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Ask Bush: Where’s His Plan for Cities?

In our cities, suburbs and small towns, we're doing our part to build a stronger America. But a stronger America needs strong leaders. And together, we will build stronger communities and a stronger country, a nation that truly is strong at home and respected abroad.

Labor Day is approaching and, appropriately, so is the August job report. Remember the chilling news that the economy added just 32,000 jobs in July?

Fortunately, only hours before the August employment announcement, the president will address the nation at the Republican National Convention. It’s a golden opportunity to relieve economic anxiety. It’s a chance for the president to talk about a major concern of Americans everywhere: jobs.

Unfortunately, this topic begs several questions that the president would rather avoid:

  • Where’s the president’s plan for getting back the 1.8 million jobs lost on his watch?
  • What’s his agenda for creating new, better jobs?
  • Why does the president say we’re turning the corner?

The dismal July jobs numbers and President Bush’s comments reflect a president who turns his back on out-of-work Americans and those families who are just barely hanging on. America needs leadership that recognizes the problem and is committed to creating jobs and putting our nation back to work.

It also helps to understand that a recent study shows that cities contribute 85 percent of our gross domestic product.  So, logically, helping cities should be a big part of any administration’s economic plan, not hurting them with tax cuts for the richest 1 percent of Americans or block grants that pass through state bureaucracies.

So a good question for anyone who attends the next “Ask Bush” event is, where’s the president’s plan for cities?

All across hometown America, our mayors are prepared to work with a president who will listen, who will help strengthen our communities, who will support our best efforts. We are mayors like Don Plusquellic of Akron, Ohio, ready to begin exporting American products instead of American jobs. And we are mayors like Beverly O’Neill of Long Beach, Calif., protecting the nation’s busiest port from terrorism.

In our cities, suburbs and small towns, we’re doing our part to build a stronger America. But a stronger America needs strong leaders. And together, we will build stronger communities and a stronger country, a nation that truly is strong at home and respected abroad.

The next order of business, then, is to learn from our mistakes. Trickle down does not trickle down to workers, communities or cities. Tax cuts for the wealthy in 2001 and 2003 did not jump-start the economy. The 2003 tax cut, ironically called the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, failed to meet its job growth projections, just like the 2002 Economic Report of the President, which was off by 7 million new jobs.

At the same time, we must build on what worked in the past to drive future job creation. As a mayor during the job explosion of the 1990s, I know that a successful and comprehensive national plan has several common elements:

  • Investments in skills through middle-class tax breaks, training and increased funding for public schools;
  • Incentives to foster high-tech innovations;
  • Funding for programs to help cities make infrastructure improvements to their roads, bridges and sewerage systems;
  • Grants to redevelop closed industrial sites and neighborhoods through homeownership; and
  • A hometown security strategy with more monies for first responder equipment and training, crime fighting and drug treatment.

America has a rich tradition of fighting to expand opportunities for all.  I’m proud to be the mayor of Trenton, New Jersey, where one of America’s greatest Revolutionary War victories took place. American patriots crossed the Delaware River in small boats and defeated the enemy in a bold, swift attack, just as other young men and women from all across America are doing every day right now.

My great city of Trenton still knows the duty of fighting for our country. We have sent more than 100 of our hometown sons and daughters to fight in Iraq. We pray for their speedy and safe return.

America’s patriots deserve to see the brighter future they are defending. Let’s celebrate Labor Day with an honest presidential convention speech about jobs. Tempting as it may be in New York City to speak about 9/11 and the war on terror as a foreign policy issue, security starts at home.

America’s strength begins in our hometowns.

We can do better.

Douglas H. Palmer is mayor of Trenton, N.J. and president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors.

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