- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2007

The nation’s mayors say they will press the 2008 Democratic presidential hopefuls to address the needs of cities by crafting urban agendas early in their campaigns, but some candidates could already have an edge based on their records.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, has the strongest record working with urban black mayors — both as a senator and as first lady when her husband, Bill, was president, said Douglas H. Palmer, mayor of Trenton, N.J.

“Hillary Clinton was pushing a domestic agenda and for the bulk of homeland security money to go to cities … after September 11,” said Mr. Palmer, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“The candidate who forges a relationship and partnership with the nation’s mayors will be the one who sees a rise in their numbers,” he said, adding that he is undecided about whom he will support in 2008.

Part of forging that relationship is addressing the group’s 10 working priorities, including crime prevention, funding federally mandated programs for cities and restoring funding for Community Development Block Grant programs to 2003 levels.

Mr. Palmer and others said that crime has spiked since cuts to Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), a federal grant program that helps cities hire and retain police officers. The increase in crime has been coupled with an economic decline in many urban areas.

Democratic candidates will have to work hard to generate voting support, particularly among their most loyal voting bloc: blacks. Nearly 50 percent of those votes can be found in urban areas.

Black Democratic mayors such as Detroit Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick have said that crime and poverty are destroying America’s cities.

Mr. Kilpatrick said he has met with three of the Democratic presidential candidates, including Mrs. Clinton, whom he also touted as a strong contender. He also met with Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who Mr. Kilpatrick said is a strong advocate for eradicating poverty, a major problem in urban centers.

“Some of what I have heard is a real focus on poverty and bringing the new emerging markets and finance to the cities,” he said. “And it is not just the policies of welfare, not a handout but a hand up.”

Mr. Kilpatrick credited the Clintons for the creation of new policies such as welfare-to-work, which he said helped cities get more residents off the poverty rolls.

But he said cities need flexibility to put money into job training and retraining for new high-tech jobs, more affordable-housing funds and more input on how No Child Left Behind policies are implemented.

“We need to have America’s mayors sitting at the table when this discussion is being made and not allow it to become an insular, inside-the-Beltway sort of thing,” Mr. Kilpatrick said.

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, who officially announced his candidacy for president Feb. 10, has the thinnest political record among those in the Democratic field and lacks many of the personal relationships with mayors that others have in abundance.

He also did not attend the mayors’ conference last month, missing an opportunity to make a first impression. But he has other experience that many mayors say could be useful in crafting policy that focuses on the urban agenda.

“I do like the fact that Barack has been on the ground and done social work and has a hands-on perspective in Illinois,” said Michael B. Coleman, mayor of Columbus, Ohio.

“Frankly, I suspect he is able to deal with many of these issues from personal knowledge, not from a book, and that is essential in the development of a policy that is effective,” Mr. Coleman said.

He said the candidates’ records will be important, but how they address the 10-point plan in the campaigns will be a deciding factor.

“There has to be a scramble by these people about their agenda, and then you will likely see a lot of support from me and other mayors across the country,” Mr. Coleman said.

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