Declaring that America needs a "new urban order," former California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. called Thursday for an immediate $30-billion investment in the nation's inner cities as the first step in a long-range effort to address the problems that erupted into riots in Los Angeles last week.
"Instead of a new world order, we need a new urban order. . . . The real threat that exists now is to our cities," where "kids have no role models other than crack dealers, gang leaders and killers," Brown told a conference of mayors meeting in St. Paul to discuss urban problems.
The riots in Los Angeles, the candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination said, have "galvanized" the related issues of race, poverty and inner-city crime and catapulted them to the top of an election-year agenda dominated until now by broader concerns about the economy and legislative gridlock in the nation's capital.
They have also had something of a galvanizing effect on Brown's flagging campaign, giving the candidate who is still dogged by the 1960s-sounding epithet "Governor Moonbeam" a '60s-era theme to talk about in fresh and compelling terms.
Brown rose to the occasion Thursday, freeing himself from the hesitation that has sometimes crippled his oratory to make an impassioned plea for more aid to create jobs and raise living standards in blighted urban areas.
"The issue before the American people is very stark. It is what kind of intervention do you want? Do you want 5,000 soldiers with fixed bayonets standing in the streets? Or do you want jobs and a national investment strategy to protect the standard of living of the American people?" Brown said at the meeting of mayors representing 13 state capitals.
"When you create a whole class of young people who have no chance," he warned, "you are creating an enemy on your doorstep."
Brown drew an appreciative response from the mayors by endorsing a seven-point plan drawn up by the larger U.S. Conference of Mayors that calls for an immediate $30-billion infusion in the form of federal block grants to cities.
Most of the money would be used to help create jobs, upgrade social services and improve education. About $2 billion would also be earmarked for low-interest loans to small businesses starting up in blighted urban areas.
Over the last several days, in the wake of the Los Angeles riots, Brown has gradually brought the proposal to the fore of his campaign, and he said Thursday it would become the focus of his presidential bid in the coming weeks.
"I intend to dedicate my efforts over the next month to ensuring that it gets passed," Brown told reporters on the chartered plane that took him from Nebraska to Minnesota to Oregon in a hectic day of campaign appearances.
He called on Congress to embrace the mayors' request and pressure the Bush Administration to accept it by linking its passage to other issues. The Democrats in Congress, he said, should use their majority to force passage by refusing to approve more money for foreign aid or the continuing S&L; bailouts "until the seven-point plan is put on a fast track to the President's desk."
He also renewed his attacks on Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, dismissing his response to the riots as "a lot of little proposals that don't amount to a hill of beans."