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Gore's taking bows despite no role in awarding grants

By BILL ADAIR and VANITA GOWDA

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 4, 1999


WASHINGTON -- As his presidential campaign shifts into high gear, Vice President Al Gore is taking credit for everything from a new dormitory in Gainesville to federal dollars for pig farmers.

Virtually every week, Gore's press office makes announcements about rosy government reports and big federal grants. He gives money to laid-off workers, beleaguered farmers and struggling fishermen.

Gore takes credit for so much that his office can't provide a complete accounting of his many announcements. A St. Petersburg Times analysis shows that in August, Gore announced at least $393-million in federal grants, up from $301-million in July. So far this year, Gore has awarded more than $2-billion in grants.

Many of his announcements deal with small local issues, such as the new Job Corps dorm in Gainesville and a grant to help 230 workers who lost jobs at the Florida Coast Paper Co. in Port St. Joe. Those local announcements are e-mailed to regional reporters by Gore's staff, but are not posted on the official White House Web site.

Gore also takes credit for scores of other grants announced by the departments of Agriculture, Labor, Transportation and Commerce, which quote him as the friend of the farmer, the worker and the commuter.

All politicians like to take credit for good news, but Norman Ornstein, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said Gore has "probably taken it to a level we haven't seen before."

Ornstein said Gore issues all of these news releases because they connect him with local constituencies that care about narrow issues.

Paul Light, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, joked, "You half expect to see Gore down at the corner police station announcing the arrival of a new meter reader."

Gore's words don't change much from one announcement to the next.

The headlines on his standard news releases start with "VICE PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES GRANTS."

Here's what he said in announcing an airport grant in Michigan: "Traffic at Michigan's airports has helped fuel the region's vibrant economy."

And here's what he said for the Denver airport: "Traffic at Denver International has helped fuel the region's vibrant economy."

In most cases, Gore had no direct role in the decisionmaking leading up to the grants. Most government money is awarded based on formulas and strict rules, to keep politics out of the process and assure that the most deserving projects get the money.

Gore press secretary Chris Lehane said it's appropriate for him to make the announcements because in the majority of the cases Gore has played a leadership role in these initiatives.

"The more people see the government helping them in their daily lives, the more they'll feel good about the government," Lehane said.

Gore has used the grants to his political advantage, concentrating on key states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Texas, California and Florida. He announced $7-million for the Des Moines, Iowa, airport and $13-million for airports in New Hampshire. ("Traffic at New Hampshire's airports has helped fuel the region's economy," he said.)

On July 2, Gore announced more than $40-million in grants to aid laid-off workers in California, Texas and New Hampshire. His February announcement of a $50-million grant to help pig farmers was especially important in Iowa, the biggest pork-producing state.

Gore's wife, Tipper, has also been announcing grants, awarding $17-million in housing money for San Jose, Calif., and $7-million in loans for rural child care.

Although some newspapers have published stories giving Gore credit for the grants, he has also been criticized for playing politics.

When he announced the $2.5-million Gainesville dormitory, the Gainesville Sun didn't write about it. But the Lakeland Ledger ran a sassy item that noted it was "not the magnitude of project that typically attracts White House notice."

Recently, a similar Gore announcement in New England backfired.

During a visit to Boston, Gore announced $5-million in emergency aid to help fishermen hurt by the closure of fisheries.

However, it turned out the grant wasn't new. The Boston Globe reported that Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., had announced it almost a year earlier.

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