Amongst Friends, Clinton Discusses Urban Renewal

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens to remarks as she takes part in a Center for American Progress roundtable discussion on "Expanding Opportunities in America's Urban Areas" in Washington March 23, 2015. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

At the very hour when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz became the first candidate to formally confess his 2016 Presidential aspirations from the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University, the leading likely Democratic applicant for that same job was attending a different tent revival. Hillary Clinton was on a panel at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank helmed by longtime Clinton stalwart John Podesta who will likely take a leave his post soon to direct a presidential campaign.

In what was likely to be one of her last public events before her expected April announcement, Mrs. Clinton in that most Clintonian of fora—the roundtable discussion—discussed the needs of American cities. She gave a seven-minute speech and then stayed for an hour and half more, nodding and listening (another Clintonian gesture) to union leaders, businesspeople and two rising young Democratic political stars including HUD Secretary Julian Castro--who has been mentioned as a possible Hillary veep. )

Among the topics covered: the tale of two cities of Pittsburgh and Detroit, both blighted and failing at the same time, one now in bankruptcy and the other listed as one of the finest places to live in America; what to do about crumbling infrastructure, and how one STEM job in a tech alley spawns five more.

Almost everyone in the room agreed on and mentioned the need to demolish the “silo”—the four-letter word du jour in government and management-speak these days referring to fiefdoms within organizations that don’t collaborate.

Mrs. Clinton reminded the room that as the junior Senator from New York, she didn’t just represent booming New York City, but more economically troubled urban centers like Binghamton, Buffalo and Syracuse. She made three points in her three-minute presentation. She suggested that she’d do “a mapping” of cities crumbling infrastructure needs; do more in terms of “human infrastructure” with pre-K and job training; and encourage social mobility which is akin to encouraging kindness—easier said than done.

Labor leaders Randi Weingarten (American Federation of Teachers) and Lee Saunders (AFSCME) joined Mrs. Clinton for the panel which guaranteed a less-than-combative session. They discussed public-private partnerships, job training and, yes, tearing down “silos” to revitalize urban areas like Detroit.

“There is a tragedy going on in our urban centers,” said Saunders. His union of 1.6 million government employees is a reliable power base for Clinton is also under heavy assault in states with Republican governors .

Mrs. Clinton praised the Clinton Global Foundation twice which is not entirely shocking. CGI was “the convenor,” she said, for a large job training program run by the AFT that Mrs. Clinton said “retrofit tens of thousands of people to do jobs.” She also praised the CGI’s “Job One” program for aiming at youth unemployment. Mrs. Clinton announced the program last June, which procured commitments from 16 businesses like Microsoft, J.P. Morgan and Gap to mentor, train and hire out-of-work youth.

Mrs. Clinton’s celebrity was almost dimmed for a minute by Compton Mayor Aja Brown, the youngest mayor in America,. Aformer urban planner, she gave a succinct recounting of how she’d hosted 50 gang members and coaxed them to make peace, dropping the city’s legendary crime rate by 40 percent, and shuttering rent-by-the-hour motels that are a den of underage prostitution.

After Brown spoke, Mrs. Clinton suggested the California mayor might be back in Washington holding higher office. “Mayor, don’t be surprised if you get a call. And maybe we will start not too far from here, in a beautiful domed building.”

“I love sessions like this,” Clinton said in her concluding statement. “It’s nice to get back into an evidence-based discussion about what works and to try to learn from examples that can teach us all a lot of lessons.” She mentioned, en passant, the need to end “unproductive discussions” in “ideological bunkers.”

With that, the participants and presumptive front running Democrat filed out of her liberal silo and back into the pigpen of American politics.