Empower Cities to Solve Problems, Clinton Says Urban Areas Are the Economic and Cultural Lifeblood of the Nation, President Declares in Interview

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Here are excerpts of President Bill Clinton's interview with members of the Post-Dispatch editorial staff on Friday afternoon:

Q.: IF THERE'S one thing that you might say as a result of this that you could leave behind for the cities, what would it be?

Clinton: A legacy of commitment to their economic revitalization and to empowering them to solve their social problems. Obviously it is not an easy thing to do. The economic issue is made more difficult by the size of the federal deficit which we are trying to address, and I'll come back to that.

The social problems are just because they've been a generation in building. You can't turn them around overnight. If I might, I think that I made a decision which I think was the right decision. The first thing I had to do was get the overall health of the American economy back in order. And to try to concentrate on revitalizing some of our most basic parts of our economy.

We now know that we're going to have three years of deficit reduction, baring some totally unforeseen development, in a row for the first time since Truman was president. Our job growth is proceeding along quite well.

. . .In terms of other economic initiatives, I have done everything I could working with the Congress to make the cities more attractive as places for investment with the empowerment zone legislation, and we'll have the first empowerment zones designated in the not too distant future. As you know, St. Louis has entered an application and they've worked very hard on it here. The mayor talked to me about it today.

What I'm hoping will happen is that the quality and the number of those applications will be so great that it will persuade the Congress that we have to increase the number of them. . . . We also have tried to strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act, the community development banks, and increase the availability of educational training . . .

Dealing with the social problems, we've increased Head Start, we've increased investment in the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, we've passed the unearned income tax credit, which will make work more attractive than welfare and reward low-wage workers.

We're working on health care, welfare reform, and the crime bill makes it a large amount of money - about $8 billion - for prevention programs which will overwhelmingly flow into the urban areas. We'll try to help deal with a lot of the problems that afflict our young people and I think all these things will be quite helpful. So I think we're moving in the right direction.

. . . The cities still are in many ways the economic and cultural life blood of our country. They also have most of our diversity which will either be the source of our undoing or our secret to continued prosperity in the 21st century, depending on how we handle it. Another reason I've been so concerned by the attempt to sort of transform our politics from the debate over how to make the most of our potential and how to get this country together and who can most successfully divide the American people based on cultural or racial or ethnic lines.

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Q.: You spoke of wanting to revitalize the cities. When you say that, would your policy be aimed at restoring the cities to what they were, say, in the 1950s, or do you perceive some different economic role for cities in the context of metropolitan areas?

Clinton: I think the cities will be different from what they were in the 1950s. First of all, the country is simply much more diverse than it was then. But what I want to do is try to find a way for the cities to be places where there will be beacons of opportunity. Our urban areas have always had a significant number of our poor people, particularly new Americans. But they have also been viewed traditionally as beacons of opportunity. I want to make sure that we can restore the conditions of civilized life and strong communities to our cities, and I want people who live in our cities to have a sense that they all matter and that their problems can be solved. …