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Remarks at the Dedication Ceremony for the Mahlon Martin Apartments in Little Rock, Arkansas

June 25, 1995

Thank you very much, Mr. Grogan; Mr. those who helped to make this day possible: Brimberry; my good friend Gary Smith; and all Governor Tucker; Congressman Thornton; Mayor Dailey; Mayor Hays; Judge Villines; our secretary of state, Sharon Priest, and state treasurer, Jimmie Lou Fisher; prosecuting attorney Mark Stoler, who drove me in my first campaign 21 years ago; Senator Walker; to the fine young AmeriCorps volunteers here who are participating in this event.

Let me say a word to all of you but especially to those who have come from Washington with me. This is a hometown event, all right, for my friend Mahlon Martin and his wonderful wife, Cheryl. A lot of us have come down here for it, the Federal Highway Administrator, Rodney Slater, and Mr. Lindsey and others. But this is an event of national significance because this is a concrete, specific example of what I have been trying to say to the American people now for 2 1/2 years, which is, there is nothing wrong with this country that cannot be solved with what is right with this country, that the best thing to do is not to have a big argument about whether the Government or the private sector ought to solve all our problems, because neither can do it and what we need is a partnership.

I want to thank Mr. Lupberger. I see Mr. Brimberry up here with Mr. Smith—all the people who have been involved with all the banks and all the corporations who have helped in this endeavor. But before I go back to the programs, let me just remind you what this is going to do. These facilities are going to do two things. Most importantly, they are going to give homes to working people who don't have enough money to get by. The real heroes in American society today are the people who get up every day, work a full week, raise their kids the best they can, and do not have enough money to get by. And they deserve a place to live, health care for their kids, decent schools, and safe streets. And if we had it, this country would be in better shape.

Now, that is what this is all about. People are going to be able to afford to live in these places who are out there working for somewhere between $15,000 and $18,000 a year and doing their best to raise their kids, give them a chance to be well-educated and safe and drug-free and have a future. And they deserve this kind of chance. And it happened because practical people developed partnerships which made it possible. And that happens from programs, and it happens from people.

The second thing I want to say is more personal. As a longtime citizen of this city, I used to run by this street almost every day of my life, by these two buildings. Every day, when laziness didn't get the better of me, I would run by these two buildings, and I would think how beautiful they were and what a shame it was that they weren't being used in a productive way.

These buildings will give an example, a sense of pride, a sense of hope, a sense of possibility to other people. They will make people more proud. They will change the way people think about this neighborhood, this downtown area, and this city. And I want all the people who live here to make sure you take good care of them and to make people proud of them and to prove that this effort was worth doing.

I thank you for the mention of the low-income housing tax credit. It was part of the economic development plan in 1993. The other thing we did in 1993 is to cut the income taxes of all the people who will live in this building who have children, because we don't believe people who work 40 hours a week and have kids in their homes should bring those children up in poverty. If you work full-time, your children ought to be able to live above the poverty line.

We've done other things that make this partnership more possible. We've continued the community development block grants, and the city put about 20 percent of the money into this project because of the community development block grants. It's threatened today in Washington. I hope we can save it. We can cut a lot of spending back, but we're going to have to invest some money back in our people and their future.

We also tried to improve the Community Reinvestment Act to give banks better incentives and better support in reinvesting in the community. And we tried to establish a whole national network of community development banks like the Elk Horn Bank in Arkadelphia which the First Lady and Mahlon and so many others, including the Rockefeller Foundation before Mahlon went there, had to do with establishing. We thank you for making Arkansas a national model in that, and we're trying to do that all around the country. We created over 100 empowerment zones and enterprise communities, of which Little Rock is one, to give people incentives for these kind of partnerships.

Now, most voters can never remember the acronym of LISC, and if you told them what a local initiative support corporation was they wouldn't understand what that is either. But most Americans have enough common sense to know that we don't need to get into an ideological debate and you don't have to be a genius to understand that if people are working for a living and trying to raise their children, they ought to have a decent place to live. And the best way to do it is not to have a huge ideological debate in Washington about whether the Government ought to do it or the private sector ought to do it. The best way to do it is to roll up your sleeves, have a practical partnership, and empower people at the grassroots level to make the most of their own lives.

But I also want to say it requires people. And this is the last point I will make in this brief address on a hot day. I'm not sure I would be President today if it weren't for Mahlon Martin. I remember once when I went to Montreal to give a speech to the international convention of city managers, a fellow from another State— Michigan, I think—came up to me and said, "You know, Mahlon Martin when he was city manager of Little Rock was one of the 10 best city managers in the entire United States of America." Mahlon Martin once wanted to be a pro baseball player. He wound up going to Philander Smith and deferring that dream, and instead he spent his life helping the rest of us live out our dreams. In a way, I know he misses baseball and I know he was glad when the strike was settled, but I think that there are very few baseball players which will have helped as many people live out their dreams as Mahlon Martin has helped in our State, in this community.

In 1983, when I persuaded him to become head of the department of finance and administration, we took office with the State broke, in an illegal financial condition. And the first thing that we had to do to make Mahlon and the Governor immensely popular was to cut spending one percent across the board, for everything, just to come into compliance with the State law. It was a wonderful way to begin an administration. [Laughter]

Then a couple of years later, Governor, in one budget period, Mahlon had to cut spending in one of our budget cycles six times during the recession of the eighties, six times cutting back on things that we desperately wanted to spend more money on, including education.

I used to tell everybody that when I was Governor, Mahlon Martin was the government, and I made the speeches. I never saw a fellow who could tell people no and make them like it better than he did. [Laughter] And I think it's because they always knew he wanted to say yes and that he was trying to preserve the financial integrity of the State and the management integrity of the State in ways that would command the confidence of the taxpayers of Arkansas and make it possible for us to do as much for people in their lives as we possibly could.

And when he left the administration and went on to run the Rockefeller Foundation, I think he was actually doing what he was really put on this Earth to do, which was to find new and different and innovative ways for ordinary people to live extraordinary lives. And I can tell you that I have now served with thousands and thousands of remarkable people all across this country. I have had the privilege of knowing more exceptional Americans than almost anyone of my time, solely because of my position. I have never met a finer American or a more gifted public servant than the person we honor today, our friend Mahlon Martin.

This is a plaque presented to Mahlon Martin in grateful appreciation for his 2 years of outstanding service and dedication to the Local Initiative Support Corporation that provided these opportunities that we celebrate today. The most important thing on the plaque is a quote that could have been about Mahlon Martin from Margaret Meade: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:25 a.m. at the Mahlon Martin Apartments. In his remarks, he referred to Paul Grogan, president, Local Initiative Support Corp. (LISC); Ron Brimberry, president, Downtown Little Rock Community Development Corp.; Gary Smith, executive vice president, Boatman's Bank; Gov. Jim Guy Tucker of Arkansas; Mayor Jim Dailey of Little Rock, AR; Mayor Patrick Henry Hays of North Little Rock, AR; Floyd G. (Buddy) Villines, Pulaski County judge; and Edwin Lupberger, chairman and chief executive officer, Entergy.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Dedication Ceremony for the Mahlon Martin Apartments in Little Rock, Arkansas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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