Spotlight on Ohlone:
Smith to go to Washington

By Noah Levin, Opinion editor.

Thursday, February 5, 2009—Reprinted from Monitor.

Man sitting at a desk writing. Newark Mayor Dave Smith has been appointed to a small group of mayors who will lobby Obama for funds. —Photo by Jorge Gomez.

With 2009 being the inaugural year for sweeping new changes in our government and our economy, Newark Mayor Dave Smith seeks to grab a piece of that tasty change pie.

The change comes in the form on President Obama’s much-talked-about stimulus package. The piece that Smith hopes to acquire is intended for the city Smith has been elected for over 30 years to lead, Newark. It is part of a select group of 24 “big city” mayors, to which Smith was appointed, will lobby the new administration, in hopes of gaining much needed funds for individual cities to utilize as they see fit. The path taken in the past was to give bulk funds to states, and have states distribute funds as necessary.

Smith, whose primary occupation is that of Executive Director of the Ohlone Foundation, visited Washington D.C. on Inauguration Day, where he met with the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM). The non-partisan organization is comprised of mayors representing cities whose populations are 30,000 or more, and the group is officially comprised of 1,200 cities. It was from this group that Ohlone’s own Smith was chosen by the USCM to be a part of the Main Street Economy Recovery Plan Working Group. Smith describes the USCM as being “a balance of politics, gender, ethnicities…That way everybody’s voice is heard.”

The 24-strong group of mayors has only had one meeting to date, which Smith was forced to be absent from due to scheduling conflicts. However, Smith was not an exception, as he explained that the group’s work was not much slowed, since “the group functions through conference calls.”

The group’s primary goal will be to solicit the White House for a share of the forthcoming funds from the new stimulus package. The idea is that the knowledgeable and seasoned mayors will use the money gained to fund infrastructure projects in their respective cities. “These are all people who are easily accessible, accountable and have good track records,” said Smith of the members of the USCM. Smith also said that the funds would be used for public service projects, such as informing local populations about weatherizing their homes. “These projects are ‘green’ without the high expense or investment required for solar panels, but also with out the same long term benefits,” said Smith, who noted that these same projects were small yet efficient ways of saving energy.

Were the money given over to the mayors, Smith would use it to put people to work quickly with highway funding and repair projects. Smith said Newark has felt the crunch of the economic crisis; due largely to Newark’s reliance for funds in high sales taxes on items like cars. Smith pointed out that the group would do its best to include their electorates. “We’re thinking about going through the citizens,” said Smith, “to vote about bailout measures that would be put on the ballot.”

Though the mayors of the USCM have “Main Street” in their thoughts, Ohlone probably won’t see much of the money that would be going to the mayors. Smith assured, however, that “stimulus money would likely be focused in the environmental arena, with money coming from the state.” This would be in fact a boon for Ohlone, with the new Newark campus standing as a testament to the college’s dedication to “green” technologies. Whether or not money from the new stimulus package reaches Ohlone remains to be seen, but it certainly will not hurt to have Smith in the school’s corner.

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