CBS Local Presidential Forum: Obama/Romney: Of Government And Cities

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President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. (Getty Images/Luke Sharrett and Joe Raedle)

President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. (Getty Images/Luke Sharrett and Joe Raedle)

By Carol Cain CBS 62 Detroit

With the economy struggling and baby boomers looking with anticipation to Medicare and Social Security, a burning question in this election is what the two men hoping to be elected president have to say about the role of the federal government.

President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney are oceans apart in their answer to that question which was posed in the CBS Local Presidential Forum.

CBS Local is asking the candidates 10 questions in 10 days on vital topics to shed light on their policies and vision for the nation to give voters more information.

“My experience has taught me that government works best when it creates the space for individuals and families to pursue success and achieve great things,” Romney answered in the exclusive CBS Local Forum. “Economic freedom is the only force that has consistently succeeded in creating sustained prosperity and lifting people out of poverty. It is why our economy rose to rival those of the world’s leading powers – and has long since surpassed them all. “

Obama outlined his plan which creates an economy that he said strengthens the middle-class, while investing in areas that move our country forward—like education, research, and clean energy.

Obama wants to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion by cutting wasteful spending and asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share.

A recent poll from Pew Research also showed men and women feel differently on this topic. “On the question of whether you want a smaller government with fewer services, or a bigger government with more services, women and men are in a very different place,” says Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center, adding women are far more supportive of the bigger/more equation. “And that,” he says, “is the fundamental question of this election.”

The two candidates were also asked in the CBS Local Forum: What is your urban agenda? Name a few struggling cities and define how your agenda would specifically affect them?

Obama, a former community organizer who is seeking re-election, created the White House Office of Urban Affairs in 2009 to ensure federal dollars targeted at urban areas would be effectively spent on the highest-impact programs and to work closely with state and local officials, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector.

He also talked of launching the Strong Cities, Strong Communities program, sending federal officials to economically-distressed cities to work with local leaders, helping them cut through bureaucratic red tape to use existing federal funds more efficiently.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney, the GOP candidate in this race, concentrated state housing, environmental, and transportation departments to focus on smart growth.

He also has history in urban development, as his late father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, was secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Richard Nixon.

“President Obama’s failed economic policies have hurt cities from coast to coast,” Romney said. “Those in the industrial heartland like Cleveland and Detroit are facing not only the nationwide struggle of the last four years, but also a longer-term challenge resulting from the erosion of America’s manufacturing might.”

Romney added that, “restoring American leadership in manufacturing will require policies that make our economy the most attractive place in the world to set up shop and make things. Fundamental tax reform will bring our corporate tax rate in line with other developed nations’, and regulatory reform will cut through the red tape that is driving up costs for our businesses.”

Today: Struggling Cities

Admittedly, questions about cities and urban issues haven’t been at the forefront of this dialogue in this contest.

But proponents say cities are the engines of the American economy and matter to the nation.

“It’s because of the lack of questions being asked of the candidates,” said former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer (1993 until 2001) who also was president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors and co-chair of the Democratic National Committee.

“The reality is cities do matter,” Archer added. “Most people live in large cities or meropolitan areas around cities.”

Currently, 87 million Americans live in cities with populations of 100,000 or more.

Archer, who is supporting Obama said: “If you take a look at broad strokes each president or candidate running on GOP side, as is the case with Gov. Romney, each has adopted the approach of predecessors like George Bush and George H.W. Bush, which is ‘let the states handle things.’”

“Cities matter and are important. If these same issues were taking place in the suburbs, I guarantee you they’d be all over it,” Archer added.

Coming up: President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney answer: Education is critical to our nation’s future. What are the top three initiatives you will support to improve our system of education and what role should unions play?

(Carol Cain is an Emmy winning journalist who has covered politics and business over 20 years. She is Senior Producer/Host of CBS62’s “Michigan Matters” and writes a column on politics and business for Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at clcain@cbs.com).

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