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As election approaches, cities get short shrift in campaign, but infrastructure issue rises

With the focus on swing states and swing voters in the presidential campaign, we’ve heard very little about urban policy and associated issues like urban housing, though there has been discussion about the general issue of infrastructure, which involves transit, bridges, roads, and more.

In fact, the New York Times, in its wonkish collection of issue briefs doesn’t even have a page devoted to urban policy, another indication of how little attention the issue gets.

Democratic nominee and campaign frontrunner Barack Obama has called for a White House Office of Urban Policy, thus acknowledging urban issues, though as Harry Moroz noted on the DMI Blog, for months Obama’s urban policy mostly conflated “urban America” with “urban poverty” until it was adjusted to acknowledge cities as drivers of prosperity and innovation.

Whitman's excuse for McCain

John McCain, by contrast, has no urban policy, and last Friday, on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, the host raised the issue with McCain’s surrogate, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman.

“Senator Obama’s web site has a long urban policy page," Lehrer said. "McCain’s does not have any urban policy page. What should we make of that in our area?”

Whitman dodged the question: “That talks about where they think they’re going to win electoral votes. It’s a simple as that. It doesn’t mean the administration wouldn’t care about these areas. Right now, they’re talking about winning an election…”

She quickly changed the subject, but Obama’s surrogate, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi easily pointed out that Whitman had a tough job.

The growing chorus

The issue of urban policy also involves infrastructure, which may be becoming a consensus issue: infrastructure investment can both put people to work and also rebuild the country. Such infrastructure would support general needs rather than be targeted to specific megaprojects.

David Brooks, the mildly conservative New York Times columnist, on Friday promoted infrastructure investment in a column headlined National Mobility Project. (Some letter-writers thought he emphasized highways a bit too much.)

Obama promises a “National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to expand and enhance, not supplant, existing federal transportation investments. These projects will create up to two million new direct and indirect jobs per year and stimulate approximately $35 billion per year in new economic activity.”

It also promises to “re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account."

The issue of urban policy is a lot more important that some of the blinkered public discourse, as the candidates battle over undecided swing voters.


  1. McCain's infrastructure plans consist of "Joe the Plumber" fixing leaky pipes until he has enough money to buy his company and fall victim to Barack Obama's redistributionist policies


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