Cities Said to Lose Political Clout Elections Expert Says Urban Giants Are 'Invisible' in National Elections

Article excerpt

THE dominant strategy of presidential candidates this election year is to emphasize issues of economic concern to the suburban middle class.

This is an especially troublesome fact for big cities. It is a stark reminder of how their place on any political map, as a reflection of political power, has shrunk and why.

"The idea of a city simply does not compute as demonstrably as it did in the 1960s or early '70s," says Donald A. Hicks, a professor of political economy at the University of Texas in Dallas.

"Cities are politically invisible {in a national election} because they became economically invisible," he says. Downtown economic power where the buildings are is the image but not the reality.

The 1990 census data reveal that the newest and fastest-growing areas of economic growth are now more likely to be found on the edges of a metropolitan center than at its core, as well as in the Sun Belt and Western portions of the country. Fast-growth metropolitan areas like Seattle, Atlanta, or Orlando have economic "grappling hooks to the outer world," says Mr. Hicks.

For the first time in United States history, a majority of Americans live in metropolitan areas of a million residents or more - almost 125 million people, or a little more than half the nation's total of 249.6 million. The bulk of the population in these metropolitan areas lives in suburbs. Of the 39 metropolitan areas of a million or more people, only eight have cities of a million-plus at their core.

Further eroding the political clout of cities in national elections is the fact that the scheduling of the early primaries ignores urban issues, says David Bositis, senior research associate at the Washington-based Joint Center for Policy Studies.

The New Hampshire and early Southern primaries comprise decidedly nonurban populations. This, plus the fact that in the last two presidential election cycles Jesse Jackson had a lock on the black vote (overwhelmingly urban in the North), and America's big cities had little if any role in the presidential selection process, Mr. Bositis says.

This concern is shared by Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn (D), president of the United States Conference of Mayors. "The present primary system is a deck stacked against America's great cities, and we've already been dealt out," he told an audience at Brown University in Providence, R.I., last week.

Not one of the 50 largest US cities participates in the first four primaries and caucus states. Mayor Flynn has called for the dismantling of the Super Tuesday state primaries to be replaced by a nationwide urban primary in 1996. …