Monday, July 02, 2007

Report from the ACORN Presidential Candidate Forum

Today was ACORN’s Presidential Forum. It was slated to last for several hours and the timing of speakers kept changing; presidential candidates’ schedules are notoriously fluid. In short, it was too much time for me to be there for all of it. Let me also add that ACORN offered me press credentials and space in the blogger area but I prefer staying in the shadows.

All candidates were asked the same questions, though not, I think, in the same order. ACORN distributed a copy of the questions but it is three single spaced pages long so I won’t reproduce it here but give the gist of the questions where they are asked. ACORN does make policy statements on the issues available. It was interesting to note that two bills sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd, also a Democratic candidate for president, were referenced positively in the questions.

When I arrived the church was full so it was the overflow room for me. This was actually a good thing. There was plenty of room and a large screen probably gave me a better view of the candidates than I would have had in the sanctuary.

Michael Nutter, Democratic candidate for mayor of Philadelphia (and likely next mayor given past voting patterns) was speaking. He spoke well of other mayoral candidates in the primary, Rep. Chaka Fattah, Rep. Bob Brady, and State Rep. Dwight Evans. He talked about predatory lending people whose gas and heat are turned off. The sound quality was not the best at this point and many of his words were inaudible. He did say that there are three kinds of people who get gas bills, those who pay, those who can’t pay, and those who can pay but don’t. He said we have to protect those in the middle category.

Rep. Chaka Fattah spoke next. He said elections were not about personalities but programs and plans. Nutter is going to be a great mayor. We should become predatory with malice against predatory lending. There is a 52 year high in mortgage foreclosures, in part due to unfair lending practices. He has introduced legislation to create an emergency mortgage foreclosure fund. He said Council Rock School District is willing to spend $20,000 a year to educate a child but Philadelphia is only willing to spend that much to incarcerate a child. [blogger’s note: Looking through Thomas I think he may have been referring to HR 1289]

ACORN members spoke for about an hour, giving personal testimonies or discussing particular items.

Sen. Hillary Clinton arrived around 3:55. She opened with a Biblical allusion, “this is the day that the lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” [blogger’s note: Psalm 118:24, also a popular hymn]. She said she had followed ACORN since their first office opened, in Arkansas, just down the block from the governor’s mansion.

At this point a heckler began shouting something I could not hear. The minister of the church took the podium and asked that the man be escorted out and said anyone else raising their voice would also be escorted out. He said this was a house of God and people should act accordingly.

Clinton began speaking again, mentioning that Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the first sermon in this church. She is honored to be ACORN’s partner. Hurricane Katrina ripped the mask off this administration’s face. In the US no one should work full time and be below the poverty line. Uninsured people who go to the emergency room are twice as likely to die as insured people who go to the emergency room for treatment.

Q: How to ensure all people eligible for services are enrolled in those programs?

HC: will work with ACORN and related groups that reach out and enroll all eligible people in programs. After 9/11 she set up emergency Medicaid to help those who lost their jobs and insurance. When we have universal health care this will be taken care of.

Q: predatory lending, appoint governors to the Federal Reserve who put protection of our neighborhoods and assets first?

HC: We need federal legislation on predatory lending and sub-prime lending, plain language on mortgages and let states enact stronger laws. The Federal Reserve should pay more attention to the concerns of the majority of Americans. Home ownership is the American dream, unscrupulous lenders and adjustable rate mortgages are putting that at risk. Chicago did an experiment with face to face counseling before people signed mortgages. Fewer people signed after understanding the ramifications. Mortgage companies objected to this.

Q: pathway to citizenship

HC: disappointed when the Senate couldn’t overcome the GOP filibuster. We need immigration reform, to tighten our borders, punish unscrupulous employers, avoid putting a burden on our cities, and create a pathway to citizenship. Recently there have been many verbal attacks on immigrants. Is it because fewer new jobs are being created?

Q: Rebuilding America’s cities, require community impact statements, expand the production of affordable housing, funding for education, longer school days, smaller classes, universal pre-K programs.

HC: We need an urban agenda. If our cities aren’t working not much else is working. We should adopt the conference of mayors 10 point program. We need a new federal housing agenda. We should bring supermarkets back into cities. We want a diversity of rich and poor in our cities. As for education, we need universal pre-K for every 4 year old.

Q: Improving wages, income and working conditions: minimum wage, 7 paid sick days, and expanded earned income tax credit.

HC: yes yes yes, shared prosperity for everyone.

