- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

Through all the music and celebration associated with the community's exuberant welcome of Bill Clinton to his new offices on 125th Street, the crowds of revelers knew the former president had not just discovered Harlem, but had been a friend during the entire eight years of his presidency. His well-known charisma and comfort level with blacks and Latinos lent to the attraction. But more important, the people appreciated the obvious benefits to their community and their own lives under his administration's economic policies.

The evidence of the success of those policies is visible all over Upper Manhattan, and especially in Harlem. In a community that only a decade ago was in steep decline, today on almost every street, from 110th to 155th, development is under way. Vacant lots are being filled with new homes, boarded-up and abandoned brownstones are being restored. Housing developments with ground-floor commercial space are under construction. Familiar brand-name stores that once were never seen in Harlem are now open to shoppers. Brand names such as the Gap, Time Warner, Disney, Old Navy and Magic Johnson's Theaters are now part of the Harlem landscape.

Among the few details of the day's activities that were not reported in the press was Mr. Clinton's visit to my Harlem office just two hours before the start of the festivities. The president made it clear that his efforts on behalf of communities like Harlem will continue. During the meeting, he specifically committed himself to working with the local leadership on an agenda addressing the community's highest priorities: continued economic development and improvement of the educational performance of our public schools.

Mr. Clinton told me his new office would not be just an address; he would be seen in the community, patronize its stores and restaurants and, most important, make his presence felt by promoting additional corporate investments. On the subject of education, the former president reiterated his intention of promoting the involvement of the business sector to assist the public schools in preparing our young people for high-tech jobs.

Mr. Clinton's contributions to the Harlem community's economic life began in earnest in 1993, when he signed into law my legislation which created the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), and nine other zones around the country. Applying a unique public-private sector partnership arrangement for a period of 10 years, the federal government is funneling into Upper Manhattan alone, $100 million, matched by $100 million each from the State and City of New York. The UMEZ, flagship and pride of the national network of empowerment zones, so far has invested more than $120 million throughout Upper Manhattan and leveraged another $490 million in private sector investments, attracted by economic incentives and the promise of an economic boom. In the process, new stores and services are moving in and creating a projected 7,000 jobs.

Harlem is also regaining its luster as an entertainment center. Stimulated by the availability of financing and the vibrancy of the community, new restaurants and night clubs are proliferating, attracting foreign tourists and visitors from around the city and across the U.S. These attractions, along with the community's impressive collection of historic churches, brownstones, and museums have made the area the second most popular tourist destination in New York City, after Times Square. Anchoring the tourist attractions on 125th Street is the world-famous Apollo Theatre, which will soon undergo a massive renovation and expansion, funded in part by $400,000 in federal appropriations that I shepherded through Congress in 1999. I am seeking additional funding in the 2002 budget.

Of course, there is much more in President Clinton's record that won him the support and appreciation of the black and other minority communities. His administration appointed record numbers of minorities to positions of power and responsibility. His policies on affirmative action, health care, Social Security, job training, and preservation of the social safety net for the poor and the aged were in line with the needs of those communities.

I have been appalled, but not surprised, by the extent and intensity of disparagement from some quarters provoked by Mr. Clinton's decision to locate his office in Harlem. The reaction to the community's embrace of the former president is equally predictable. After all, there was no one kicking Bill Clinton around who hadn't kicked us around before that. As I've said before, sometimes you can pick your friends by who their enemies are.

Charles B. Rangel is a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York.

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