Presumptive Democratic nominee for President Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, has been widely described as a “boring” choice in the media. And even though the presumptive nominee herself remarked to the New York Times, “I love that about him,” when asked about her excitement-challenged running mate, for advocates of fair housing reform and, by extension, urbanists, Kaine’s selection is due to generate a bit of interest on the campaign trail. Does Clinton’s selection make her the “urbanism candidate” of 2016?
Signs in Kaine’s history point to yes and after the Republican party released a starkly anti-urban party platform last week, his selection could not come at a better time.
The Virginia Senator Kaine’s career is rooted in his advocacy for fair housing policies, as reflected by his long-standing relationship with Virginia-based, fair-housing advocates Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME) and the fact that fair housing cases made up a reported 75 percent of his workload when he worked as an attorney. According to a press release put out by HOME, Kaine’s law career began in 1984 when he represented a plaintiff on behalf of the non-profit who had been turned away from an apartment application due to her race. Regarding the case, Kaine is quoted in the press release as saying, “When someone is turned away in that aspect of their life, trying to find a place to live, what a powerful difference it makes, and it made a huge impression on me in that first case.”
Kaine was also at the helm of a landmark 1996 case involving the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company’s systematic and intentionally discriminatory insurance practices in urban neighborhoods, winning a record $100 million settlement that, after appeal and lengthy delays, was finally settled for $17.5 million in 2000.
Kaine’s addition to the Democratic ticket begs the question, will having a fair-housing advocate on the ballot herald a new emphasis on urban issues? For a campaign so far dominated by abstract discussions of income inequality and “law and order,” as well as efforts to undermine institutionalized anti-blackness, political discussions thus far have conspicuously excluded nuts and bolts approaches to addressing urban poverty like increasing the supply of affordable housing, expanding public transportation infrastructure, and rectifying the deeply troubling historical legacies resulting from racist urban planning and real estate ideologies of the 20th century.
Clinton’s selection of Kaine comes as the Republican Party released a fiercely anti-urban party platform at its convention last week. The platform, aside from seeking to keep the 23 year old federal gas tax rate unchanged in an era of very low gas prices and crumbling infrastructure, also advocates for a prohibition on use of federal gas tax revenue on mass transit projects, citing public transit as an “inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population concentrated in six big cities.”
The Republican platform also takes issue with the new United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plan to increase access to access to Section 8 housing vouchers in middle- and upper-income neighborhoods. The so-called “Affirmatively Further Fair Housing” (AFFH) program aims to institutionalize research conducted by Harvard economist Raj Chetty, who argues extricating children from impoverished neighborhoods early on in life increases their earning potential and life prospects exponentially as adults. The program offers families who qualify for Section 8 vouchers increased funding to move into more economically successful neighborhoods. Coupled with a new mandate by HUD that considers denial of housing on the basis of a criminal record an unfair practice, HUD’s latest initiatives under Secretary Julian Castro have have placed key urban issues like access to affordable housing and an emphasis on de-segregation at the center of the country’s ongoing anti-blackness debate.
Intentionally ignorant of redlining policies, like those Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company was found guilty of perpetuating in the Kaine case, restrictive covenants, and federally-backed mortgage programs mid-century whites used to concentrate minorities and poverty in urban centers, the Republican platform refers to HUD’s initiatives as a form of “social engineering.” HUD, on the other hand, views its new initiatives as upholding the mantle of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to “take actions to address segregation and related barriers for groups with characteristics protected by the Act, as often reflected in racially or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty.”
Kaine’s impact on the campaign’s discourse was apparent at the ticket’s first joint rally on Saturday, where Clinton lauded Kaine’s record at the expense of their opponent, stating, “While Tim was taking on housing discrimination and homelessness, Donald Trump was denying apartments to people who were African American,” citing a 1973 housing discrimination suit brought against Trump by the United States Department of Justice.
We will have to wait and see if this approach yields a greater emphasis on other urban issues as the campaign heads towards Election Day.