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Nation awaits long term strategies for change.

In February, I had the opportunity to visit with David Ginsburg, the former staff director for the National Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission. The key conclusion of this commission was the most-often quoted sentence from its final report: "our nation is moving toward two Americas, one white and one black--separate and unequal."

This commission set forth an agenda for action, which, tragically, was not followed.

During our visit, the former Staff Director pointed out that the Kerner Commission got the attention of President Johnson and the public because 135 cities were burning. He suggested the current needs of cities and towns--physical infrastructure, neglect of large parts or our population, children, poor, and homeless--will continue to be ignored until some event galvanized public attention.

At the time, I hoped he was wrong.

Unfortunately, he was right.

Today, some 30 years after, the conclusion of the Kerner report continues to be at the root of what is possibly the most pressing political reality of our nation. Perhaps the only difference is that it is no longer a black and white issue...It has now become black, white, asian and hispanic.

The tragic events in Los Angeles provide a wake-up call for America.

For the moment, we have captured the attention of the President, the Congress, and the public on the importance of addressing the human, physical, and fiscal needs of our communities.

The role of NLC and the leaders of our cities and towns at this moment is to force attention to the needs in our communities and action on a long-term investment strategy rather than a quick fix response. In the late 60s, there was at least a sense of hope. Now, pollsters and writers are suggesting, that for a growing segment of the population, there is little hope or expectation of change.

Those who serve in the public sector have not given up and, indeed, have been enormously creative in large and small ways with limited resources. Even when revenue limitations make it difficult to improve the quality of life or services, today's public leaders work to ensure that innovative initiatives maintain minimal service levels. Local elected officials must provide a voice for hope.

Earlier this year, the leadership of the National League of Cities developed a proposal for a National Community Investment Initiative to present to President Bush. The objective was to generate Administration support for a clear agenda on the needs of citizens in America's cities. Focusing on families, the proposal dramatized the neglect of the resources and needs of cities as manifested in the effect on citizens.

Specifically, NLC proposed a major transfer of no less than $3 billion out of national defense spending into a national community agenda to invest in human infrastructure and the creation of a commission similar to the Kerner Commission of the late sixties with a prestigious representation such that its findings and recommendations would guarantee public recognition of the central importance of investing in communities to ensure economic security and opportunity.

Let us heed the wake up call this time.

America has always been a symbol to others of a place where jobs could be found, where children were well educated and where all of its citizens enjoyed a decent quality of life. We must renew our commitment to ensure that for America's own, that symbolism become reality.

Our task is to identify and aggressively pursue a long-term action plan that will not fade from public view as other issues capture the headlines on television and in our newspapers. We must frame a strategy that can be embraced by all levels of government and the private sector to lift capital and human investment at least 100 per cent over current levels. Our challenge is to eliminate obsolete federal spending, mandating on cities and budget priorities, and voice a vision and commitment, and requisition resources as was demonstrated in Operation Desert Storm. It must be the same scope, intensity, and effort to reach out to leaders across the nation with the same expectation, sacrifice, and participation.

Our strategy must include massive public works programs to build a nation for the 21st century, restore our eroding foundations, and provide for a competive position in the international economy. It must be coupled with education and training programs.

And finally, we must have a major long-term, comprehensive economic conversion plan to ensure a transition to a peace-time economy, jobs and opportunities for those in affected communities, as well as jobs for the tens of thousands of returning veterans.

These are long term; they are fundamental changes in the way we set national priorities for the next decade or more. Local officials have demonstrated leadership in their own communities.

Now that we have a moment of public recognition, we must seize it to marshall the political will to change. Ten years from now, our children must be able to look back to the leaders of the 1990s who created positive long-term change.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Report: Stepping Up to the Issues of Race and Economics
Author:Borut, Donald J.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 18, 1992
Previous Article:City and county help addicts with CARE.
Next Article:NCBI helps cities face, resolve hard racial realities.

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