What Does the Democratic Platform Say to Cities?

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The platform that Hillary Clinton will run on is decidedly more progressive than those attached to nominees Al Gore (2000), John Kerry (2004) or Barack Obama (2008 and 2012), including on issues that matter to cities.

Liz Roll, Stlphotog~commonswiki, Will White, Gage Skidmore

The platform that Hillary Clinton will run on is decidedly more progressive than those attached to nominees Al Gore (2000), John Kerry (2004) or Barack Obama (2008 and 2012), including on issues that matter to cities.

Let’s get one thing straight: Voters vote for candidates, or maybe for parties, but not for platforms. Choosing a president comes down to personality, a couple big ideas and maybe a policy or two. Hillary Clinton’s positions on the sovereignty of Indian nations or civil society as a foreign-policy goal—both addressed in the draft 2016 Democratic platform—are unlikely to be mentioned, ever, during the rest of the campaign.

But platforms are statements of beliefs, and while parties and elected officials don’t always succeed, or even try, to live according to their professed positions, it is handy to at least know what they profess to believe.

If that’s the case, does it matter that this year’s Democratic manifesto mentions “cities” only twice, whereas that word was used 10 times in 2012? Should urbanites worry that, as is often the case, rural areas are singled out, albeit briefly, in the Democrats’ 2016 statement of principles, while urban areas are not? For those hoping for an explicit urban policy, those inclusions or omissions matter. But for others who are satisfied to see issues that matter much—and perhaps most—to cities addressed outside of a dedicated “here’s our cities policy” context, it’s what’s in the platform, rather than what’s been left out, that’s worth a read.

Here are some highlights:

1. Housing

Where Donald Trump rooted for the housing crisis, Democrats will continue to fight for those families who suffered the loss of their homes. We will help those who are working toward a path of financial stability and will put sustainable home ownership into the reach of more families. Democrats will also combat the affordable housing crisis and skyrocketing rents in many parts of the country that are leading too many families and workers to be pushed out of communities where they work.

We will increase the supply of affordable rental housing by expanding incentives and easing local barriers to building new affordable rental housing developments in areas of economic opportunity. We will substantially increase funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to construct, preserve, and rehabilitate millions of affordable housing rental units. Not only will this help address the affordable housing crisis, it will also create millions of good-paying jobs in the process. Democrats also believe that we should provide more federal resources to the people struggling most with unaffordable housing: low-income families, people with disabilities, veterans, and the elderly.

We will reinvigorate federal housing production programs, increase resources to repair public housing, and increase funding for the housing choice voucher program. And we will fight for sufficient funding to end chronic homelessness.

We must make sure that everyone has a fair shot at homeownership. We will lift up more families and keep the housing market robust and inclusive by defending and strengthening the Fair Housing Act. We will also support first time homebuyers, implement credit score reform to make the credit industry work for borrowers and not just lenders, and prevent predatory lending by defending the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). And we will help underwater homeowners by expanding foreclosure mitigation counseling.

2. Infrastructure

If we are serious about reversing the decline of the middle class, we need a major federal jobs program that puts millions of Americans back to work in decent paying jobs in both the public and private sectors. We will make the most ambitious investment in American infrastructure since President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system. We will put Americans to work updating and expanding our roads, bridges, public transit, airports, and passenger and freight rail lines. We will build 21st century energy and water systems, modernize our schools, and continue to support the expansion of high-speed broadband networks. We will protect communities from the impact of climate change by investing in green and resilient infrastructure. These investments will create secure, good-paying middle-class jobs today and will substantially increase demand for American-made steel and other products manufactured in the United States. And by boosting economic growth in a fair and equitable way, and strengthening our long-term competitiveness, these investments will create many more jobs in the years to come.

Democrats will also create an independent, national infrastructure bank that will support critical infrastructure improvements. The bank will provide loans and other financial assistance for investments in energy, water, broadband, transportation, and multi-modal infrastructure projects.

