Pennsylvania Hangover in Urban America
As we nurse our collective hangover from the political bender that led up to yesterday’s primary, with heads now clear we can reflect for a moment on what we learned. Beyond the various rhetorical foibles and overstatements that Wonkette and The Onion covered so deliciously – or was it so honestly? – there was hope on March 25, 2008 that the candidates would be forced to debate at least one serious issue on camera. On that day, the Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer in which he endorsed Hillary Clinton, not because of her “experience” or even because he prefers her healthcare plan. He endorsed her, he wrote, because of her commitment to cities.
While other mayors – such as Cleveland’s Frank Jackson – have endorsed Senator Obama for the same reason, the commitment of both candidates to cities has yet to be tested. Still, Mayor Nutter’s overarching theme rings true: cities are not simply a policy issue amongst many others, but the policy issue that the candidates must discuss. “These [urban] issues,” he described, “are important to the citizens of Philadelphia but also to people across the nation.” The data back the Mayor up: the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas contain 65% of the nation’s population and generate 85% of its GDP.
Mayor Nutter even attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade the Democratic candidates to hold an “urban-issues forum”. Interestingly, he was also “trying to get the folks who are running the debate next week to raise some of the issues [important to cities].” Do you think Mayor Nutter was referring to the debate question that asked the candidates to affirm their support for the 2nd Amendment or to the ringer who asked about Senator Obama’s flag pin?
Last week, MayorTV – a project of the Drum Major Institute and The Nation – interviewed Mayor Christopher Doherty of Scranton. In the lead-up to the primary, Senator Clinton had relied on Scranton (where her father was raised) and Mayor Doherty, who endorsed the New York Senator, to imply a contrast between her connection to working-class Americans and Senator Obama’s “bitter” comments. In his interview, Mayor Doherty lamented that there is “no voice for cities at the national level”. He claimed that we are haunted by a “hangover from the Reagan revolution”: the federal government and the programs it sponsors are viewed with unwarranted suspicion. This must change, the Mayor insisted, even arguing that taxes are the “best investment” a city can make. Indeed, higher property taxes in Scranton allowed Mayor Doherty to invest money in paving and parks, which ultimately increased property values much more than his initial tax hike. The Mayor believes that one of the presidential candidates can – and must – step out of the pack and focus attention on the benefits of urban infrastructure projects and regional transit. Ultimately, Mayor Doherty is optimistic. “Cities,” he assures us, “are coming back.”
Mayor Nutter’s op-ed and Mayor Doherty’s interview demonstrate that Pennsylvania’s leaders had urban issues on their minds, but the presidential candidates were simply too caught up in verbal karate to notice.
Throughout his interview, Mayor Doherty expressed confidence in everyday Americans’ sense that cities are the nation’s economic and cultural drivers. Americans understand how important cities are and mayors certainly do. Why don’t the presidential candidates?