Hillary Clinton’s pothole politics – Politico
BOSTON —Standing in front of a cheering crowd of 800 construction trade union members and supporters inside Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall with Mayor Marty Walsh by her side, Hillary Clinton turned Sunday to a subject that she hasn’t devoted much time to on the campaign trail: pothole politics.
At an event billed as “Hard Hats for Hillary,” Clinton unveiled a $275 billion infrastructure proposal to fix highways, trains, airports, aging sewer systems and the country’s frayed electrical grid.
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“Here in Boston, I remember the historic snowfall you had last winter,” she told the packed hall, where an overflow crowd of about 1,200 supporters watched on a screen set up in the square outside. “The pictures I saw of two-story snowdrifts — it crippled the T, I remember hearing that.”
Leaning into her urban message, she added that “not everyone can afford, or wants, to have a car these days, and I don’t think people want to see more traffic downtown. That’s why public transit is absolutely vital to connecting people.”
For Clinton, the event presented an opportunity to roll out her jobs and five-year infrastructure plan, which includes creating an infrastructure bank, funded by $25 billion in federal dollars. But Clinton also managed to underscore her strength in one of the party’s bedrock constituencies – the traditional big-city Democratic stronghold.
Her campaign has been assiduously collecting big-city mayors from across the country in a show of muscle that Clinton hopes can help block any challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on the left. Nearly all of the Democratic mayors of the 10 most populous cities in the nation have publicly endorsed her; last month, the campaign unveiled an endorsement list of 85 mayors from across the nation, including leading progressives like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“It is good political strategy for electoral votes in the fall,” said Ed Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor and two-term Philadelphia mayor, referring to the Clinton campaign’s long list of mayoral endorsements. “In a general election, cities can be crucial. Turn out in Philadelphia, in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Miami and Jacksonville and Tampa – those will decide how Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania go.”
Until recently, Boston’s Walsh was a coveted hold out among the mayors. The face of blue collar labor in Massachusetts, the mayor is also a young progressive validator who helps in an area that also provides jobs for residents of southern New Hampshire. In 2008, Walsh’s predecessor, the late Mayor Tom Menino, contributed to Clinton’s New Hampshire primary win against Barack Obama by sending what has been described as a “political army” into the first-in-the-nation primary state to fight for Clinton.
Walsh, a former labor leader, had close ties to Vice President Joe Biden. But on Sunday he finally gave Clinton a ringing endorsement.
“We need someone who is battle tested, someone who fights hard, someone who makes everyone around them better,” he said introducing Clinton as a “global leader on human rights….Nobody comes closer to her experience. She’s got heart and she’s got grit.”
“Get your sledgehammers ready because we’ve got a glass ceiling to demolish!” he told the cheering crowd.
His endorsement could matter more for the purposes of identity politics than for his clout in Boston, said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf.
“Big city mayors where Democrats usually win, even if the solar system were to explode, don’t matter,” said Sheinkopf. “What matters is Catholic white ethnics in the Midwest, where the general election will be won or lost. Secretary Clinton needs the voters a name such as Walsh attracts — starting now.”
As a result of a primary calendar that is front-loaded with smaller states – none of the four early states has a city that ranks among America’s top 25 in population – urban policy has so far gotten short shrift on the campaign trail.
“The Democrats have ignored the word ‘urban’ or ‘city’ the entire year,” said Mitchell Moss, urban policy professor and director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University. “The primaries are largely in rural states. They’ve been able to avoid cities, because most of their time is spent campaigning in places where there are no cities.”
But after focusing her attention on issues such as the drug epidemic ravaging rural communities, Clinton delivered a message Sunday that resonates for many mayors.
“Our roads and bridges are potholed and crumbling,” she said. “Families endure blackouts because our electric grid fails in extreme weather. Beneath our cities, our pipeline infrastructure, our water, our sewers are up to a century or more old. Our airports are a mess, our ports need improvement, and our rail systems do as well.”
Clinton promised her entire infrastructure program would be paid for through business tax reform.
“For years the best airports in the world have been in places like China, Korea and Japan,” she said. “Not one U.S. in the top 10 or even in the top 20…. We invented airplanes in America, we are the reason the world can fly, we can do better than we’re doing now.”
Her plan comes as Congress is wrestling with a six-year transportation bill to authorize money for federal transportation projects. “This would be on top of what the Congress should finally get around to authorizing,” she said. “That is just the floor. We have to build on that. We are trillions of dollars behind. We have to add to what the Congress appropriates.”
Clinton pitched her infrastructure plan as a way to create good-paying building trade jobs that serve as a ladder to the middle class, noting that she is “the only Democratic candidate in this race who will pledge to raise your incomes not your taxes.”
Clinton aides said details of her tax plan will be unveiled in the coming weeks – including how she will pay for the most significant investment of her policy platform, without raising middle class taxes. But some experts said it could be a difficult pledge to keep.
“It is literally possible to only tax people above $250,000 and get enough money to fund an infrastructure program,” said William Gale, the Arjay and Frances Miller Chair in Federal Economic Policy in the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institute. “But it may not be politically feasible, and it may not be a good idea on economic grounds.”
Even Rendell, a stalwart Clinton supporter, said it would be easier to achieve her infrastructure goals by raising the gas tax. “A gas tax increase would cost the average driver who drives 14,000 miles a year about $120, about $10 a month,” said Rendell. “When you consider the state of our roads and bridges, if a driver hits a pothole and blows out a tire, that’s $250. The cost of doing nothing has to be factored in.”
When asked if it would be possible to fund an infrastructure program with taxes just on the top 2 or 3 percent, Gale said: “Mathematically the answer is yes, but the taxes may look pretty ugly. In economic terms, in terms of solving the longer-run fiscal imbalance, it seems to me it is a big problem.”