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Public Statements

National Conference of Democratic Mayors

Location: Washington, DC

Sen. John Kerry
National Conference of Democratic Mayors -Washington, DC
January 23, 2003

I'm told by Mayor Menino that it's really good coming from Massachusetts these days, am I right?  [laughter].  Has Tom [Menino] shared with you that Massachusetts is a Wampanoack Indian name.  Translated it means land of many Kennedys. [laughter].

I want to thank Tom for his leadership and I think all of you I know join together in saying thank you to him for what he's done and we in Boston are very, very proud of his willingness to take on education particularly as the critical issue.  But it's quite remarkable in Boston for a mayor to run unopposed as Tom has and to really have the kind of just open door of the entire city and of all of the leadership there.  And he's done a great, great job.  Wellington [Webb] thank you.  Where'd Wellington go...he's stepped out?

[Webb: I'm still right here.]

Wellington thank you also.  I've been out to your great city and I've had occasion to visit with you a number of times and likewise we thank you for what you do.  And I want to thank Dick [Gephardt] for his graciousness in letting me stand up here quickly and share words with you before I have to run back to the Senate.  I don't know even if my other colleagues will get here.  I suppose if the word spreads quickly that I'm here, they're going to get here [inaud./laughter].  I see Howard's [Dean] over here.

Let me just share with you very quickly and cut to the chase.  I believe that on almost every single issue of choice facing our great nation there is a better choice than this administration is offering us today.  You name the issue and I'll tell you there is a better choice--on housing, on children, on education, on health care, on infrastructure, on transportation, on Social Security, on Medicare, on our relationships with other nations and the rest of the world.

We deserve leadership at this great moment in our nation's history that is prepared to really offer the American people truth, common sense, an effort to try to govern, to find the common ground.  You all hear the rhetoric too often.  Politicians who stand up and say, aren't you great.  You're on the front lines.  You're making the tough decisions.  You hear from citizens in the middle of the night when they call you about a snowstorm unplowed or a pothole unfilled or whatever the crisis is.  But you don't need talk.  What you need right now are the implements of government, the capacity to be able to respond to the needs of citizens and to build a legacy for your citizens.

I believe that this country deserves a president who understands the problem of cities and is prepared to create a new urban partnership, an urban strategy for the nation that recognizes that it's unacceptable to have our citizens spending hours of productivity in traffic jams because they can't find a home in or near the city where they work; that it's unacceptable in terms of the environment to have to drive more and more people [inaud. word or two] highways rather than to invest in the long-term infrastructure and transportation systems that move people and products from one place to another.

And it's unacceptable [applause] --and it's unacceptable to allow a president of the United States to go around this country making a mockery of the words "leave no child behind."  [applause].  We are forced--you are forced, we are forced together to watch millions of children be left behind on a daily basis because adults are unwilling to assume responsibility for children and make certain that we have the early childhood education, the day care, the early interventions, and the kind of schools that provide children an alternative to an early pregnancy, to an experimentation with drugs, to dropping out of school and the other choices that we [inaud.]

I was a prosecutor, my friends.  I learned a long time ago running the--one of the ten largest prosecutorial offices in the country what happens when kids 15 and 16 and 17 wind up in the court system because we adults didn't do our job either as parents or as leaders.  And you can't do that today, in many cases, because the states are losing their revenue, because you don't have a revenue base, and the great dilemma of the 1960s that was separate and equal has been translated into a new problem called separate and unequal.  Institutionalized school systems that can't meet the promise of our nation.

