Barack Obama was elected, urbanists were, in some cases literally,
dancing in the streets. For once, America had elected a president who
understood the importance of cities — and who promised to create an
"Office for Urban Policy" that would help those cities to take their
rightful place in the federal policy debate.
But, as Dayo Olopade of The Root
reports today in a piece called "What Happened to Obama’s Office of
Urban Policy," that office has been slow to take shape, or show any
indication of wielding serious influence:
about the potential triumph of urban policy may be premature. In recent
weeks, the Obama administration has begun referring to the office as
"urban affairs," rather than "urban policy," a small but notable
downgrade. And while other offices and Cabinet agencies have been
staffing up — the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
has representation in 12 government agencies — 100 days in, urban
affairs has announced only two senior staffers: Derek Douglas, who was
special adviser to New York Gov. David Paterson, and former Bronx
Borough President Adolfo Carrión, Jr., who faces allegations of mismanaging campaign donations and development projects in New York City.…
urgency of dealing with the recession in these first 100 days has made
the slow rollout of the office worrisome for some local officials.
Caroline Coleman, federal relations director of the National League of
Cities, says cities have been pummeled by the economic downturn. For
the first time in the 24-year history of the organization’s City Fiscal Conditions report,
the three primary sources of revenue for urban centers — property,
sales and income taxes — all experienced a quarterly decrease. "What
we’re seeing reflected in the national news is hitting hometown urban
America every day," says Coleman.
Olopade points out that the selection of Carrión,
a local pol with no experience at the national policy level, was
perplexing to some who have been watching the process. She quotes Diana
Lind, editor of Next American City: "[He] doesn’t have a lot of experience in dealing with federal policy. How could you give somebody like Adolfo Carrión control
over, say the transportation laws in Milwaukee? It’s a hard leap to make."