Spotlight on Minneapolis Bridge Disaster
Last night the AFL-CIO sponsored a debate for the Democratic nomination for President. The event was held at Soldier Field in Chicago and took on a distinct flavor when compared to the other debates. Present were NM Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barrack Obama, Fmr. Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Chriss Dodd, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Fmr. AK Sen, Mike Gravel was excluded due to what seemed like a paperwork issue.
The debate touched on a number of issues from Iraq to health care (brought to the fore in part by Steve Skvara, a former steelworker screwed over by his company's bankruptcy), of course, labor. Indeed, it was quite obvious that the candidates were jockeying to bring Labor's endorsement over to them. The AFL-CIO has been reluctant to endorse or allow its affiliate unions to endorse a candidate fearing a repeat of 2004's endorsement of Howard Dean.
Despite being set in Chicago, Minneapolis cast a pall over the debate. While the I-35W Bridge did not dominate the debate per se, the sensation that events such as the bridge collapse, or Mr. Skvara's health insurance lapse, do not belong in America was apparent. Moderator Keith Olbermann questioned the candidates about the infrastructure deficiencies in our country.
The candidates all agreed the far more needed to be done. The only current Governor of the bunch, Richardson, emphasized his efforts counter infrastructure degradation in NM. The Senators touted their efforts to sponsor legislation to correct rollbacks in maintenance. Olbermann even questioned Obama about the wisdom in spending money on rehabbing the venue, Soldier Field, when Obama was a state senator. Clinton noted the lack of investment in Amtrak's NYC Penn Station tunnels, which are a century old. Here the debate became similar to other debates as the candidates made vague, yet positive promises that they cannot possibly be held to deliver. Indeed, even if any of the seven become president, they will still need to contend with Congress, which may not be so willing to change. Admittedly, the format, which was rightfully called a forum, not a debate, made anything more all but impossible. Of course it is impossible to have debates with not so many candidates unless there were more candidates. Certainly, I hope when the General Election debates come up, we do not have a redux of this.
But enough of that. Minneapolis was clearly on the minds of the candidates. Their promises to do better got cheers from the union members in the crowd not only because it offered jobs, but also it is their families who use this critical infrastructure.
Even though the replacement I-35W bridge may be nearly complete by next November, its effect will hopefully make Infrastructure maintenance a key part of the 2008 campaign. Unfortunately, if Hurricane Katrina is any indication, we may not be so lucky; it will affect the election, but not policy.
*Addendum. Wrap-up of event. Winner: Hillary, did not just play to crowd, but won them over a number of times and walked having poise, yet visibly relaxed (for her anyway). Most improvement: Barack, though still getting hammered as the rookie, able to rise about "naive" comments of the past. Least expected to shine, but did: Chris Dodd, was able to show that his grey-white hairs do equate with experience and was unwilling to get shouted down. Crowd Favorite: Dennis K, had nothing to lose because he has nothing to win, able to be completely populist and say exactly what the crowd wants to hear because they aren't going to get it or at least not from him.