COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Democrat who wants to be Ohio's next lieutenant governor said Tuesday she would be the urban issues czar in Gov. Ted Strickland's second term if he's re-elected, promoting business development near city bus lines and helping more black males graduate from college.
Strickland running mate Yvette McGee Brown said the health of Ohio's many cities is key to the state's economic vitality and she would devote her time as Strickland's No. 2 to working with them to succeed.
"Our cities matter not just to Ohio but to the world," she said.
Ohio has more cities with 100,000-plus residents than most U.S. states. That includes Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Akron, Youngstown, Dayton and Toledo.
McGee Brown, a Columbus attorney and former judge and nonprofit director, laid out her "city life" agenda in a speech Tuesday at Columbus' historic Lincoln Theater, an 83-year-old music hall restored after being shuttered in the 1970s. She noted Ohio cities were birthplaces of professional firefighting and baseball, electric streetlights, airplanes and parachutes.
In the ensuing decades, however, Ohio cities have sometimes been poster children of crime, poverty and unemployment. In 2008, Forbes magazine ranked four of them — Canton, Cleveland, Dayton and Youngstown — among the fastest dying in the nation. New census estimates out Tuesday showed Cleveland had the largest numerical decline in residents in the country in 2009.
Strickland's political rival, Republican former U.S. Rep. John Kasich, suggested Tuesday that he is using McGee Brown to win urban votes after ignoring the plight of cities for 3 1/2 years.
"Not until Ted Strickland feared needing their votes did he give urban Ohioans a second thought," said Kasich campaign spokesman Rob Nichols. "Having grown up in a chicken shack on Duck Run, he has all but ignored our cities' economies and their workers. It's a disgraceful record whose pain for urban Ohioans can't be swept under the rug with a bunch of pretty speeches."
Strickland, who grew up in Appalachia and represented a southeastern Ohio district in Congress, "didn't grow up in a city but he fights for our cities every day," McGee Brown said in her speech. She cited his efforts as governor in historic preservation, job training, high-tech initiatives, food bank expansion and a rewrite of the state's unconstitutional school-funding system.
Her priority is to create a Leadership Center for African-American Male Achievement to serve as a policy, research and training center aimed at encouraging adolescent black boys to get college degrees. The center was part of the state's higher education strategic plan.
"Let me be blunt here," said McGee Brown, who is black. "We will not accept African-American boys giving up on schools, and we will not accept schools giving up on African-American boys."
A third of black men living in northeast Ohio cities lack a high school diploma, according to Policy Bridge, a research group.
An entity with a similar, somewhat broader mission — the Commission on African American Males — was eliminated as a state agency in the budget Strickland signed in 2007. Its funding and operations were moved to the Ohio State University, where they remain.
Campaign spokeswoman Allison Kolodziej said the new center would be funded through endowments provided by philanthropic, business and higher education interests and would be independent of the state budget.
Also as lieutenant governor, McGee Brown said she would oversee an urban co-op and internship program funded by $25 million in revenues from planned casinos, give priority in state development grants to businesses and housing located within easy distance of public transportation, and expand the state's Save the Dream foreclosure assistance program.
McGee Brown declined to comment on one major urban policy matter: gun control. Last week, Strickland touted his endorsement by the National Rifle Association at events across the state, but McGee Brown said her opinion on the issue was irrelevant to the race.
"I am supportive of the governor and I am happy that he received that endorsement," she said. McGee Brown said she has never owned a gun.
Strickland Campaign: http://www.TedStrickland.com
Kasich Campaign: http://www.KasichforOhio.com
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.