John Edwards Brings Anti-Poverty Campaign To Hartford
By MARK PAZNIOKAS | Courant Staff Writer
July 11, 2008
There is no bus, no banner, no trailing press contingent. But John Edwards still is campaigning, five months after ending his run for president.
Edwards brought his new anti-poverty campaign Thursday to a Hartford public housing project, where residents say they have struggled for attention at the state Capitol.
"I'm blessed to have been given this national voice because of my own presidential and vice presidential campaigns," Edwards said. "But what I want to do is be a megaphone for those who are not being heard."
Edwards, 55, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina who ran for president in 2004 and 2008, said he intends to represent people desperate to be heard.
"I'm going to make their stories heard all across this country and fight for what I think is fairness and justice in America," Edwards said.
He offered no megaphone for those stories Thursday, however. The press and public were excluded for space reasons from a round-table discussion at the Boys & Girls Club of Northwest Hartford about poverty in the city that Edwards conducted with Mayor Eddie A. Perez, legislators and some local residents and activists.
"What was so terrific about our meeting here today was we had a group of people, including political leaders and local leaders, who are completely committed to this cause," Edwards said.
His organization is Half in Ten, named for its goal of cutting poverty by half in 10 years. The club was chosen because it sits on the edge of the Bowles Park housing project and was the setting for a visit by President Bush in April.
Bowles Park also is one of the state-financed housing projects suffering from long-deferred maintenance, which has drawn sympathy, but no major infusion of cash, from state officials.
Rose Price, a resident who uses a walker, said she needs knee surgery, but mold in her apartment has so compromised her lungs that doctors are afraid to subject her to anesthesia.
"He is going to bring some kind of help, I hope," Price said of Edwards.
Edwards said he was in Hartford, where the last U.S. census found nearly one-third of the residents living in poverty, to spark local leaders to action.
But the problems at Bowles Park are not new, and Price testified about them at the Capitol in February 2007.
Edwards spoke to reporters for 14 minutes outside the club after the round-table discussion, flanked by Perez; Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz; House Majority Leader Christopher Donovan, D- Meriden; Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield; and others.
Asked about Gov. M. Jodi Rell's rationale for vetoing a minimum wage increase — that it would hurt business and eliminate jobs for the poor — Edwards replied, "She's wrong."
Edwards said studies show that the local economy improves when the minimum wage is raised above the national minimum. The Connecticut minimum wage already was well above the national minimum.
"It's common sense," Edwards said. "Number one, people are able to support themselves. Number two, they make more money, so they infuse the local economy with more money. And because of those things, the local economy grows and jobs are created."
The legislature overrode Rell's veto, so the minimum wage will increase in January from $7.65 to $8. Edwards said that reducing poverty will require a higher federal minimum wage, widely available health care and more unionization.
Edwards, who has endorsed Barack Obama, played down the recent flap over the Rev. Jesse Jackson being captured on a television microphone criticizing Obama with vulgar language for what Jackson described as talking down to black people.
"I believe that Sen. Obama represents in so many ways the hopes and aspirations for many Americans," Edwards said. "It's not just African Americans, but including African Americans."
He noted that Jackson has apologized.
Edwards repeated his standard line about the possibility of becoming Obama's running mate, the status he accepted four years ago from John Kerry.
"I'm not seeking the job," Edwards replied. "If anything that Sen. Obama asks me to do ... allows me to serve my country, I would seriously think about it."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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