Obama’s Touted Office of Urban Policy Slow to Take Shape

urbanpolicy_1.jpgWhen 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:

[C]elebrations 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.…

[T]he 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."