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Clinton visits revitalized South Bronx neighborhood

December 10, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ President Clinton today toured a rehabilitated Bronx neighborhood that Jimmy Carter called the worst slum in America and Ronald Reagan compared to burned-out London in World War II. ``If you can do it, everyone else can do it,″ Clinton told residents.

Clinton visited the Charlotte Gardens section where ruined tenements have been replaced by 89 single-family ranch houses with aluminum siding, well-kept lawns, some with backyard decks and barbecue grills.

He cited the neighborhood _ an island of suburbia within the inner city _ as an example of what can be done when government, community leaders and private enterprise work together.

``If I could have any wish ... I would like for every single American to see the before and after,″ the president said at a local Boys and Girls club.

Clinton did not seek to take credit for the revival, much of which was done in the 1980s, but said tax-incentives and urban policies he has championed have helped to promote continued urban improvement.

``Government has to be a partner and get it right,″ Clinton said. ``We can give you the tools ... so you can have the power to change your own lives.″

President Carter walked the same Charlotte Street neighborhood, then littered with broken bottles and trash, in 1977, promising to try to find ways to clean it up. Reagan came here in his 1980 presidential campaign, citing it as a prime example of urban decay and the failure of Carter’s Democratic administration to find a solution.

Clinton announced new grants for the area. He said that $96 million in new Housing and Urban Development funds were being released for New York City. And he said that the government had approved a process that would result in $50 million low-interest loans to South Bronx businesses over the next five years.

The development was built in the mid-1980s with a combination of federal, state and local funds and support from community development groups. Working-class families were able to purchase the homes at subsidized prices between $50,000 and $60,000. Today, most of the homes sell for about $180,000.

``Twenty years ago, Jimmy Carter proclaimed the South Bronx the worst slum in America,″ Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer said. ``Twenty years later, Bill Clinton comes to proclaim a miracle in the South Bronx.″

But the Democratic congressman who represents this South Bronx district, Rep. Joe Serrano, D-N.Y., a political rival of Ferrer, skipped the event, calling it too political and not aimed at solving real neighborhood problems.

Carmen Ceballo, who said she had lived in the Bronx for 45 years, said people once ``were friendly and looked out for each other. As the buildings became vacant, they were set on fire. I lived a terrifying existence.″

Now, she said, she feels safer than she has in years. ``The Bronx is bouncing back.″

Later, Clinton was to attend two separate fund-raising dinners for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee.

At the first event, Clinton was to share the stage with House Minority leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., a 2000 Democratic presidential hopeful.

Sponsors of the event hoped to raise about $1 million, much of it to go toward easing the party’s $13 million in campaign debts from 1996.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry on Tuesday defended anew Clinton’s fund-raising blitz _ he does more fund raising on Thursday in Miami _ at a time when past money gathering by Democrats is at the center of so much national attention.

``I think he would like to help the Democratic party retire the debt, and he’s been working hard at it,″ McCurry said. About $11 million of the red ink is due to legal bills rung up in campaign spending investigations.

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