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Edwards’ Overlooked Urban Agenda

On the eve of the Brown & Black Presidential Forum in Iowa at the beginning of the month, John Edwards unveiled his urban agenda called “Cities Rising.“ The plan reframes his various platforms into an urban strategy, showcasing what he could do for American cities. Since the plan is mostly a repackaging of ideas his campaign has already proposed, issues such as trade and stem cell research work their way into it, but the general themes encompass jobs, education, affordable housing, poverty and crime. A Cities Rising plan was a plank in his bid for the White House in 2004 as well.

Although the plan was released to deaf ears in the media, he was right to expect that viewers of the forum wanted an urban strategy. To stress the importance of the need for such a discussion, the US Conference of Mayors went to Iowa for the first time ever to attend the forum.

“For the first time in our history, The United States Conference of Mayors is bringing a bipartisan group of mayors to the Iowa Caucuses. We believe that the issues of Iowa and the city of Des Moines are the same issues that face mayors around the country each and every day,” said the conference’s executive director, Tom Cochran.

At the forum, which was spearheaded by Urban Dreams, a non-profit based in Des Moines’ inner city, Edwards discussed criminal justice reform.

“Young African American men in many places in the country believe that the only thing that is going to happen to them is they are either going to die or go to prison. They believe they live lives of hopelessness, no chances whatsoever. That has to change,” the former North Carolina Senator exclaimed.

To do that, he called for alternatives to incarceration, such as drug courts; putting a stop to mandatory minimum sentences, especially for non-violent offenses; and legislating an end to the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine offenses. He also stressed the importance of keeping people out of prison in the first place through drug and alcohol counseling and rehabilitation, job training, and education.

In his plan, Edwards outlined additional efforts to combat crime, including his support for the troubled COPS legislation. (That bill has the support of all his former colleagues on the stage. His Democratic competitor, Sen. Joseph Biden, claims the bill as his progeny, and it is cosponsored by every other Democratic senator vying for the presidency). The COPS program provides federal funding to state and local law enforcement to hire community policing professionals in an effort to prevent crime before it happens.

With such a crowded field, however, Edwards’ time was limited on stage, so his Cities Rising plan goes into much more detail than he could have offered in the short time he was allotted on that stormy night in Iowa:

Poverty and Jobs:

He first announced his goal to end poverty within 30 years this July. But in this urban context, he has called for the creation of one million short-term, “stepping stone” jobs, all of which will pay his proposed minimum wage of $9.50 by 2012. He also said he would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to cover adults without children and cut its “marriage penalty” for couples. Additionally, the candidate would help fathers find work through welfare-to-work programs and offer a tax credit to low-income families to the tune of $500 a year in matching funds for savings accounts. He would strengthen labor laws to support unions and train 150,000 workers a year in “green collar jobs,” many of which would be manufacturing jobs at companies working with new energy technologies.

Housing:

To expand affordable housing, Edwards has called for the creation of one million new housing vouchers over the course of five years; the strengthening of housing discrimination laws; and putting a stop to predatory lending through legislation, as well as the creation of a “Home Rescue Fund,” which would provide subsidies towards new mortgages for families who have lost their homes. (He recently outlined his full plan to combat the foreclosure crisis.) Edwards also supports reinvestment in struggling neighborhoods through reformed and expanded HOPE VI funding, which is a federal program offering grants for urban revitalization projects.

Education:

Finally, the Cities plan calls for a strengthening of the urban school system as part of his broader education plan. “More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, we still have two school systems that are separate and unequal,” he said.

To change that, Edwards called for universal preschool for four-year-olds and a raise of up to $15,000 a year for teachers in high-poverty schools. He also proposed a government teachers’ university, based on West Point, the military academy; extra support for new teachers; adolescent literacy programs and special schools for dropouts; more funds for low-income students and fully funded special education. He said he would also help successful schools replicate their programs.

Tags: public schools2008 presidential election