White House Official Will Take Lead in Meeting Region's Needs
White House Urban Affairs Director Adolfo Carrion will be a key contact for the Washington region as the Obama administration seeks to improve the federal government's relations with the area.
Carrion's role was made clear at a July 20 meeting between senior White House and federal departmental officials, and local politicians and planners from the national capital region. (Editor's note: Post columnist Robert McCartney described highlights of the meeting in a column this morning.)
Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser and longtime friend of the president and first lady, was the top-ranking official at the meeting of about 30 people, which took place at the National Press Club.
In an interview Tuesday in her White House office, Jarrett said Carrion would take the lead in pushing different parts of the federal government to work together to help the Washington area -- and other metropolitan regions -- in "creating healthy communities." She described those as ones with affordable housing, good schools, safe streets and easy access to grocery stores, recreation and public transit.
The hard part, of course, is that these things cost money. Jarrett acknowledged that resources are allocated by Cabinet departments rather than her White House office, but she tried to put that in a positive light.
"It's not always a matter of just adding more money. Oftentimes it's a matter of coordinating better how strategically the money is spent," Jarrett said. "We can pull together agencies and have them talk to one another, to make sure the money is spent strategically."
That's the job of Carrion, a former president of New York's Bronx borough. He said the administration has a special responsibility to work more closely with the Washington region. "For too long there's been this distance between the federal government and its host community," he said.
Here and elsewhere, Carrion will be pushing the administration's support for "transit-oriented development," or encouraging construction of offices and residences close to mass transit.
Carrion said past policies have "allowed sprawl. We've allowed the lion's share of our spending to go to highways, and so much less to go to mass transit." Now, he said, "We want to make sure our investments in transportation are aligned with those in housing and land use."
Carrion recently began a series of visits around the country, promoting projects that the administration views as models for improving metropolitan regions. He's been to Philadelphia, where he highlighted a program to build grocery stores in urban areas that lacked them, and will be going soon to Denver and Kansas City, Mo. The tour will wind up in Washington.
The July 20 meeting was co-hosted by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the National Capital Planning Commission. In addition to Jarrett and Carrion, the administration side included Xavier Briggs, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget, and representatives from the Transportation, Human Services and Defense departments, the General Services Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Local leaders said they hoped the administration would use Washington area programs as examples to highlight national policies.
"There's a lot you can learn in the national capital region, without getting on an airplane, that applies to other communities," David Robertson, executive director of the council of governments, said.
Jarrett groaned when asked what the administration could do to advance one local cause -- D.C. voting rights. "I'm new here. I don't know as much as I should on that," she said. "I would rest on the president's record on that."
-- Robert McCartney
Washington Post Editors
August 6, 2009; 1:03 PM ET
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