The Importance (Suddenly) of Being Jack Kemp : He's one Bush adviser who has not ignored plight of cities

Maybe now after touring burned ruins, talking with suffering families and meeting with business owners who lost all in the Los Angeles riot, President Bush will listen.

Maybe now, while the smoke still lingers, the President will replace the domestic neglect--which many critics believe is not benign--with the useful and pragmatic advice of Jack Kemp.

Kemp is a familiar face around Washington, but the secretary of housing and urban development has been persona non grata at the White House. His message of economic empowerment for poor Americans has not received a fair or full hearing before the White House or Congress.

The Los Angeles riot boosted Kemp's profile, put him back in the Cabinet meetings, reserved him a seat on Air Force One and put his ideas before the President. Maybe now Bush will listen to an adviser who has not ignored the plight of the cities.

Kemp understands urban problems in a way that few in the Administration do. He's in touch with poor people through his stewardship of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He's on a first-name basis with black leaders, public housing advocates and anti-poverty activists; they don't always agree, but they share a commitment to relieve urban poverty.

Kemp believes the economic "recovery won't be complete until there's a job for every American." To generate those jobs, Kemp would staff his war on poverty with entrepreneurs. He would provide incentives for businesses, especially small ones that employ fewer than 100 workers--and create most new jobs.

Central to Kemp's recovery plan is the concept of urban enterprise zones. Businesses providing jobs in designated inner-city areas would be eligible for tax subsidies and other incentives. Congress has never enacted such a program. Many states, including California, have enterprise zones, but these can offer only state tax breaks.

In Los Angeles, for example, five areas have been designated as enterprise zones. Those zones emphasize manufacturing jobs and tax breaks. The city's Community Redevelopment Agency involves local residents in planning retail, commercial, affordable housing and other public improvements. Working together, the Community Redevelopment Agency and enterprise zones could be a dynamic duo in rebuilding Los Angeles. In partnership, they could create community bases for what the HUD chief calls "entrepreneurial capitalism."

Already within the Watts enterprise zone, the Community Redevelopment Agency is expanding its 25-year project, which includes a major shopping center at 103rd Street and Compton Avenue, a health center, 600 units of low-to-moderate-income housing and a post office.

The project's impact would be greater if businesses could be lured in to create more jobs and take advantage of enterprise zone tax breaks. The Community Redevelopment Agency and the city's Community Development Department, which oversees enterprise zones, are working on the Watts Economic Linkage Program. The goal: to develop a 10-acre light manufacturing center adjacent to the Watts Skills Center and a soon-to-be-built child care facility. Then people in the community could get training for jobs at the manufacturing center and have child care facilities on site. The Los Angeles Harbor Industrial Park in Wilmington is another CRA project in an enterprise zone dedicated to preserving and providing jobs for residents.

Adding federal muscle to enterprise zones would provide an immense incentive. The timing is right to request presidential and congressional approval for this approach. But, to truly make these enterprise zones work, Kemp--in partnership with local leaders--must also figure out how government can improve both the infrastructure and public safety in these areas.

During his three years at HUD, Kemp has pushed for more home ownership in poor communities. To complement that policy, he should push for more funds to construct or rehabilitate affordable housing. That would create more jobs.

Bush's rejuvenated point man on urban policies understands that young men and women who have a stake--a job, a home, a business, a future--are less likely to loot or burn. Kemp's ideas are the best urban policy that America is likely to get from the Bush Administration, and they deserve a chance to work in Los Angeles and other cities.

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