Here's a quiz. Who is the first presidential candidate to propose a specific strategic idea that can help Great Lakes cities conserve energy, manage traffic congestion, combat climate change, and revitalize blighted urban areas to compete in the 21st economy?
Is it Rudy Giuliani, the Republican contender, or Hillary Clinton, the front running Democrat, both of whom hail from New York City, one of the world's urban capitols of commerce? Nope. Is it Barack Obama, the inspirational change agent who represents Chicago, a great American city? Nope. What about Mitt Romney, the self made Republican hopeful who's based in Boston, the Cradle of Liberty? Nope.
The answer is Bill Richardson, the current governor of New Mexico and Democratic long shot, who works in lil' ole' Santa Fe.
Campaigning in Minnesota last Friday, Gov. Richardson cited the short list of standard issues: Iraq, energy, and education. But during a brief 17 minute conversation with reporters before leaving town, he also found the time to address an increasingly important issue for Midwest cities like Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Cleveland: the lack of modern mass transit.
"You guys have a traffic problem," Gov. Richardson said. "This is endemic to a lot of cities. A president should care about transportation policy. If elected, I would actively promote light rail. And I would work closely with cities and state governments, instead of having just the presidential highway bill be directed towards repairing existing highways and potholes, I would redirect it to light rail, smart growth, and bullet trains. My transportation policy, we would try to jointly fund with the city and the state a light rail system."
The lack of rapid transit is national challenge. But it's also a glaring and ironic problem that strikes at the heart of the greater Great Lakes region's environmental, cultural, and economic well being. I mean, Detroit talks about becoming a center of modern mobility innovation but it's the French who are cranking out the fastest trains.
By seizing on the issue, Gov. Richardson, a former secretary of energy and Clinton cabinet member, aims to define himself as a leader who's uniquely in touch with domestic issues - in this case the link between mass transit and metropolitan competitiveness - and not afraid to break from the pack to talk about specific solutions.