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Obama visits Ohio to show how stimulus can help cities

In Columbus, the president attends a swearing-in ceremony for 25 police recruits whose jobs were funded by the stimulus package. Still, their salaries are covered for only one year.

March 07, 2009|Christi Parsons

COLUMBUS, OHIO — Just weeks after police cadets here were told the jobs they expected had been lost to city budget cuts, President Obama flew in to speak at their graduation ceremony Friday -- and to laud the federal stimulus package that will put them to work after all.

"For those who still doubt the wisdom of our recovery plan, I ask them to talk to the teachers who are still able to teach our children because we passed this plan. . . . I ask them to come to Ohio and meet the 25 men and women who will soon be protecting the streets of Columbus because we passed this plan," the president said.

"I look at these young men and women, I look into their eyes and I see their badges today and I know we did the right thing."

The police recruits will get their jobs thanks to a cash infusion from the $787-billion stimulus package Obama signed into law last month.

From the funds, $1.25 million will cover the new officers' salaries for one year. Officials are not sure where next year's pay will come from. They have halted all recruit training for the time being.

Columbus has had to contend with major layoffs in other city departments and the shuttering of public facilities.

The president's visit to Ohio fit the pattern of his recent travels. He has been making trips to places that he says will benefit from the stimulus money and that are also in political swing states of the last presidential campaign. They have included communities in North Carolina, Indiana, Arizona and Florida.

"The president is campaigning for public support of his agenda," said John Green, a political scientist and director of the nonpartisan Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in Ohio. "He has lots of things he wants to do beyond the stimulus bill, and it appears to help the president to be out among the people and away from Washington."

As the 114th Recruit Class was sworn in, it seemed Obama had won support among most of the friends, family and dignitaries gathered in a Shriners' hall.

Josh Porter lost 100 pounds four years ago in hopes of applying to the academy one day. With his wife urging him to pursue his dream, he started classes last summer.

Days before the planned Jan. 30 graduation, police officials came to the cadets' classroom to say there would be no jobs for them. That morning, the cadets had been given their new badges, but the next day they had to turn them back in.

"I was devastated, because this is something I've wanted all my life," Porter said.

Then Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman appealed to Washington for help. At a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he said, he caught up with Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.

"I said, 'This is a matter of urgency,' " Coleman recounted.

Just a few days later, the mayor said, he got a letter from the Justice Department informing him of the reprieve.

The result was Friday's graduation. Obama and Holder flew in on Air Force One to attend.

Porter was among those sworn in.

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cparsons@tribune.com

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