Neil E. Goldschmidt is not a household name. The reason for this is that he is a member of President Carter's Cabinet. Mr. Goldschmidt is secretary of Transportation. He would have probably remained anonymous for the rest of his term except that last week he told reporters that he would look for opportunities to deny federal funds to Chicago because Mayor Jane Byrne had decided to support Sen. Teddy Kennedy.
Since Secretary Goldschmidt is new to Washington he can't be blamed for putting Chicago on the president's hit list. He told reporters the decision had been made after consulting with White House officials.
What people didn't know until Goldschmidt's meeting with reporters is that Department of Transportation has a $2-billion government slush fund which can be distributed to the cities for their needs at the discretion of the secretary. While it is the taxpayers' money, the Carter people have decided to use it to keep the mayors in line.
I have no vested interest in Chicago, except never to go there in the winter, but as a taxpayer I didn't know that my money would be used to guarantee Carter's nomination in 1980.
I was so upset to hear that Secretary Goldschmidt had the authority to give or withhold government money, according to a mayor's loyalty to the president, that I called the Department of Transportation to protest.
"How could you do something like that?" I asked someone in charge.
He replied, "In spite of what you read in the newspapers Secretary Goldschmidt's decision was not a political one. We're cutting Mayor Byrne off because we feel Chicago would only waste the funds on improving its urban transportation system."
"But isn't that what the Department of Transportation's money is supposed to go for?"
"Up to a point," he said. "But it was not Congress' intent to vote appropriations which would turn her back on the greatest president the United States has ever known."
"Then you are playing politics with the taxpayers' money."
"We most certainly are not. We have guidelines before we give federal funds to the cities. The most important question is does the mayor have the intelligence and executive ability to use the money wisely in improving her transportation system? The secretary, after consulting with transportation experts at the 'Carter for President' organization, decided that Mayor Byrne failed to meet his test."
"But you decided this only after she came out for Kennedy."
"We decided it long before that, but only announced it after she came out for Kennedy so we wouldn't hurt Mayor Byrne's feelings. We'd much prefer for her to believe it was a political decision rather than tell her the truth, that when it comes to transportation matters she's a very poor mayor."
"Can you assure me that your action against Chicago, and any future actions you take in withholding funds from a city, has absolutely nothing to do with the upcoming election?" I demanded.
"Of course I can" he said. "The secretary has told me many times, 'My only job is to see that America's trains run on time. But I would not be serving the interests of the American people if I gave money to a mayor who doesn't even know which side her bread is buttered on.'"