Obama lauds stimulus effect

President points to new Columbus, Ohio, police jobs as early success

March 07, 2009|By Christi Parsons | Christi Parsons,Tribune Washington Bureau

COLUMBUS, Ohio -Just weeks after local police cadets were told the jobs they expected had been lost to city budget cuts, President Barack Obama flew in to speak at their graduation ceremony yesterday and to laud the federal stimulus bill that will put them to work after all.

"For those who still doubt the wisdom of our recovery plan, I ask them to talk to the teachers who are still able to teach our children because we passed this plan. ... I ask them to come to Ohio and meet the 25 men and women who will soon be protecting the streets of Columbus because we passed this plan," the president said.

"I look at these young men and women - I look into their eyes, and I see their badges today - and I know we did the right thing."

The police recruits will assume their jobs thanks to a cash infusion from the $787 billion stimulus package that Obama signed into law last month.

The $1.25 million devoted to the police jobs will cover the officers' salaries for one year. Officials are not sure where the funding will come from for next year's pay. They have halted all recruit training for now.

Columbus has had to contend with huge city layoffs in other departments and the shuttering of public facilities.

The president's visit to Ohio fit the pattern of his recent travels. He has been visiting places that he says will benefit from the stimulus money and that are in the political swing states of the last election. They have included communities in North Carolina, Indiana, Arizona and Florida.

"The president is campaigning for public support of his agenda," said John Green, a political scientist and director of the nonpartisan Bliss Institute at the University of Akron. "He has lots of things he wants to do beyond the stimulus bill, and it appears to help the president to be out among the people and away from Washington."

Obama is inviting state officials to a White House conference Thursday on how best to spend money from the stimulus bill.

Each governor is invited to send a senior official to the White House event. Cabinet members and other administration officials will speak.

As the 114th Recruit Class was sworn in, it was clear that Obama had won support among most of the friends, family and dignitaries gathered in a local Shriners' hall.

Josh Porter lost 100 pounds four years ago in hopes of applying to the academy. With his wife urging him to do what he had always dreamed of, he enrolled and started classes last summer.

Days before the planned Jan. 30 graduation from the program, police officials came to the cadets' classroom to say there would be no jobs for them. That morning, the cadets had been given their new badges. The next day they had to return them.

Then, Mayor Michael Coleman appealed to Washington for help. At a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he said, he spoke with Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general.

"I said, 'This is a matter of urgency,' " Coleman recalled. " 'I'm going to lay these guys off in a matter of days.' " Coleman said he got a letter from the U.S. Justice Department days later, informing him of the reprieve.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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