Onus of young-voter turnout is on politicians, Cisneros says

Posted: October 10, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

The responsibility falls on politicians to turn around a longtime trend of lackluster turnout among young voters, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros said Monday.

The four-term former San Antonio mayor made the election-season remarks in response to an audience question about millennial voter apathy during a speech at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock. He exhorted public officials to use contemporary tools, such as social media, to explain to young people why "leadership and policies matter."

"I know enough millennials to know that they're disheartened. They're skeptical about what public leaders can do," Cisneros said.

He said electoral disinterest among young voters is not a foregone conclusion, pointing to the unexpectedly close Senate race in Texas between incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep Beto O'Rourke, and calling it a "test case" for young voter engagement.

"Sometimes it takes a good candidate, a good cause and the right moment," Cisneros said.

Monday's audience of about 60 people included several officials who served alongside him in President Bill Clinton's administration, as well as Clinton School students. Cisneros touched on climate change, affordable housing issues and the revitalization of American cities.

He credited the latter to the long economic expansion that took place during the 1990s, as well as a pivot away from manufacturing as the primary industry in urban centers.

"[It] really allowed the economy in many cities to flower. ... All across America today, the cities are doing much, much better," he said.

That revitalization places a new responsibility on cities and local governments to advocate for "justice and fairness" for their citizens, he said, especially in a time when a "political stalemate" hinders progress on the federal level.

In particular, he called attention to the need to address the affordability of rental housing, citing a National Low Income Housing Coalition Study that found that a full-time worker earning minimum wage can't afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the nation. High rents lead to other problems such as burdensome commutes, evictions and homelessness, he said.

"The fastest-growing segment of homelessness is women with children and elderly [people], and a lot of it is attributable to the unaffordability of rental stock. We've got to move on both fronts," he said.

Cisneros, a Democrat, said he hasn't been encouraged by the housing policy under President Donald Trump's administration or by current HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who he said "hasn't shown a lot of sense of mastery" of housing problems. He said gaps in federal leadership and the rising deficit make it doubly incumbent on leaders to look for creative solutions to housing problems.

"Programs we've come to depend on are going to be jeopardized, no matter who is president," he said.

Cisneros closed his formal remarks with a recitation of the Athenian Oath, which pledges to "revere and obey the city's law" and "quicken the public's sense of civic duty."

Despite the complexity of the nation's problems, he said he is optimistic about what he sees in "thriving" urban areas such as Dallas, Seattle and Los Angeles.

"All across America, despite the problems we continue to confront, there is a sense of possibility," he said.

Metro on 10/10/2018