And if and when I'm president of the United States, my friends, I am going to make education the absolute number one domestic priority in this nation.  We're going to give those kids Smart Start, Early Start, Healthy Start, Head Start--and instead of spending $70,000 a year to house them in prison for the rest of their lives, we're going to spend $5,000 a year to give them an early childhood education opportunity to be full citizens for the rest of their life.  That's-- [applause].
I led the fight--1994--to put 100,000 cops on the streets of America.  I did it because I watched felonies outnumber cops, completely reversing the situation years ago when we had more police officers than felonies. Three to one; a few years ago it became three to one felonies to police officers.  And we knew the difference that an officer on a street corner, an officer capable of [inaud.] in the lives of people.  We passed that, 100,000 police officers in the streets of our nation, and there isn't a community here that doesn't understand the difference community policing made, the difference it made to restoring order so then as a mayor you've got the opportunity to actually talk to the businesses about locating downtown, talk to people about living downtown, translate an old building into a housing complex for seniors.

There again, I've been chairman of the Housing Committee.  Tom Menino and I have been working on trying to get a housing trust fund in this country.  A lot of people do not realize it, but housing makes a profit, but the profit goes back into the general revenues, rather than in the housing.  For ten years I've fought to get additional housing vouchers in this country.  Go to any place in America and you'll hear people talking about how they can't afford to live near where they work, how they can't afford to live, period, where they are.

So the great challenge to this nation is again to remember how you build community.  How you take a place--in the old chicken and egg thing, can you get people to come move into a community where there isn't a group of services available to them or amenities that they need and want; which comes first, the people moving there and then you attract the amenities or amenities and then you attract the people?  Look all of you know it has to happen at the same time, and there has to be leverage and partnership.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s in the politics of this country when we had a partnership between the federal government and communities.  And we did many of the great things we did to save our harbors and our rivers and our lakes and our water bodies because we had 80:20 money and 90:10 money.  The Big Dig in Boston is an example.  The Deer Island sewage plant is an example.  And countless other of your own projects are examples, but there isn't one of you that doesn't have a list of projects waiting to be attended to.

If we want to put America back to work, and we do, the way to put America back to work is invest.  You invest in our infrastructure.  It is the single best return on investment, the single fastest way to put people back into the economy, and I intend to introduce the largest investment in infrastructure this nation has ever engaged in. We're going to build high speed rail; we're going to have an effort to build energy independence; we're going to build alternatives and renewables; we're going to excite the country about the possibility of moving in a different direction; and we're going to rebuild the communities of our nation because that is in the end good for the country and it's the antidote to sprawl.

It's the way to begin to renew the ability of people to find homes they can afford and to build centers of activity that are livable and that'll raise the quality and standard of living in our great nation.  So I look forward to working on that with so many of you here and particularly, I'll end on this note.

Our legacy is the children.  The three great teachers of life are parents and extended family, teachers in school, and organized religion.  Too many of our children today in this country have none of those three.  They get what you call coping skills.
I was invited to New York a number of years ago--12 years ago to be precise.  I went up to Harlem, about 126th Street, and I wen into a brownstone building where 15 kids were building homes for people, learning from labor contributed [inaud.] electricians, plumbers, masons, carpenters teaching these kids a skill.  Every one of these kids was a kid out of a gang, out of a drop out program, out of a court diversion program, out of an at-risk program.  And one of these kids said to me, Senator, this is the first time in my life anybody ever said to me I loved you, the first time in my life anybody hugged me, the first time I had to get up in the morning and be responsible to other people.  My friends, we can't wait until kids are 15 and 16 and 17 to tell them we love them and to give them an opportunity.

I took that program--I was so impressed by it--one week in the building, one week doing their high school equivalency--and I put it in the HUD bill because I was then the chairman and I could do it.  Today it's in over 170 of your cities in the country; it's a $65 million program; it deserves to be a $125 million program..  It's called YouthBuild, and we have over 20,000 graduates in the nation.  But in every city in this country there are kids waiting to partake, waiting to be part of it.
I believe we need a president who doesn't just talk the slogans of leaving no child behind, who doesn't just talk about volunteerism and interventions in people's lives, but who empowers them and makes it happen and believes in it and builds the future of this country and that's why I'm running for this job and that's why I hope I can earn your support.  Thank you.  And thank you for.  [inaud./applause].
Transcript Copyright © 2003  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.

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