White House Urban Affairs Chief Picked — Bronx Borough President Lays Out Vision for New Policy Office

Adolfo Carrión Jr. is an urban planner by training.
Adolfo Carrión Jr. is an urban planner by training. (Monaster, Thomas)
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By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 2009

NEW YORK, Feb. 19 -- Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr., who was named Thursday to direct the new White House Office of Urban Affairs, said he wants cities to become economic centers that can pull the country out of a recession and improve American competitiveness in a global market.

Carrión said he would help coordinate urban policy in traditional areas such as education, health care and public safety. But he also said he would look to develop urban neighborhoods in environmentally thoughtful ways, such as by offering incentives for companies to locate in densely populated areas and improving mass transit.

"I'm excited because this president is taking urban America out of the desert it's been in for eight years," he said.

Also Thursday, President Obama named Derek Douglas, director of New York Gov. David A. Paterson's Washington office, to work with Carrión as special assistant to the president for urban affairs.

Carrión, 47, is an urban planner by training who since 2002 has served as borough president of one of the country's poorest counties. Born in Manhattan and of Puerto Rican descent, he is president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and campaigned during the presidential race in Latino communities across the country, first for Hillary Rodham Clinton and after the primaries for Barack Obama.

Carrión said Thursday that details of his new office, such as staff and budget, were still uncertain.

In recent years, including during Carrión's tenure, many of the bleakest Bronx neighborhoods dramatically improved. The White House statement announcing his appointment credits him with overseeing the addition of 40,000 units of housing and 50 schools, and spending $7 billion on capital and infrastructure projects and more than $400 million on new parks and parkland renovation.

In the South Bronx, it is now not hard to find quiet rows of neat apartments and tracts of suburban-style detached homes -- and even well-heeled former Manhattanites who moved north. In Hunts Point, a thriving economy has developed around one of the country's largest food distribution centers, and national stores have come to many shopping districts.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) on Thursday cited Carrión's work on such projects as the South Bronx Initiative, job-creation programs and a new Yankee Stadium.

But Carrión also attracted criticism from community and environmental groups for his support for the new baseball stadium. And several New York political figures and analysts noted that the position of borough president is a weak one and that many of the projects Carrión helped shepherd had been in the works before he took office.

"The borough president has minimal formal power," said Douglas Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College. "My impression is that Carrión's role has been more supportive than innovative, and more catalyst than initiator. But those roles are extraordinarily important. He's very bright, very articulate, and he understands urban planning."

Muzzio said Carrión is largely untested outside of the Bronx: "This is the difference between the Little League field and Yankee Stadium."

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