Q: rebuilding New Orleans Will you support the Gulf Coast Housing Recovery Act of 2007, introduced by Sens. Dodd and Landrieu?

HC: If Bush administration had hired ACORN to rebuild New Orleans it would be done by now. She has a 10 point plan and would put one person in charge of the project.

Q: protecting right to vote, mentions Sens. Dodd and Feinstein’s Ballot Integrity Act of 2007.

HC: supports initiatives. Count every vote act.

[Due to family concerns I had to leave at this point, head home, and watch the rest via live webcast. My apologies to Rep. Kucinich; I will make a point of writing about him in depth later. The Pennsylvania Progressive has some good posts on Kuchinich’s presentation.]

At home I caught part of Rep. Kucinich’s last answer or closing statements.

DK: The government tells people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and then steal their boots. We can fund universal pre-K by reducing the Pentagon budget. We need free tuition for four years at public colleges and universities. The money is there if we just change priorities. He references WPA jobs in the Depression. Healthcare for all. Medicare for all. An end to for-profit health care as we know it. Yes to community impact statements. He references the work done in Cleveland while he was mayor. He is the only person running for president who was a mayor. Closes by saying we have the power to lift up our country by human spirit and the human heart.

He also spoke in Spanish, much to the delight of the crowd.

John Edwards is introduced.

Last year Edwards toured the US with the president of ACORN to work on increasing the minimum wage.

JE: Poverty is a huge moral issue. Elizabeth sends her love and is doing great. When he is president he will raise the minimum wage to $9.50 and index it so it goes up every year without Congressional approval. Anyone working full time should not live in poverty. We still have two Americas and want to create one America. He met with ACORN’s board a while ago but didn’t need to study because their agenda is his agenda. We have to be the voice of the voiceless. [blogger’s note: This was a policy announcement for Edwards, the minimum wage increase.]

To end poverty we need to raise the minimum wage, expand the earned income tax credit to include more people, strengthen and expand laws to allow unions or organize and work. If you can join the GOP by signing a card you should be able to do the same in a union. We need to improve financial literacy and set up savings accounts for people, matching dollar for dollar. We need a national predatory lending law. We need universal health care, half of bankruptcies are due to health problems. We need access for affordable housing and to reduce the waiting time for section 8 housing. Everyone should have access to college. He and Elizabeth set up a program [missed the details of this], work 10 hours a week while in college, never hurts anyone to work but should not have crushing debt from college.

Ending poverty is the cause of his life not just a political issue. ACORN should be proud of its work in New Orleans. We need a president who wakes up every morning with a gnawing feeling in his gut about the poor.

Q: Thank you for walking the walk as well as talking the talk. Question on making people aware of programs and services available to them.

JE: It doesn’t do any good to have these programs if they aren’t used or if people don’t know about them. If elected president he will make sure resources and people are available to let people know about these programs.

Q: predatory lending / federal reserve / foreclosure education

JE: We need federal predatory lending laws, a new consumer commission to regular and monitor lenders, and a national home fund to provide help and support to those in danger of losing their homes.

Q: immigration / pathway to citizenship

JE: Immigration is high on his presidential agenda. It is a moral issue. It isn’t good for America to have first class citizens and second class workers. He does support security on the Southern border, a crack down on unscrupulous employers and we need a clear achievable path to citizenship. People here illegally should pay a fine but not an exorbitant one and learn English.

Q: rebuilding American cities, community impact statements, education – longer school days, smaller classes, pre-K, expand production of affordable housing

JE: yes on community impact statements. He is in favor of 1 million new section 8 housing vouchers, rental as well as ownership. Yes on funding for public schools. He advocates bonus pay for teachers in inner city schools.

Q: improving wages and working conditions

JE: expand EITC, get rid of marriage penalty [blogger’s note: missed a few words because of a fuzzy feed]

Q: New Orleans

JE: He would put a high level person in charge who would report to him daily on progress.

Q: protecting right to vote

JE: Will work with ACORN and similar groups. Yes, supports the Voter Registration Act. We should stop the suppression of voter registration and voting.

ACORN officials made closing remarks.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for attending the ACORN forum, Jane. I wonder which candidate you thought "won"?


ACM said...

for the record, Clinton and Kucinich, at least, got the questions in the same order. looking at your Edwards notes, it looks like he got them in the same order too.


AboveAvgJane said...

Mary, I have posted personal observations but don't have the background knowledge to say who, if anyone, "won."

AC, thanks. I didn't look closely enough at my notes on Clinton and Edwards and since I didn't see Kucinich it was hard to say.