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A letter of apology to the president



Published: Sun, January 31, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)


Dear Mr. President:

In the words of that famous television commentator Rosanne Rosanna Danna (the late comedian Gilda Ratner) on Saturday Night Live, “Never mind.”

This writer’s criticism of you in the Jan. 17 column was not only unfair, but it reflected a departure from a long-held belief about local public officials: If it sounds like horse manure, it most probably is horse manure.

The criticism was triggered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s rejection of an application for federal dollars submitted by a collaborative of local communities led by the cities of Youngstown and Warren. The column was based on a front-page story that contained harsh comments from leading area officeholders, including Congressman Tim Ryan and Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, about your administration.

Ryan, Williams and others contended that there was no justification for HUD’s rejection of the application for $32.4 million from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The program has been touted as one of your main initiatives for helping economically distressed communities recover, redevelop and create jobs.

Highly charged atmosphere

So, this writer, swept up in the highly charged political atmosphere of “We’re mad as hell and won’t take it anymore” wrote the column with the headline, “Obama fails to deliver on pledge.” It was steeped in sarcasm and inflammatory language: “But as the decision by HUD not to funnel any Neighborhood Stabilization Program money to the Valley shows, the Democratic administration in Washington has a blind spot when it comes to rewarding political loyalty.”

In retrospect, Mr. President, the blind spot belongs to those of us who were so willing to blame you and your administration for what is now clearly incompetence and ineptness on the part of local government officials.

As HUD officials explained to a delegation that marched on Washington to demand answers for the application’s being rejected, two independent evaluators came to the same conclusion: The Youngstown-led collaborative submitted a proposal that by any objective analysis failed to make the grade. The doofuses in Youngstown City Hall were in over their heads, but didn’t have the presence of mind to say, “We should hire a grants writer familiar with HUD.” Why didn’t they? Because working in government means never having to admit that you don’t know what in the blazes you’re doing.

Indeed, Mr. President, even after The Vindicator revealed the reasons for the application’s rejection, Youngstown Mayor Williams was still tossing out that canard about Washington not paying attention to us.

On Tuesday, CNN Reporter Carol Costello came to town after reading about the Neighborhood Stabilization Program controversy on Vindy.com. Costello’s interest was piqued by the headline on the web story, “HUD to Mahoning Valley: Drop Dead.” She stayed in town Wednesday and watched your State of the Union address in a local bar/restaurant.

‘Frustration’

In a piece that was aired Wednesday morning, Mayor Williams said, “There is a frustration that Washington just isn’t getting it.” There was no mea culpa from him or anyone else involved in putting together the flawed application.

There was no apology from any local officials for pointing the finger of blame at you and your administration.

So, in the interest of fairness, here it is, Mr. President. On behalf of the dunderheads in local government who wouldn’t know their you-know-what from a hole in the ground, “Sorry, sir.”

No one got fired, demoted or had his public pension reduced. You see, in the Mahoning Valley, the explanation for such egregious acts of incompetence is simply this: Stuff happens.

Well, local government officials are on notice from public sector taxpayers: Losing $32.4 million because the application was flawed must be a one-time occurrence.

President Obama, the Mahoning Valley needs your help in overcoming decades of economic stagnation. The unemployment rate has been higher than the national average for many years.

If you do your part, we’ll make sure local officials do theirs — correctly.


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