- Seeks to largely eliminate America’s suburbs as independent entities by blending them, economically and politically, into the cities they border
- Advocates “regional tax-base sharing” policies that redistribute suburban property-tax and school-tax revenues to lower-income city-dwellers
Building One America (BOA) was launched in September 2009, when some 700 left-wing activists from several Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states convened in Washington, DC “to create a national network for shared organizing, training and leadership development.” Seeking to educate and mobilize “diverse constituencies in metropolitan regions,” BOA claims to promote “the goals of social inclusion, sustainability and economic growth.” It does this chiefly by advancing the aims of “regionalism”—a strategy designed to essentially eliminate America’s suburbs as independent entities by blending them, economically and politically, into the cities they border. This process involves the merging of suburban schools, housing facilities, transportation systems, and tax revenues with those of the cities, the ultimate objective being to redistribute a large amount of wealth from affluent suburbs to economically struggling cities.
BOA’s major areas of concern include the folowing:
* Housing: BOA aims to identify the “best practices and strategies for addressing regional stability and social mobility through housing policies that promote stable and inclusive middle-class communities.” Toward this end, the organization seeks to limit “suburban sprawl” by advocating bans on housing construction beyond the outskirts of metropolitan areas, thereby forcing more people to reside in—and pay local taxes in—densely packed cities. To further promote the blending of suburbs and cities, BOA favors governmental imposition of low-income-housing-development quotas on middle- and upper-class suburbs, requiring the latter to reserve a certain percentage of such housing units for poor people who are currently city dwellers. In both of these scenarios, the net result is that suburban funds and amenities are used to benefit the urban poor.
* Transportation for All Americans: BOA advocates a “transformative” and “comprehensive” approach to “transportation investments,” so as to “promote sustainability, reduce social disparities, and drive regional economic growth.” Specifically, the organization aims to augment the impact of anti-“sprawl” restrictions by imposing all manner of taxes, fees, and regulations on suburbanites who drive into the cities (for any reason) rather than use public transportation. Such measures are commonly justified as environmental initiatives designed to cut pollution and thereby reduce “global warming.”
* Schools and Diverse, Middle-Class Suburbs: To promote “school reform that recognizes and leverages the realities of diverse middle-class suburbs and school districts,” BOA advocates “regional tax-base sharing” policies which mandate that a portion of suburban property-tax and school-tax revenues be placed into a common regional pot, which can then be redistributed disproportionately to lower-income city-dwellers.
These have long been among the chief objectives of BOA president Mike Kruglik, a veteran activist who previously worked with the Gamaliel Foundation (which he co-founded), Saul Alinsky‘s Industrial Areas Foundation, Citizen Action, and the Calumet Community Religious Conference—the group that recruited and hired a young Barack Obama as a community organizer in the 1980s, when Kruglik served as a mentor to Obama.
Kruglik continues to influence Obama’s thinking today. Along with fellow BOA officials David Rusk (president of the Metropolitan Area Research Corporation) and Myron Orfield (a former Minnesota state legislator who is now a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution), he has spent years quietly working with the Obama administration to find ways of implementing a “regionalism” agenda. For example, Kruglik and his allies have urged the administration to make federal aid for state-level transportation, education, and housing initiatives contingent on each state’s adherence to the “anti-sprawl” recommendations promoted by BOA.
The President has been most receptive to Kruglik’s suggestions. As author Stanley Kurtz writes, “the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s anti-suburban plans is a little-known and seemingly modest program called the Sustainable Communities Initiative,” which identifies advocates of BOA’s regionalism policies in communities across the U.S. and provides them with federal money in the form of “regional planning grants.”
In the aftermath of the first-ever White House forum on suburbs in 2011, BOA partnered with the Obama administration in 2012 to hold nine regional roundtable meetings with more than 500 elected and civic leaders in Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio and Arizona. Further, BOA has trained hundreds of activists in the techniques of community organizing and has helped pass regional and state-level policies in numerous places, including a “fair housing act” in New Jersey, “fair school funding” in Pennsylvania, and “inclusionary housing and regional mobility” in Maryland.
BOA’s executive director is Paul Scully, a longtime community organizer who was a senior staffer with the Gamaliel Foundation from 1996-2001. He also has worked for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Service Employees International Union.
- Sheryll Cashin, who worked as an urban and economic policy advisor to President Bill Clinton;
- Robert Kleidman, a sociology professor who in the 1980s was a leader of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, a Soviet-inspired initiative that would have permanently frozen the USSR’s nuclear and military superiority in place;
- Lawrence Levy, a member of a Brookings Institution’s advisory panel;
- Amy Liu, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution;
- Ann Pratt, executive director of the Progressive States Network;
- Raymond Rivera, who has worked in a number of capacities for the Obama administration;
- Philip Tegeler, who served 16 years as legal director of the Connecticut ACLU; and
- Jean Rudd, who has worked for the Phelps Stokes Fund and served, from 1980-2000, as president of the Woods Fund of Chicago (where Barack Obama was a board member from 1993-2002).