Philadelphia Inquirer, May 14, 2008: Edwards in N. Phila. to help fight poverty

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By Thomas Fitzgerald

Inquirer Staff Writer

Former Sen. John Edwards ended his Democratic presidential campaignnearly four months ago, but he was back on the stump yesterday in theTioga section of North Philadelphia, urging Americans to join him inthe “moral cause” of fighting poverty.

Edwards, the party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2004, came to theThankful Baptist Church to kick off Half in Ten, a new movement toreduce the national poverty rate 50 percent during the next decade.

“What we do for each other says something about who we are, what ourcharacter is, what kind of country we are,” said Edwards, who will bechairman of the effort. Helping fellow citizens have an opportunity tolift themselves up is part of “our responsibility to each other,” hesaid.

Poverty was a central part of Edwards’ populist-tinged message in hiscampaign for president, which he abandoned Jan. 30 after coming upshort in states with early primaries and caucuses. The event yesterdaymarked the beginning of a new phase in his career; Edwards plans asummer tour to highlight the issue.

“Sen. Edwards is clearly demonstrating that he meant what he is talkingabout – that it was not just campaign stuff, it was real,” Mayor Nuttersaid.

Half in Ten is a joint project of four national advocacy groups: theCenter for American Progress Foundation; ACORN, which organizesactivists in low-income communities; the Leadership Conference on CivilRights, or LCCR; and the Coalition on Human Needs.

They aim to advocate federal and state policies to help people get outof poverty, including increasing the minimum wage and indexing it toinflation; expanding earned-income tax credits, offered by the federalgovernment and some states to supplement wages for low-income families;and expanding access to subsidized child care.

Such “simple legislative fixes” can provide immediate help in realpeople’s lives, said Wade Henderson, president of the LCCR. “This isnot a Washington, inside-the-Beltway, pointy-headed conversation.”

Philadelphia was an apt place to open the campaign because the city hasthe largest percentage of its population living below the poverty lineamong the 10 biggest U.S. cities – 25 percent. Federal guidelinesdefine poverty as $20,650 or less in annual income for a family of four.

In addition, organizers said, legislation is pending in Harrisburg toexpand state tax credits for the working poor and access to child care,as well as to bump up the state minimum wage – now $7.15 an hour formost workers – and peg it to inflation. Philadelphia also is home tovibrant ACORN grassroots groups in several neighborhoods.

Olivia Dorsey, 82, the president of the Tioga chapter of ACORN, tookEdwards on a walking tour of the neighborhood, pointing out vacant lotsthe organization had persuaded the city to clean up and housingrenovations that were under way. “There are neighborhoods everywhereacross the country where ordinary people are coming together to makechange,” Dorsey said.

Edwards said he had had “positive conversations” about poverty policywith all three of the remaining major presidential candidates,including the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain. Headmitted, “I wish I was one of them,” when he mentioned the finalistsin the race, drawing sympathetic laughter.

But he was clearly in no mood for politics, telling reporters he wouldnot discuss the battle for the Democratic nomination between Sens.Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Edwards has endorsed neithercandidate.

He also seemed to enjoy being free of the rhetorical constraints of apresidential candidate whose every word is parsed, getting in thespirit of the setting.

“I’ll tell you why we’re going to win and why we are going to besuccessful – because we are right and the Lord is with us every step ofthe way,” Edwards said.

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