Standing on the east bank of the Maumee River yesterday, the mayors of four large Ohio cities called on Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Republican President Bush to say what they would do to rebuild America's cities.
"We are pressing our case because Ohio is the epicenter of this presidential campaign," Toledo Mayor Jack Ford said. "Whoever wins Ohio will be the next president of the United States. We're asking the candidates to come out now and tell
us what are you going to do to move the metro areas forward."
Mr. Ford was joined by Mayors Jane Campbell of Cleveland, Don Plusquellic of Akron, and Rhine McLin of Dayton. They participated in a two-day U.S. Conference of Mayors bus tour that started in Columbus and ended in Cleveland. Mr. Ford did not continue on to Cleveland.
The conference's economic report shows that Ohio ranked last in the country in job growth over the last four years and that Ohio lost $13.9 billion in wages as a result of job cutbacks.
Mr. Plusquellic, president of the conference, chided the assembled media, suggesting they were letting the presidential candidates get away with debating frivolous topics, such as hairstyles and neckties.
"When they start debating, we hope they're not talking about Iraq and Purple Hearts and what you did in the National Guard, but about cities," Mr. Plusquellic said.
He said that Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush should address housing, cleaning up former industrial sites, and paying for public safety and homeland security.
Mr. Plusquellic said the candidates should also address the issue of unfunded mandates, and alluded to Toledo's 12-year legal battle with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the dumping of untreated sewage in the Maumee River - and its $450 million price tag.
"Pay part of the bill," Mr. Plusquellic said in an open challenge to the federal government.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors invited Mr. Kerry and President Bush to address its meeting planned for Akron Oct. 7-9.
Yesterday's event was held on vacant industrial land in East Toledo adjacent to the Pilkington North America glass plant that straddles the Toledo-Rossford border. The city and the state have announced plans to invest $4 million to develop a 44-acre market-rate housing community on the site.
The mayors insisted their tour was nonpartisan, even though the four mayors are Democrats and Mr. Ford was a Kerry delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
However, in her remarks, Ms. Campbell pointedly omitted President Bush's name among the Republican presidents she said have worked cooperatively with the cities.
"Unfortunately, we have seen the federal government move away from those investments," Ms. Campbell said.
Two Republican mayors, James Garner of Hempstead, N.Y., the conference's past president, and Michael Guido of Dearborn, Mich., were scheduled to join the tour but did not, Mr. Ford's spokesman, Megan Vahey, said.
Spokesmen for both presidential candidates said they have addressed the cities' concerns whenever they've been in Ohio. They were not sure whether the candidates had committed to the October mayors meeting in Akron.
Kevin Madden, a Bush spokesman, said the President "has helped urban communities revitalize," citing the President's initiatives to reduce income taxes and streamline business regulations. "And we've seen jobs come back," he said.
Brendon Cull, spokesman for the Democratic Party in Ohio, said Mr. Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, "have a detailed plan to help America's cities by increasing access to homeland security funds and to stimulate investment in the cities."
The U.S. Conference of Mayors paid for the trip, Executive Director J. Thomas Cochran said. He noted that the conference gets 18 percent of its annual $13 million budget from member city dues. Toledo's dues this year were $13,700.
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