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Gergen says cities have a 'friend in the White House' in Clinton.

"If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates we could vote for."

Though for many voters that was the way the 1992 campaign started out, interest grew as the campaign grew into the first good, defining election since 1980, according to David Gergen, editor-at-large for U.S. News and World report and a frequent TV and radio political commentator.

Gergen spokes last week in New Orleans to the 69t Annual Congress of Cities at that meeting's Tuesday luncheon.

A former communications official with the Ford, Reagan and Bush administrations, Gergen commented on both the presidential campaigns and what could be expected from a Clinton administration.

"There is no question that the cities now have a friend in the White House. In fact, they have two friends," he told the municipal officials, referring in his last remark to President-elect Clinton's wife, Hillary Clinton.

But he also warned delegates to the conference that their expectations of help in a Clinton administration must be tempered and "realistic."

"It's important to remember that Clinton went into office with suburban voters" and with the support of most women, especially working women, he said.

So while cities and their voters are part of the Clinton electoral coalition, they are not the only or most important part of that coalition, he said. And even within that coalition, Gergen said he expects there will be an emphasis that is different from the traditional base for the Democratic Party.

Within that new view, the base for Clinton will be still be the big-city states of California, Illinois and New York, but there will be attempts to build stronger support in the western states using Clinton's emphasis on encouraging "the entrepreneurial spirit" as the attracting issue, Gergen predicted.

While this diminishing emphasis on the traditional urban Democratic political base in the North and the East lessens the role cities may play in a new Clinton coalition, cities and their issues will not be ignored by the Clinton administration, Gergen said.

He predicted that the Clinton administration make good on campaign promises for new spending for infrastructure, the creation of cummunity banks to help develop new businesses in cities and the creation of new urban enterprise zone programs. Gergen also predicted that the new administration would take an approach to federal regulation that would allow local governments more flexibility in meeting those regulations and that local officials could expect fewer unfunded mandates under Clinton.

Gergen said cities should not expect Clinton administration initiatives to propose spending for the creation of the traditional urban programs of the |60's, such as Model Cities. Instead, expect the Clinton administration to look for and be more receptive to "new paths" for solving specific urban problems.

Gergen said he expects that when the larger Clinton plan is known, it will include an attack on the budget deficit that goes beyond what was mentioned in the campaign. And, he said, the economic stimulus program that will be offered will be smaller than outlined during the campaign.

Health care reform will "the toughest issue over the next four or five years" for the new administration, Gergen told the delegates. American health care costs today are 13-14 percent of Gross National Product (GNP). With the inclusion of the uninsured into some sort of national plan, those costs will go up 20 percent and rise to 20 percent of GNP by the year 2000, he said.

"We can't compete in world markets with those kinds of costs," he said, noting that health care costs in other industrial nations are a much lower percentage of GNP.

On the election, Gergen said that, though he thought much of the press did lean toward Clinton in the fall, such a bias had little effect on the outcome of the election.

Rather, he said, "The (Bush) campaign was lost on the economy. And the seeds of that defeat were planted in the Gulf war."

Prior to the war, the American people like Grodge Bush and, yet, because they perceived him as a weak and indecisive leader, they did not place the blame for domestic problems at his doorstep, Gergen said.

"The war changed that perception and people started to blame Bush" for problems in this country," Gergen said. With Bush now seen as decisive through his actions during the Gulf War, people concluded that if he didn't fix the economy and other problems, it was "because he just didn't give a damn."

That change in perception, combined with an arrogance in the White House that "blinded them to the problems of the country," led to a disastrous campaign; one Gergen termed the worst in modern political history.

Unfortunately, for the Bush campaign, it ran into the Clinton campaign, which Gergen called the best presidential campaign in modern political history.

Gergen concluded his remarks with some high hopes for Clinton proposals to invest heavily over the next four years in the work skills of young people and the rest of the labor force.

We've got to make a high school diploma mean something again and help people finds ways to support themselves, he said.

He said those kinds of efforts along with his sense that the nation is at a point in history when people want to find common ground and work together for a brighter future should give everyone a sense that the nation will work it way of its problems.

Quoting from Churchill, he said, "Count on Americans to do the right thing after they have exhausted all other options."
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Title Annotation:David Gergen, Bill Clinton
Author:Mahoney, John K.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Dec 7, 1992
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