in the presidential campaigns by the economy, Iraq, the war of terrorism, immigration, and other hot-button issues. Also, cities are no longer electoral battlegrounds. They’ve been solidly Democratic for decades. Democrats never campaign in cities because they can take urban votes for granted. Republicans never campaign in cities because there are so few votes to get.

The mayors are seeking:
• Federal grants for promote energy conservation and community development.
• Funds for more police officers.
• Better ways to finance infrastructure, school improvements, and affordable housing.
• Increased funding for at-risk youth programs and workforce development.
• More efficient ways of getting homeland security money to cities.
• A focus of the arts and tourism.

The need is clear, writes Mayor Palmer, “America’s cities drive our national economy.”

According to US Census data, 80 per cent of Americans live in metropolitan areas comprised of hub cities and surrounding suburbs. Metro economies account for 87 per cent of America’s total economic output. Central cities, in other words, are major generators of wealth that attract business, labor, tourists, and investment.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that mayors’ concerns will be at the top of the agenda for the 2008 presidential campaign. It’s not that mayors’ issues aren’t worthy. They are! But war and the economy always take precedence.

...and Illinois Senator Barack Obama (Democrat)

Also by Tony Favro
Little action as some 160,000 US bridges are considered to be structurally deficient
In a well-publicized 2005 report, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) concluded that 27 per cent of the almost 600,000 bridges in the US are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.  The report estimated that it would cost US $9 billion annually for 20 years to fix the bridges alone. The collapse of a major bridge in Minneapolis in August 2007, which underscored the warnings of the ASCE study, was only the latest high-profile infrastructure failure in the US.

In July, a 100-year-old steam pipe burst in New York City, killing one person and creating havoc in midtown Manhattan.  New Orleans is still struggling to rebuild after levees failed during Hurricane Katrina two years ago.  The 2003 failure of the Silver Lake Dam in Michigan caused over US $100 million in damage. 

Many bridges, sewers, wastewater facilities, and other infrastructure in the US were built during the great suburban expansion of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.  They were not built to last longer than 50 years, and are now approaching the end of their life spans. More