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Confidential Memo: Cisneros Presses Clinton on Urban Policy

December 21, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros is pressing President Clinton to go beyond focusing on crime in the cities and come up with an official plan to ease the financial burdens of the inner-city poor.

In a confidential memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, Cisneros hinted that Clinton is on the brink of alienating urban voters by limiting his plans for cities to overhauling welfare and providing more police.

″The crime that is so widely reported is but one manifestation of our nation’s pain,″ Cisneros wrote. ″You have in place the threads of programs which can be woven together into a coherent fabric of urban policy.″

He suggested that the policy include tax and housing credits for the working poor, expanded home ownership programs, Head Start, child immunization and economic ″empowerment″ zones that encourage business development.

Jean Nolan, Cisneros’ spokeswoman, declined to comment on the memo, saying Cisneros does not discuss his private communications.

White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty said Clinton has not had a disagreement with Cisneros over urban reform. ″There’s no schism here,″ McLarty said. ″He’s in step.″

McLarty said Clinton realizes there has to be a two-pronged approach of ″tougher enforcement and more rehabilitation″ to address the problems of the poor.

In the memo, dated Nov. 24, Cisneros referred to a speech in Memphis, Tenn., in which Clinton called crime ″a great crisis of the spirit″ and said parents in urban areas must take greater responsibility for turning youth away from violence.

″I don’t believe you will be able to speak for much longer about what people must do for themselves ... and couch the issues in the rubric of concerns about crime,″ Cisneros wrote. ″Our people need help from their government.″

Clinton has scaled back the urban plans he talked about in his presidential campaign. The administration has focused instead on easing poor families off welfare and sending aid to cities to hire 100,000 more police officers.

Cisneros, disagreeing with some White House advisers, has advocated including the impact of racism in urban programs.

The advisers have been concerned that Clinton could hurt his chances for re-election if he were too closely identified with ″liberal″ issues such as the anti-discrimination efforts Cisneros has under way at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Cisneros said he does not want Clinton to ″revert to the ’60s language of big scale urban strategies,″ but added that he felt Clinton could offer inner cities a variety of aid ″in a way that does not alienate suburban voters.″

Last month, Cisneros defended Clinton’s lack of a formal urban policy, saying the president proved his commitment to urban areas by setting up a ″community enterprise board″ to implement reforms that will help distressed cities.

But the memo, which was written five days after Cisneros defended Clinton, said Clinton needed an urban policy because it looked as if he were ignoring his urban supporters.

″I do believe it is important that you speak to your urban base and describe what you are doing for poor and working people,″ Cisneros wrote.

″There will come a moment when people will say: ‘Yes, Mr. President, we hear you, but we need your help. We need you to do something.’ Already the critics say we have no beef behind our good intentions on matters of urban investment and race.″

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