Hello From Joe
September 1, 2009 9:23 AM
I got a chance to talk with Vice President Joe Biden yesterday. I was invited to be on a conference call to talk with him about local progress on the Federal stimulus initiatives. I thought I'd be one of hundreds on the call, but it turned out that it was only me and the mayors of four other cities. The Vice President said he has done calls like this every week for months.
Owing to an accident of the alphabet (Cieslewicz was the first name on his list), the Vice President called on me first. I pitched high speed rail and the connection to the potential Chicago Olympics. (If Chicago gets the 2016 Olympics some of the biking competitions will be in Madison.) Biden told me that there were applications from communities around the country totaling over $200 billion for only $8 billion in available funding. But I was encouraged when he said that the Federal money would go to the projects that were most advanced and ready to go. With the environmental impact statements already done and the state funding share in place, our Chicago to Milwaukee to Madison to Minneapolis proposal is in a very strong position. Biden also said that they were well aware in Washington about the high speed rail system built around Beijing as part of the Olympics when they were there.
I also thanked him for the new Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant program. I told him it was going to help a lot of middle and low income families insulate their homes and I invited him to Madison to see the good this program will do. Finally, I thanked him for the revitalization of the COPS program, a particular favorite of the Vice President, and a program that can help us put more police officers on the street.
Overall, I found the Vice President very engaged. He listened to us all very closely, responded to our questions often with detailed answers and promised staff follow up on questions and issues he couldn't answer. (I asked him to make sure that long-awaited guidelines on public health programs be promulgated soon and a staff person said they'd be ready to go in October.)
So, this wasn't just a photo op. It was a chance to have a meaningful conversation with the guy just steps away (literally and metaphorically) from the Oval Office.