ON Thursday, President Obama fulfilled a campaign pledge to make Americas cities a priority when he established a new White House Office of Urban Affairs. But what direction will it take? The stimulus packages old-liberal approach to welfare, education and other social issues raises fears that Obama is turning his back on a generation of young, black, reform mayors.
Dynamic, innovative leaders such as Washingtons Adrian Fenty, Philadelphias Michael Nutter and Newarks Cory Booker are forging a new postpartisan, postracial style of governing - and making great strides in addressing the real problems of our urban centers.
Start with Newarks Mayor Booker. Two years ago, he took heat for appointing Garry McCarthy, a white NYPD veteran, as police chief for the largely African-American city. McCarthy quickly reoriented the department around the “broken windows” policing methods that proved so successful in New York and other cities. The result: Newarks murder rate plunged by 32 percent last year.
The old Al Sharpton brand of racial-grievance politics suggests that aggressively policing minority neighborhoods is racist. But Booker understands that low-income minorities suffer most from violent crime, and that safe streets are essential to the economic revitalization of urban America.
Along with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Booker is also at the vanguard of an important new effort to apply the lessons of welfare reforms success. In the 90s, reform moved millions of women from lives of ruinous government dependency into the work force. The next step is to address the plight of poor men, particularly the 700,000 ex-offenders released from prison each year.
We now do little during or after incarceration to help ex-offenders re-enter society. As a result, studies show, two-thirds will be re-arrested within three years. Yet, while felons dont engender much public sympathy, a consensus is developing across the political spectrum that steps must be taken to address the criminal-justice systems revolving door.
Both Booker and Nutter have launched innovative programs that help to quickly transition ex-offenders - mostly young black men - out of the criminal justice system and into the work force. Early indications are that this approach is working, even in these difficult economic times.
In Newark, Booker has brought in America Works to help find jobs for young men on probation - before they enter prison. Over the past seven months, nearly 200 job placements have been made with a retention rate of 95 percent. Another program targeting recently-released prisoners has resulted in more than 300 more job placements over the past year.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter is applying similarly creative thinking to the issue of prisoner re-entry, offering tax credits to businesses that hire ex-offenders and forming a job-placement alliance with Goodwill Industries.
Most important, the mayors have made a strong commitment to real education reform, including high standards and accountability for students and teachers, plus support for charter schools, greater choice and competition.
Nowhere is this new thinking on education more evident than in Washington, DC, where Mayor Adrian Fenty fought for mayoral control over the school system - widely deemed the nations worst - and then convinced the dynamic Michelle Rhee to serve as his schools chancellor.
Over the past 18 months, Rhee has closed nearly two dozen failing schools and removed scores of ineffective principals and administrators. With Fentys full support, she is now turning her efforts to improving teacher quality, and she has offered the districts educators a “grand bargain”: greater accountability, including reforms to teacher tenure, in exchange for a nearly 100-percent increase in pay for effective teachers. Predictably, intransigent teachers-union officials are fighting her efforts tooth and nail.
The future of education reform in Washington, and what impact the Obama administration might have, are subjects of intense discussion in education-policy circles. As Mayor Fenty told Politico recently, “The muscle of the federal government in coming in and standing up and saying we have to find a new way of rewarding teachers is absolutely necessary right now.”
If President Obama were to stand up to the teachers unions and lend his support to the Herculean efforts that Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee have made to transform the DC schools, it would represent a sea change in education policy and provide tangible evidence that Obama truly is the post-partisan reformer that he claims to be.
In his inaugural address, Obama called for a new era of seriousness and responsibility in our national politics and a nonpartisan focus on what “works.” The mayors of Newark, Philadelphia and Washington DC epitomize this new, pragmatic style of governing.
As the new White House office formulates the Obama urban agenda, it should follow the lead of these pioneering mayors on issues such as crime, prisoner re-entry and, most importantly, education. Rather than just dole out cash to cities, the administration has an opportunity to forge a new urban-policy paradigm.
That would represent change by anyones definition.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/item_ywdfXJQ4YbYiPDoQruPgXK