FROM THE D TRAIN TO DENVER

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Some 320 New Yorkers are delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver this week, the second-largest delegation in the country. Well over half this group comes from New York City. What role does this group of party officials and other prominent Democrats play in setting an urban agenda for the Democratic party, and in turn, for its general election candidate? We surveyed a sampling of delegates, from a Bronx Clinton supporter to a Manhattan Obama-ite, to weigh in.

Liz Abzug
Occupation: Adjunct Professor of urban studies at Barnard and Columbia; President, Liz Abzug Consultant Services; President and co-founder, Bella Abzug Leadership Institute (and daughter of the late activist and Congresswoman Bella Abzug)
Borough: Manhattan
Pledged to: Obama

How did you become a delegate?
I have deep experience as a feminist activist—the Bella Abzug Institute fosters young women’s leadership. I began working at the Obama campaign’s central office in Chicago as an unpaid advisor on women constituencies, and they asked me to put in my application.

What does Obama’s urban agenda mean for New York?
With a Democratic president we always do much better in terms of urban core issues. I think under Obama there will be more money spent on urban development, not just on the urban cores but also on exurban and suburban towns. We all have the same issues: immigration, affordable housing, job creation. It’s just a matter of dimension and size.

Obama’s urban policy plan suggests the Harlem Children’s Zone as a model
for a “Promise Neighborhoods” program. How else do you see New York influencing urban policy nationwide?

I think as we have in the past—by serving as a model for urban development structures, pilot jobs and housing projects. New York is a great testing ground, because we have 8 million people and extremes of the problems.

What role does the New York delegation have in mending the rift between Obama and Clinton supporters?
I have many friends who were Hillary partisans—most are coming over, but some are still acting like they’re personally hurt. All the Obama delegates I know have been talking to friends, saying we have to move on. It was hard, because I’ve spent a great deal of my life fighting for women in leadership positions, but in this case I had a strong feeling that we need a new breath of leadership.

What’s your least favorite aspect of the convention?
I was exposed to politics at a very young age, so I’m a little war-torn. I was in high school when my mom was elected, and I got schlepped to a lot of events early on. Bottom line, I wish there were more serious discussions of what we need to do in the country.

Sal Albanese
Occupation: Managing Director, Mesirow Financial; former City Council member from Bay Ridge and 1997 mayoral candidate.
Borough: Brooklyn
Pledged to: Obama

Obama wants to create a White House Office on Urban Policy to develop an overall strategy for metropolitan areas. Do you have any suggestions as to what it should do?
Having a director of urban policy reporting straight to the president, that gesture alone is huge. It’s practically a cabinet post. The office should provide an accounting tool for the money that filters down to cities, and a sort of unifying vision for how it gets spent.

What does Obama’s urban agenda mean for New York City?
There will be more federal funds for things like affordable housing and education. I think Obama will make a real effort, as opposed to the scattershot approach we have now. When you examine Obama’s record, you know, Chicago is one of the truly great cities, and Obama understands cities. He worked as an organizer, and that’s important for an urban agenda.

What role does the New York delegation have in creating party unity?
If we can bring Clinton and Obama supporters together in this state, we’ll make a difference by establishing an example for the other delegates. We all have to make a real effort to show there are no rifts, no resentments.

Adolfo Carrión
Occupation: Borough President
Borough: Bronx
Pledged to: Originally Clinton, but plans to vote for Obama

What does Obama’s urban agenda mean for New York City?
For the first time in eight years, we will get the kind of support every major metropolitan area needs. This means resources for infrastructure, education, housing, and security. New York and other major American cities are the engine of our economy. We need a White House that understands this, and Senator Obama does.

How do you see New York influencing urban policy nationwide?
With a president who is committed to urban America and the leadership of Congressman Charles Rangel as chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and very strong U.S. Senators—one a former presidential candidate and the other a leader in the Senate—we will definitely influence national urban policy, let alone all U.S. policy.

What role does the New York delegation have in creating party unity?
We play a key role, being from Senator Clinton’s state, and having been her early supporters. I believe Senator Obama understands that the success of his candidacy is inextricably linked to the 18 million voters who supported Senator Clinton and the many political and community leaders who worked hard to get her message out. It places the New York delegation in a place of great importance at this convention.

How much influence do you think the convention platform really has on the presidential nominee’s eventual policy stances?
Democrats know and generally support the platform of our party’s presumptive nominee. What will happen at the convention is the state and regional jockeying for priorities of a potential new administration. Much of the vetting of the issues and policy positions has already occurred through the long and arduous primary battle.

Malcolm Smith
Occupation: State Senate Minority Leader
Borough: Queens (District 14—Jamaica/Rockaway)
Pledged to: Originally Clinton, but plans to vote for Obama

Obama’s urban policy plan suggests the Harlem Children’s Zone as a model for a “Promise Neighborhoods” program. How else do you see New York influencing urban policy nationwide?
New York City has been a model for so many successes all over the world—the Harlem Children’s Zone is just one example. Our country is becoming more and more diversified, which may be a new phenomenon to some, but in New York City, it is part of our history and heritage. We look forward to being a role model for the rest of this great nation as it continues to grow and diversify.

Do you have any suggestions for what the proposed White House Office on Urban Policy should do?
First, I applaud Senator Obama and his focus on this very important initiative. Right now, I believe we need to focus all of our resources on fixing the domestic blights that have befallen us under the Bush administration.

What role does the New York delegation have in mending the rift between Obama and Clinton supporters?
I think the New York delegation has an enormous opportunity to demonstrate to the world that though we have supported different candidates, our ideology remains solid and consistent. We are Democrats, through and through—that is the bottom line.

How much influence do you think the convention platform really has on the presidential nominee’s eventual policy stances?
It depends largely on the platform itself, as well as character of the candidate in question. I think Obama has his own ideas on how things should work once he is elected President, but I also know that he is fair-minded and willing to listen to what others have to say. I think these are tremendous qualities for any candidate to have, and I have no doubt that he will do the right thing in the end.

– Lindsey McCormack

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