by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
September 8, 2011
9/1+10: A DECADE OF MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
ORLANDO, Sept. 10, 2011 -- With impassioned eloquence, an Orlando, Fla., city commissioner declared his unwavering support for Democratic President Barack Obama, calling on all Americans of all races to unite to restore the country's status in the world on the 10th anniversary of its worst tragedy.
Orlando's District 2 Commissioner Tony Ortiz proclaimed "I love this man, our President of the United States" as 200 people cheered and applauded with fervor.
But some say Ortiz risked political suicide today by his bipartisan message as a Republican in Orange County, which is heavily dominated by Republican voters. He is also the lone Hispanic on the Orlando City Council.
The Hispanic official spoke at this weekend's White House Hispanic Community Action Summit at the new Barry University School of Law Legal Advocacy Center in Orlando. Barry University, a small, highly respected Catholic college outside Miami, sponsored the event.
"I'm excited to see a President who's ethical, who's been criticized left and right, but who still stands for what is right. The only problem we have is that we're not united enough to stand up for him. We have let people with negative feelings bash our President. How long are we going to keep taking this?"
Ortiz told the American Reporter after his remarks that he was not worried about his re-election prospects.
"If somebody is hurt by my words, that's sad," Ortiz said, "because I'm not about partisanship. I'm about uniting us. It's about working together. Our nation can no longer afford to get weaker.
"We have the greatest brains, here in America. We can be free to express ourselves. Our nation needs to get strong. The biggest problem we have is not crime, the economy or immigration. It's the lack of communication. We have to stop bashing each other. We have to come together as a nation.
"It's as simple as that," he said.
The summit, convened amid palm tree arbors and tropical gardens on the east side of the nation's vacation capital, brought community and business leaders together with key Administration officials in an effort to "move beyond talk" to solve the nation's most pressing problems - employment, education, immigration, and health care - among weighty issues affecting every American. Minorities, conference speakers noted, are often hit the hardest by cuts in programs that address those issues.
But in stark contrast to the Sept. 8 GOP primary debate in California, where the candidates blamed the President for almost all the nation's woes, and complained his address to the joint session of Congress was political theater, this group made sure to send heartfelt thanks to a President whose policies have definitely made a difference in their lives.
Nancy Sharifi said she agrees. As manager of Orange County's Housing and Community Development department she runs several federal programs in the county,.
"I think our President and his Administration are too humble to admit all the good things they have done for our community during this really difficult economic period," she offered. "Thanks to the stimulus funds that were approved by President Obama, over 900 families were saved from eviction.
"These families were able to stabilize, were able to remain in their homes with their children until they found jobs thanks to this program, the Homeless Prevention and Relocation Program (HPRP). Money for infrastructure created over 30 new jobs. Those contractors personally came to me and told me they were able to retain their workers."
Sharifi said she felt compelled to tell the summit participants about her success stories "because nobody is out there telling you the lives that it touched and what it gave to our community."
The day was not just about government handouts, however. James T. Webb, a master builder from Miami Beach and author of "Save Your Neighborhood and Yourself," proposed a public-private partnership to tackle unemployment and disintegrating neighborhoods.
"Our model is to find housing stock that's condemned and abandoned," he said, "and rebuild that housing stock with the local labor force, blue collar workers and veterans" - a major goal of the President's new American Jobs Act.
Webb believes that most of the $700 million in stimulus money did not "trickle down to the common man... myself and the approximately 1,000 people I have employed in the past." He proposed a combination of bank loans and stimulus funds to provide affordable housing that would be profitable for the builder and thus let banks lend mortgage money.
According to Jose Rico, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, the occasion was an opportunity to present the President's American Jobs Act to the Florida community. Nature helped when Hurricane Irene forced them to postpone the event last weekend, allowing the White House to garner support among Hispanics through the President's unusually forceful speech before the Joint Session of Congress last Thursday.
Francisco Sanchez, U.S. Department of Commerce Undersecretary for International Trade, assured participants Friday that President Obama knows that "jobs, jobs, jobs" are paramount concern of Americans. Among Latinos, he said, the unemployment rate remains higher than the national rate. During the sub-prime recession, the net worth of Latino households "fell 66 percent, the most of any group," he said.
He offered an interesting explanation to the current economic doldrums, blaming both parties in Congress and Wall Street.
"We've heard a real nostalgia," he said, "not for the economy we had in 2007, but for an economy where we made more and borrowed less. For a decade, middle class wages barely budged, but costs kept going up.
"Job growth in the 2000s was the lowest of any decade stretching back to the 1940s," he added. "Back in 2000, when we had a budget surplus, we could have addressed these concerns by reinvesting in our education system and supporting the research and development that fuels America's innovation.
"But instead of finding new solutions to our problems, we found new lenders to give us money for homes and businesses. We voted for tax cuts for the wealthy, two wars and a new prescription drug benefit. We borrowed money to pay for all of it."
"Then," he said, "the party stopped." That was 2008.
Taking a minute in the middle of a group during the summit's open-space workshop process, Juan Sepulveda, executive director of the White House initiative, got up from his hands and knees to talk to The American Reporter.
"The President has always said that his vision for the way that we are going to win the future is to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world," Sepulveda said. "We used to be No. 1 in the world with the highest percentage of higher degrees. Now we are No. 9."
Sepulveda said that more education equals better job prospects, even in a down economy.
"The 9 percent unemployment rate goes down to about 5 percent for someone who has a college degree," he noted. "Advanced degree holders will be at three percent, so we know that the more education you get the better off you'll be."
AR Correspondent Ted Manna has covered many candidate and convention events for The American Reporter since 2008.