“By their works ye shall know them,” the Scripture tells us. This week, Republicans are congregating in New York City for the Republican National Convention, calling for President Bush’s re-election. The event will be replete with charming words and alluring images. However, the Scripture reminds us to consider George Bush’s works rather than his words.
President Bush chose New York City for his convention to focus attention on the attacks of 9/11. But the Big Apple represents more than the attack. It is one of America’s greatest cities, and the supreme example of American urban heroism in the wake of 9/11. During this convention, we must judge President Bush’s record on how he treated America’s cities and how he helped municipalities protect their people.
What has happened to America’s cities on President Bush’s watch? This year’s National League of Cities survey reveals that 43 percent of all cities suffered worse fiscal conditions in 2004 than 2003, up from 18 percent in 2000. Four out of five financial officers reported that their cities were less able to meet their financial needs in 2003 than in 2002, and 78 percent expected that conditions would get worse in 2004. Welfare rolls increased in over half of all cities surveyed in 2002, with two-thirds reporting an increase in assistance to families in need. Several papers and writings released this year by the progressive Center for American Progress confirm what these depressing statistics mean in human terms.
Despite this urban crisis, in 2004, President Bush cut community police programs by 85 percent and eliminated a block grant to put more police on city streets. Since President Bush enacted his No Child Left Behind program, he has underfunded it by $27 billion, including $9.4 billion this year alone, leaving an estimated five million American schoolchildren behind in dilapidated facilities with underpaid teachers.
President Bush launches his re-election efforts in New York City, but how has New York fared during his leadership? Like all American cities, New York City has suffered badly under his administration. From January 2001 to January 2004, some 100,000 more New Yorkers are unemployed, reflecting the 3 million jobs that have been lost nationwide. One in four New York City residents has no health coverage. When Republican delegates walk New York’s streets, they should know that one in four New Yorkers lives with no health insurance, reflecting the national trend that some four million more Americans lack health coverage today than did four years ago. When they see our children, they should remember that President Bush cut the city’s federal education funding by $2.5 billion.
At the most basic level, our communities are not safe. A 2004 U.S. Conference of Mayors survey reveals that of all the cities surveyed, 76 percent had not received their shares of the largest federal homeland security program, 45 percent had not received federal funds for first responders and critical infrastructure, and 58 percent of all cities eligible for port security grants had not received them by 2003.  This neglect extends to fire departments. Independent studies conclude that two-thirds of all U.S. firehouses are understaffed, and a 2003 Council on Foreign Relations report reveals that America’s fire departments only have enough radios for half their firefighters, and breathing apparatuses for only a third. Shockingly, as orange alerts increasingly jolt our urban rhythms, President Bush’s 2005 budget cuts $250 million from first responder funding, reducing it by one-third.
New York City’s Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Republicans’ chief local cheerleader, is outraged by this pattern of presidential neglect. He broke ranks with the leader of his party by opposing the president’s cuts in funding, which left New York ranked 45th among 54 states and municipalities in per capita support for bioterrorism protection. He also opposed the federal formula for distribution of State Homeland Security Grant funds. New York is a top terrorist target but it ranks forty-ninth in per capita funding for homeland security while Wyoming, the official residence of Vice President Cheney, ranks first. New York’s physical damage from 9/11 is estimated at $85-$100 billion, far more than the $20 billion President Bush promised.
Though President Bush did not invest heavily in cities, health care, education, or homeland security, his overall priorities are clear. His tax cuts (aimed predominantly at the richest Americans) cost $478 billion over the past two years alone. Furthermore, by prohibiting bulk purchasing of prescription drugs, President Bush’s 2003 Medicare Act added $139 billion in corporate profits to the total. As a result, President Bush has created the largest federal budget deficit in American history, reaching $445 billion in 2004.
In considering President Bush’s record, we must distinguish between his words and his works. In his confessions, St. Augustine asked, “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!” In a similar fashion, President Bush promised us balanced budgets, but not yet. He promised us bipartisan unity, but not yet. He promised us mission accomplished, but not yet. The Scripture tells us that “By their works ye shall know them.” President Bush’s works on our cities and homeland security are clear. Americans should know him by now.
David A. Paterson is the minority leader in the New York State Senate.