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Kaine: ‘Poverty is hiding in plain sight’

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Detroit — Fighting poverty is a pro-growth strategy and a moral responsibility, Democratic vice presidential Tim Kaine said Tuesday in Detroit, delivering a policy-heavy speech in what remains America’s poorest major city.

Democratic Vice President Candidate Tim Kaine speaks at Focus: HOPE in Detroit.

Kaine used his 55-minute address at Focus: HOPE to discuss running mate Hillary Clinton’s plans to tackle poverty, including major infrastructure investments, a higher minimum wage and expansion of credit programs for child care and affordable housing.

“If you’re going to fight poverty, you first have to see it, and acknowledge it and talk about it openly. You know about that here in Detroit,” Kaine said. “As the auto industry has struggled back to life, the city has shown an amazing spirit, but you’re just getting started.”

Clinton and Kaine have embraced the 10-20-30 model developed by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, directing 10 percent of federal spending to communities where 20 percent of residents have been living below the poverty line for 30 years.

While Detroit continues to struggle with poverty, Kaine said nearly 40 percent of all Americans will experience at least one year of poverty at some point in their lifetime. The nearby city of Taylor, he noted, has a poverty rate of roughly 20 percent.

“In a lot of communities, poverty is hiding in plain sight,” said the Virginia U.S. Senator, “and wherever it is and however it looks we’ve got to challenge ourselves to tackle it.”

Kaine highlighted his own commitment to fighting poverty, including his work as a Jesuit missionary in Honduras, and his Catholic faith, noting that Jesus often talked about the poor.

He argued the country must examine “root causes” of poverty, including a “legacy of racial discrimination” he said has made it hard for African-Americans to accumulate wealth, prompting applause from the diverse crowd.

Kaine spoke to an audience of about 250 people, including 200 invited guests and 50 local residents who had participated in workforce training or other programs at Focus: HOPE.

The nonprofit, located on Detroit’s northwest side, works to bridge “the racial and economic divide” in the region through workforce development training, food and basic needs programs and more.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan helped introduce Kaine, touting his electoral record as a city council member, mayor, senator and now possible vice president.

“Last week he called me in preparation,” Duggan said of Kaine. “Normally I tell people what we need, (but) I did more listening than talking. It was amazing.”

On the heels of Pence

The U.S. senator from Virginia’s address came less than 24 hours after GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence addressed Macomb County Republicans, calling the election a “choice between two futures” as he touted running mate Donald Trump as a change agent.

“Tim Kaine continues to be nothing more than a shill for the failed Obama/Clinton policies of the past,” Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said Tuesday in a statement. “Given his lack of accomplishments during an extended tenure in public service, this should be a surprise to no one.”

But Kaine, pointing to a new Democratic Party platform influenced by Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, called himself and Clinton “progressives who like to get stuff done.”

He said Clinton will push to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour “over time,” noting the increase could be phased in differently in different regions of the country with unique characteristics.

He also stressed the importance of Social Security, saying that it helps keep people out of poverty — not just the elderly, but also younger people who depend on them.

“My dad’s bill,” former Congressman John Dingell shouted from the front-row, referencing his father’s central role in creating the safety net program that provides benefits to retirees and others.

Kaine acknowledged Social Security “hasn’t kept up with today’s reality,” including longer life expectancies, putting the long-term promise of the program in jeopardy.

“We’re not going to just defend it; we want to go on offense,” Kaine said. “We want to expand it, especially for those who need it the most. Right now the folks who need it most are elderly widows.”

Kaine said he and Clinton would seek to expand low-income housing tax credits in high-cost areas and said they would seek to end “predatory lending practices” in the housing market.

“A safe home means being able to drink the water. Is that so controversial?” Kaine said, arguing the country must address “environmental injustices” like the Flint water contamination crisis. “Is that so hard in the richest country in the world?”

The vice presidential hopeful made only a few mentions of Trump, the businessman who has visited both Detroit and Flint in an attempt to woo African-American voters who have traditionally backed Democrats.

“Donald Trump tried to show he cared about Flint,” Kaine said. “He dropped by the water treatment plant and told everybody they did a good job, and then he went to the local church and ended up picking a fight with the pastor.”

Clinton did it differently he said, noting the Democratic presidential nominee met with Flint leaders, highlighted the water crisis in her primary campaign and launch a fund for water delivery.

“We have a goal to eliminate lead as a major public health threat in five years,” Kaine said. “This is not something that should be hard to do for the greatest nation in the world.”

No WikiLeaks mention

Kaine’s visit came amidst continued revelations from WikiLeaks’ release of hacked Clinton campaign emails, which have proven both controversial and embarrassing for the Democratic nominee.

Clinton’s running mate made no mention of the emails in Detroit, but Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow sought to tamp down the controversial contents by instead focusing on the source.

“I think what we should all be concerned about, in an age where we’re using cellphones and texting and emails, is that the Russians are hacking our systems,” she told reporters, citing U.S. officials who have said the foreign government may be providing the emails to WikiLeaks. “Right now it may be Democrats, but eventually it will be everyone.”

Across the street from the Kaine speech, Coinless Laundromat owner Omar Laurencin challenged a customer who said he did not plan to vote in the election because he did not think either candidate would actually do anything to help African-Americans.

“Bro, that’s like voting for Donald Trump,” said Laurencin, 38, who moved to Detroit in 1999 after growing up in New York, where he said he was repeatedly hassled by police under an aggressive “stop and frisk” policy touted by Trump but called a form of racial profiling by a federal judge.

“We got the good, the bad and the ugly around here,” said Laurencin, surveying the northwest Detroit neighborhood.

While some of his friends in the business community have touted Trump, Laurencin said he is sure he’s going to vote for Clinton. Still, he was skeptical Clinton will be able to pull off the anti-poverty plan Kaine was in town to tout.

“Unless they are going to somehow take over the Senate and Congress, they’re not really going to be able to do much of anything,” Laurencin said. “The reality is they’ll talk, they’ll try, but it will all get shot down.”

Roughly an hour later, Kaine opened his speech with an ambitious call to action, noting the Democrat platform goal of working toward eliminating poverty.

“We have a responsibility to dream big. We shouldn’t be afraid to reach far. We shouldn’t be afraid to say something bold and then have people hold us accountable for trying to do it,” he said.

joosting@detroitnews.com