DETROIT - Sen. John Kerry hammered President Bush on double-digit unemployment figures for African-Americans and criticized his stands on health care, insurance, taxes, and fighting crime during his speech yesterday to the National Urban League.
Mr. Kerry was interrupted repeatedly by applause during his 50-minute speech to about 4,000 members at the league's annual conference. Mr. Bush will speak to the same audience at 10 a.m. today at the Marriott Renaissance Center.
Mr. Kerry drew a standing ovation at Cobo Center when he challenged Mr. Bush for what he called the administration's indifference to early childhood development programs such as Head Start while the prison population of young African-American males skyrockets.
"I believe we have to stop being a nation content to spend as much as $50,000 a year to keep a young person in prison for life, when we can spend $10,000 a year to give them Head Start, Early Start, Smart Start, and the best possible start in life," Mr. Kerry said.
National Urban League President Marc Morial said issues of crime and lack of rehabilitation opportunities resonated with the core membership.
"He touched on a lot of issues we wanted to hear about and there was substance there," Mr. Morial said. "It was important for us to hear plans, and he did that in addressing how he wanted to support small and minority businesses and cities."
Mr. Kerry seemed to accept Mr. Morial's challenge to debate the President on civil rights and urban issues.
"The issues we're grappling with today are especially important, and I'm happy to discuss them anywhere, any time, with any American," Mr. Kerry said.
Mr. Kerry said the Bush administration's budget would slash Section 8 vouchers by $1 billion, cutting 250,000 families from housing assistance. He said the administration threatens to cut the Hope VI program for revitalizing distressed public housing.
"Programs like Section 8 and Hope VI are just the right kind of community-based solutions some people need on the road to home ownership," he said. "When I'm president, we will strengthen, not weaken these bridges of opportunity."
Mr. Kerry questioned the current economic recovery, citing the latest labor statistics that put unemployment at 10 percent for blacks, double that of white Americans. He said many of the new jobs created under Mr. Bush are not paying well nor do they come with benefits.
"It is unacceptable in the wealthiest nation on earth that we tolerate vast and growing pockets of poverty," Mr. Kerry said.
Deborah Barnett, second vice president of the Greater Toledo Urban League, said she plans to rearrange her schedule to hear President Bush speak. Ms. Barnett, a member of the Toledo Board of Education, said Mr. Kerry touched on many key concerns of the Urban League and wants to hear how Mr. Bush will respond to them.
Woody Adams, a Toledo Republican and former mayoral candidate, said he was disappointed Mr. Kerry didn't touch on issues such as foreign policy and homeland security.
"He didn't say anything on how he plans to protect this country," Mr. Adams said.
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