Friday, March 24, 2000

Gore's visit: politics first




BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Vice President Al Gore looks over a deteriorating classroom at Sands Montessori with principal Maureen Murphy-Lintz.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        Teachers and students at Sands Montessori School in Cincinnati's West End expected to hear from Al Gore Thursday on how he wants to fix school buildings, but the vice president had Social Security on his mind.

        By the time the Democratic presidential candidate's 20-vehicle motorcade got to the school, the Gore campaign was in “response mode” to Texas Gov. George W. Bush's charge that Mr. Gore had “a credibility problem” that would make him unable as president to deal with issues like Social Security.

        Suddenly, what was to have been a campaign stop at an inner-city school with a good academic reputation but a crumbling building turned into another chapter in the national campaign.

        “All he has done is propose a risky tax scheme that would endanger Social Security,” Mr. Gore told a crowd of about 100 teachers, parents and students squeezed into Sands' library.

        As the Sands crowd listened, the vice president turned to a bank of network TV cameras set up in the back of the library and said the Texas governor had launched “personal, negative attacks the way he did against (former GOP presidential contender) John McCain.”

        “I was hoping we could have a campaign about ideas, not insults,” said Mr. Gore.

        Mt. Lookout resident Julie Hefele, parent of two Sands students, said she was surprised Mr. Gore spent the first half of his speech addressing Social Security and not schools.

        “I knew that this was a campaign appearance, but I didn't expect so much party politics,” Mrs. Hefele said. “I don't care about Social Security — I care about the schools. That was a little disappointing, although he did eventually talk about that.”

        The Democratic candidate's original purpose in coming to Cincinnati was for a Democratic National Committee fund-raising luncheon at the Amberley Village home of lawyer Stanley Chesley. That event went off as planned, with the vice president helping Mr. Chesley raise about $500,000 in unregulated “soft money” for the DNC.

        Mr. Gore, who has come out recently for the banning of “soft money” in political campaigns, defended its use in brief remarks to the 40 guests at the Chesley home.

        “Any decent public servant that goes into this line of work does not do it to raise money,” Mr. Gore told the luncheon guests. “But there are people out there who depend on the economic policies we have promoted. They depend on us not to lay down and abandon the field to the people who oppose us.”

        The luncheon attracted a crowd that was about half local Democrats and half Mr. Chesley's friends and fellow trial lawyers from out-of-town. Among them was Ed Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor who is now co-chairman of the DNC.

        Fund-raising was the original reason for the vice president's visit, but the secondary reason was to continue the education theme the Gore campaign has been carrying this week — this time, with a visit to a school that, while successful academically, is in serious need for repair, with bad plumbing, broken windows, and worn-out floorings.

        The Gore campaign used the Sands Montessori visit to underscore the vice president's support of a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. It would have the federal government cover the interest on bonds issued by local communities for school modernization and construction.

        “Students and teachers shouldn't be worrying about something falling on their heads during the school day,” Mr. Gore said.

        Before talking to the students and teachers in the library, the vice president, with Principal Maureen Murphy-Lintz at his side, toured two classrooms where the damage is particularly bad — one where a music teacher uses a plywood cover over a broken window as a bulletin board and another where paint and plaster are peeling off the windows.

        “This is not good,” Mr. Gore said, looking at the peeling paint on the windows in teacher Sharon McCreary's fourth, fifth and sixth grade language arts class. “This should not be.”

        At the library, Mr. Gore lashed out at Mr. Bush's opposition to direct federal assistance to school districts for school repair and construction. Mr. Bush favors giving states block grants they could use for a variety of educational purposes, including repairing old schools and building new ones.

        “He says it is "just bricks and mortar,'” Mr. Gore said, quoting the Texas governor. “I would rather have bricks and mortar than smoke and mirrors.”

        But both at the Chesley fund-raising event and at Sands Montessori, Mr. Gore hammered at Mr. Bush's plans to use much of the projected federal budget surpluses for tax cuts, repeatedly calling it a “risky tax scheme.”

        “He would spend the entire surplus and a trillion dollars over and above that surplus, putting the Social Security system at risk,” Mr. Gore said at Sands. “Any of these children here could go to the chalkboard and show that the numbers don't add up.”

        As he has done before, Mr. Gore called for a series of weekly debates with the Republican nominee between now and the November election on topics such as Social Security, Medicare, the economy and foreign policy.

        “He and I should be having these exchanges face-to-face,” Mr. Gore said.

        The Gore campaign was temporarily detoured Thursday after Mr. Bush's attack on Mr. Gore's so-called “credibility problem” and shifted the focus from education to Social Security in Cincinnati, but, by this morning, the campaign will be back on the education track.

        After flying out of Lunken Airport late Thursday afternoon, Mr. Gore was expected to spend the evening at the home of a suburban Detroit public school teacher Thursday night.

        Today, he plans to spend the day with that teacher at her school, talking to other teachers, students and administrators.

        James Pilcher contributed to this report.

       



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