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Remarks in a Telephone Conversation on Public Housing

April 11, 1994

Secretary Henry Cisneros. Mr. President, this is Henry Cisneros in Chicago.

The President. Hello, Henry, how are you?

Secretary Cisneros. Good, sir. I'm here with Senator Carol Moseley-Braun and Congressman Bobby Rush and Vince Lane of the housing authority, who's a good friend of yours, and about 200 folks at Progressive Community Church. And we are gathered together to talk about how to deal with the violence that's plagued the Chicago Housing Authority, Robert Taylor, Stateway, and other developments, over the last couple of days.

We're sitting at a table with about 20 guns that were picked up last night in police actions, a very violent weekend that resulted in about 15 shootings and 5 deaths. One 16-year-old was killed last night at Washington Park Homes, here in the area. We're looking at about 20 or so rifles, pistols, automatic weapons that were picked up in police action last night. So this is a very serious circumstance, and the group is very appreciative for your call, sir.

The President. Well, I'm very concerned that—all the efforts that have been made there over the last several years, and I'm glad Senator Moseley-Braun's there; I'm glad Bobby Rush is there; I know you're in his district. And I know Vince Lane remembers the trip that we took into Robert Taylor Homes back in 1991, before I even started running for President. And I'm so worried that all the progress that's been made will be undermined by the court decision. I wonder if some of this violence has not been almost aggravated by the decision. And I'm hoping that you'll be able to find a constitutional solution to this working with the Attorney General.

I know that this bike team effort last night did net a significant amount of guns and other things, and I'm encouraged by what you say. I want to encourage all the citizens who are there that we're going to do everything we can to support them and enable them to have control over their lives and not allow criminals to find shelter in the very public housing communities that they're terrorizing. I think it's very important. I just want to say, you tell me what you think we have to do, and I'll do it. I've seen what can be done there when people can take control of their own destinies. And I think we owe it to them to do everything we can to give them their homes back.

Secretary Cisneros. Mr. President, we're looking at a strategy that is essentially four elements. And I'll prepare a report for you with the Attorney General and have something on your desk, hopefully, by tomorrow or the next day. But obviously the first piece is to focus on the sweeps and the legality of what can be done to get the sweeps constitutional; secondly, to focus on other security measures, other measures we can take, such as Operation Safe Home and other things we can do; thirdly, to focus on such things as recreational programs this summer, recreational activity, midnight basketball, ballparks, antigang things, youth mentorship—critically important, and the community recognizes that's so; and then finally to focus on the long-term-vision remake of public housing in Chicago. And we've got some ideas about that. And I'll get it all to you in writing. But I just wanted to give you kind of the strategy.

I'm going to ask Senator Moseley-Braun to say a word, if I may, Mr. President.

Senator Carol Moseley-Braun. Good morning, Mr. President.

The President. Good morning, Senator.

[Senator Moseley-Braun suggested that the public housing problem be addressed by investing money in securing buildings, providing security forces, and creating jobs and opportunity.]

The President. Thank you. You know, there's some money in the—some significant money, especially in the House version of the crime bill, that would provide for some jobs for young people in high crime areas.

Senator Moseley-Braun. Right.

The President. And that's one of the things that we tried to do in rewriting it over on the House side, was to get some money in there so that we could determine the impact on the crime rate of providing jobs for people. I think—of course, I know you agree with me, what we're going to find is if we can go into some of these neighborhoods and put people to work, the crime rate will go way down.

[Senator Moseley-Braun voiced support for the legislation and reiterated the need for initiatives to reverse the history of neglect.]

The President. Thank you.

Senator Moseley-Braun. Thank you again, sir.

The President. Thank you so much.

Representative Bobby Rush. Mr. President?

The President. Yes.

Representative Bobby Rush. Bobby Rush.

How are you doing?

The President. Hi, Bobby. Nice to hear your voice, Congressman.

[Representative Rush thanked the President and called on Congress to assist in finding resources to improve public housing. He then introduced a community leader who listed problems facing residents of public housing and encouraged the President to take a stand.]

The President. Thank you very much. Thank you for what you said.

Secretary Cisneros. Mr. President, thank you very much.

The President. I want to thank the gentleman for his remarks. As I said, I once came to Chicago and visited the projects with Vince Lane shortly before I declared for President. And I would like to come again. And I do care a lot about what's going on there. And I'm encouraged by this meeting. And I want to thank Secretary Cisneros for so promptly responding to my request and going over there and spending the night and getting in closer touch with the situation. I feel better about it. And I hope we can do some things to help. I believe we can.

Secretary Cisneros. Mr. President, thank you for calling. I'm going to sign off with Vince Lane saying a couple of words to you, and we'll close out. We appreciate your time very much. We know there's things swirling in the world and you've got a busy schedule, so we deeply appreciate your call.

The President. Thanks.

Mr. Vince Lane. Mr. President?

The President. Yes. Hi, Vince.

Mr. Lane. How are you?

The President. Great.

[Mr. Lane, Chicago Housing Authority chairman, thanked the President for his leadership in sending Secretary Cisneros and involving Attorney General Reno to address the problems in Chicago public housing.]

The President. Well, thank you, Vince, and thanks for blazing away for us and making people believe that we could actually do something to improve life in public housing. You showed me that it could be done years ago, and I'm convinced that maybe we can use this court decision as a spur to even do a better job, a more comprehensive job. We're going to do everything we possibly can.

Mr. Lane. God bless you.

The President. Thanks. It's nice to hear your voice.

Goodbye, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you.

NOTE: The telephone conversation began at 10:27 a.m. The President spoke from the Oval Office at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks in a Telephone Conversation on Public Housing Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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