God's Politics

God's Politics

Mary Nelson: Questions from a Community Development Veteran

As announced on CNN last week, we’re hosting a forum of the leading Democratic presidential candidates at our Pentecost 2007 event (Mary will also be speaking at the conference). We’ve invited several of our bloggers to discuss their questions for the candidates, but we’re also asking our readers to submit their questions, and TOMORROW will let YOU vote on the ones we should use!

+ Click here to submit your questions


Little of the campaign rhetoric has touched on the issues and concerns of our low-income, minority communities, and how to help people move out of poverty. We know that it will take personal responsibility, government action, and partnership efforts with communities of faith and the corporate sector. But it will take presidential leadership to move forward.

Jonathan Kozol, in the Shame of the Nation, calls the re-segregation of public schools and the great disparity between schools in wealthy communities and in low income communities the damnation of our future, perpetuated by financing schools on property taxes and our public lack of concern for equity in education. What is your plan, candidates, for enabling quality public education for every child? For fairness in funding of public education?


Rising costs, gentrification of communities, drastically reduced government subsidies and incentives have created a dire shortage of decent housing affordable for low income people; most poor are paying over 50 percent of their income for crammed substandard housing. What are your plans to deal with this crisis? How do we help enable mixed-income communities, with spaces and places for “community” to happen?

Rising fuel costs and reduced air quality mandate a redirection of federal transportation dollars and incentives toward public mass transportation. Yet highways still get most of the transportation funds and incentives, and public transportation is struggling to stay afloat. What are your plans to deal with redirecting our efforts towards fast, efficient, and affordable public transportation?


Mary Nelson is president and CEO of Bethel New Life, a 24-year-old faith-based community development corporation on the west side of Chicago. She is also a board member of Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

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posted May 24, 2007 at 9:26 pm

I think the first question is flawed in that it automatically assumes that equity in the quality of public schools would be created by transfering money from more wealthy school districts to less wealthy ones. Schools in low-income neighborhoods don’t fail the students because they don’t have enough money. In the past, students received far better educations than they do today and fewer dollars were spent per pupil. There is something else at work here. The second question is a good one, assuming the stats are correct. Incenting economically diverse communities will strenghten our neighborhoods. As for the third question, I’d question the statement about reduced air quality. According to the EPA, air quality has been improving over the last 20 years or so. Either way, I don’t think the President should be setting policy on how transportation problems should be solved around the country. These are best left up to local and regional governments because they know best what each city or region needs. The feds should just provide the money as they do now and let the locals decide how to spend it.

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kevin s.

posted May 25, 2007 at 6:24 am

“Schools in low-income neighborhoods don’t fail the students because they don’t have enough money. In the past, students received far better educations than they do today and fewer dollars were spent per pupil. There is something else at work here.” There are two things at play, here. The first is the fact that we invest tremendous resources in educating the learning disabled. This is an investment most coutries do not make, and it burdens our system. Since I agree with this commitment, there is not much to say about this. The second element is worker’s union that holds our educational system under lock and key. Teachers unions have fought charter schools, school choice, home-schooling, religious schools, and continue to fight voucher programs.Why? Because these programs (and any other creative solutions) are not beneficial to union bureaucrats. Where was Sojo when D.C. union big-wigs stole millions from the D.C. public education system? Did Mary Nelson have any hard questions about that one?

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posted May 25, 2007 at 5:31 pm

There was a day that when a person was provided for because they could not abtain it for themselves – they were grateful for the assistance and proudly took care of what they were given. Sadly – that is not the case for the majority of people on assistance today. They are in a ‘you owe me’ mentality and reckless because if they damage/loose this one they have to buy me a new one. I have seen 3 major housing complexes be built and several years later demolished because the residents there trashed them to the point it was not worth the money to repair them.How do we help enable mixed-income communities, with spaces and places for community to happen? Nice idea and it can happen. One of the wealthyest communities in my area (Edina) is one of the most liberal. They demand affortable housing for those who need it and then change their city ordinances so that they don’t have to have them built next to their lovely homes. Affordable housing needs to be designed with smaller groups of a few hundred units rather than thousands of units.Education – can we get rid of Carters Dept of Ed and let teachers be teachers. get rid of the buerocracy that DC has developed and challenge the states to step to the line and provide a well rounded education. Teaching our children the how to and love of learning rather than just getting them to respond on what they heard. (critical thinking at the secondary level would be nice) We have good teachers in all our public schools, let them be teachers.Bottom line – the individual needs to be responsible for their own future and heald accountable for what is and has been given to them. The gov’t needs to develope programs that will get people from dependancy to independancy. (some type of sliding scale would be a great option) Have a great memorial weekend – I will be out there putting flowers on several graves and attending my sons soccer games at the NSC Cup. Be blessed – .

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kevin s.

posted May 25, 2007 at 6:51 pm

“How do we help enable mixed-income communities, with spaces and places for community to happen?” When it comed to providinig housing, I think there is a role for government to play. However, I agree that we must build accountability into the system. I think the Section-8 program has some built in accountability systems along these lines. If the resident trashes the place, they fail Section-8 inspection, and their rent is no longer covered. This is called abatement. When the renter owes rent on a property under abatement, they are no longer able to qualify for the Section 8 program until they make amends. So renters can’t just go from house to house, trashing each along the way.

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