In a week that saw an uptick in the unemployment rate to 9.8 percent and Congress failing to extend unemployment benefits for two million jobless Americans, President Obama invited the nation’s newly elected governors to the White House to enlist their help in turning around our struggling economy. This was more than a symbolic gesture. The President understands that when it comes to the issues of jobs and deficit-reducing tax policies, state and local governments are, as he put it, “where the rubber hits the road.”
As a result of the mid-term elections, the balance of power has shifted both in Congress and in state houses, making it harder to enact a progressive agenda that puts the interests of working and middle class Americans first. With that backdrop, the President challenged the new governors to put aside partisan labels and work with him to bring jobs back to urban and rural communities. Fortunately among the incoming class of governors, several of whom won re-election for second terms, there are some real champions for cities. For example:
California’s new governor, Jerry Brown has held practically every major elected office in that state, including two previous terms as governor from 1975-1983. He has also served as California Secretary of State, mayor of Oakland and most recently as the State’s Attorney General. Brown’s political career has always been rooted in progressive values. His experience as mayor of Oakland gives him a hands-on understanding of both the problems and potentials in our cities.
Andrew Cuomo also brings special insight into the needs of cities to his new job as Governor of New York. Much of his career has focused on helping disadvantage people in cities. In 1986, he founded Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged (HELP) which has become a national model of self-reliance and empowerment for the homeless. Cuomo has also served as New York State Attorney General and as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He was Chairman of the New York City Homeless Commission under Mayor David Dinkins.
Martin O’Malley, who won re-election to a second term as governor of Maryland, is a former two-term mayor of Baltimore. O’Malley was also just elected chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. He has vowed that “Democratic governors will lead the way back to our party’s resurgence,” and urged his fellow Democratic governors not to run away from progressive values.
Deval Patrick won re-election as Governor of Massachusetts. With the imminent departure of New York Governor David Paterson, he will be the only African American governor in the country. Governor Patrick rose from a tough childhood in inner city Chicago to become a graduate of Harvard Law School. He went on to become a civil rights lawyer with the NAACP and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Clinton Justice Department.
While Brown, Cuomo, O’Malley and Patrick are not the only progressive governors who will take office in January, their states contain some of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas and will be indicators of how well the nation is doing in the effort to bring jobs and prosperity back to our cities.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.