3. Youth Jobs

Democrats will create millions of jobs for our young people. Roughly one in ten Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 is unemployed, more than twice the national average. The unemployment rates for African American, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), and American Indian teenagers are far too high. That is why Democrats will provide direct federal funding for a range of local programs that will put young people to work and create new career opportunities.

4. Policing and criminal justice

We will invest in training for officers on issues such as de-escalation and the appropriate use of force, and encourage better police-community relations and the use of smart strategies like police body cameras. We will end racial profiling that targets individuals, based solely on race, religion, ethnicity, and national origin, which is un-American and counterproductive. We support states and localities that choose to make the investigations and prosecutions of police-involved shootings more independent and transparent, including through reforming the grand jury process.

And we will explore reforms of the civil asset forfeiture system. Instead of investing in more jails and incarceration, we need to provide greater investment in jobs and education, and end to the school-to-prison pipeline. We will remove barriers to help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter society by banning the box, expanding reentry programs, and restoring voting rights. We will prioritize treatment over incarceration in tackling addiction and substance use disorder. This means significantly expanding treatment in this country for people struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact, with arrest rates for marijuana possession among African Americans far outstripping arrest rates among whites, despite similar usage rates.

5. Poverty

Democrats will develop a national strategy to combat poverty, coordinated across all levels of government. We will direct more federal resources to lifting up communities that have been left out and left behind, such as the 10-20-30 model, which directs 10 percent of program funds to communities where at least 20 percent of the population has been living below the poverty line for 30 years or more. We will also focus on communities that suffer from persistent poverty, including empowerment zones and areas that targeted government data indicate are in persistent poverty. Democrats will also protect and expand proven programs, including robust support for nutrition assistance to stop people from going hungry as well as programs that help people grow their skills and provide training opportunities. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program should be expanded for low-wage workers not raising children, including extending the credit to young workers starting at age 21. The Child Tax Credit (CTC) should be indexed to inflation to stem the erosion of the credit.

Democrats will also do more to invest in our most distressed communities—from our cities to coal country to the Rust Belt. We will create good-paying jobs and enhance opportunities by investing in small business, youth employment, and reentry programs for formerly incarcerated people. We will improve safety by repairing crumbling infrastructure in communities that need it most as well as on tribal lands. And we will make investments in housing near good jobs and good schools.

6. Charter schools

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We instead support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

7. Guns

With 33,000 Americans dying every year, Democrats believe that we must finally take sensible action to address gun violence. While gun ownership is part of the fabric of many communities, too many families in America have suffered from gun violence. We can respect the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping our communities safe. We will expand background checks and close dangerous loopholes in our current laws, hold irresponsible dealers and manufacturers accountable, keep weapons of war—such as assault weapons—off our streets, and ensure guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists, domestic abusers, other violent criminals, and those with severe mental health issues.

While New York City doesn’t get the direct shout-out that Washington, D.C., does (the platform calls for D.C. statehood), one policy that might have a particular effect here is the proposed “financial transactions tax on Wall Street to curb excessive speculation and high-frequency trading, which has threatened financial markets,” which could affect the five boroughs on both sides of the ledger, given how some communities have been harmed by speculation on one hand, and how traditionally important the financial industry is to the city’s budget and employment picture on the other.

At the same time, New York will certainly be affected by broader-brush policies on wages, labor, climate change (the platform calls for “building bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure across our urban and suburban areas”) and immigration, which the document describes says “is not a problem to be solved, it is a defining aspect of the American character and history.”

The platform, still officially just a draft until it is formally adopted by the convention in Philadelphia in two weeks’ time, is full of soaring language like that. But in some ways it’s the little details that stick out. The Democratic platform calls in 2016, as it did in 2008, for increasing funding for public housing; the counterparts in 2000, 2004 and 2012 didn’t even mention it.

The Republican platform is still in formation; we’ll review that when it takes shape.

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