between the lines logo (anthony asadullah samad)*President Obama announced the first five “Promise Zones” to focus on poverty and income inequality in America.

If you remember his 2013 State of the Union address, poverty was going to be a focus of his second term, and he mentioned that his administration would invest in the 20 “hardest hit” cities in this last recession—to get communities back on their feet.

So, everybody knew they were coming. Another promise to tackle the century old problem of poverty.

The reason why poverty exists in America is because of partisan politics. Since Lyndon Johnson’s “War On Poverty” was launched, Democrats funded programs and Republicans defunded programs. Then Democrats started acting like Republicans (Clinton-fiscal conservative, social liberal) and poverty was increased. Remember Clinton signed Welfare Reform at the demand of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America.”

The point is poverty eradication has never gotten a fair chance. It was either a broken promise, or no promise. The poverty debate is an engagement in political rhetoric of the worse kind—because it plays with people’s lives in the worse ways. Politicians promise to get people, places and deprived spaces on their feet for five decades now. Some places were never on their feet to begin with. And some places can’t face up to the promises made to change their realities.

Los Angeles is one such place.

Los Angeles and Philadelphia were the only two top five cities awarded. West Philadelphia is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation. It has been-for nearly six decades. Los Angeles’ poorest neighborhoods have been on the Southside and Eastside of the city. Neither received inclusion in Los Angeles’ possible $500 million award-made up of federal tax credits and investment incentives. Just for the record—there are no more poorer areas in Los Angeles that South L.A. and East L.A., if you’re going by zip code. But that’s not what was considered. What was considered was whoever had the foresight to write the proposal. The promise zone was awarded to whoever wrote the proposal and had the relationship with the administration to get a response. It’s not rocket science here.

The zone covers the city’s 13th Council District. The communities of Pico-Union, Westlake, Koreatown, East Hollywood and Hollywood, all (or partially) are within the 13th District. The former councilman of the district is now Mayor, who also is an Obama-ite who helped the President get elected in 2008. The Promise Zone Applications were prepared before he was elected Mayor—and most certainly influenced the outcome in his first six months as Mayor. There were certainly enough Obama-ites in South and East L.A. to do the same.

But they didn’t…


Don’t hate the playa—hate the game. Garcetti (the playa) understood how to leverage the relationship with the President, for the benefit of his then council constituents. They would’ve have gotten the grant even if he wasn’t Mayor—because he was connected and submitted a proposal. The game here is being the first to the table. Closed mouths don’t get fed and latecomers to the game often get leftovers (or nothing at all).

The question everybody should be asking is, why didn’t the council persons for South L.A. (or the last Mayor who made a ga-zillion promises to South L.A.) submit a promise zone application early in the game. And don’t say because South Los Angeles isn’t qualified.

The nonsense I’ve been hearing the last week about South L.A. not having non-profits, or collaborative groups, with the capacity to handle the grants are complete nonsense.

Anybody who tells you WLCAC, who handled the first federal grants after the Watts Riots and has been handling them every since, doesn’t have capacity—is a fool. If they tell you South L.A. don’t have collaboratives, they are a fool. The point is, you don’t have to make excuses for excluding the poorest parts of the city when their elected officials fall asleep at the switch.  To Curren Price’s credit, he called it out—but the zone applications were submitted before he was elected. The excuses are plenty but the reality is the same-South L.A. was left out again.

The hysteria around South L.A. being excluded, in Los Angeles being awarded in the first of five “Promise Zone” grants, is justified but really shouldn’t surprise anybody. The same happened twenty years ago, after the Los Angeles riots in 1992. President Bush (the first one) toured Los Angeles, said he understood the entrenched poverty and launched an $11 billion dollar Empowerment Zone/Community Renewal initiative—because of what happened in L.A. It was based on the same theory of Obama’s Promise Zone. We’ve been promising on poverty eradication a long time. Los Angeles has been waiting a long time (as have other urban cities).

South Los Angeles is used to broken promises…then and now. Los Angeles got shut out of that process too, because they submitted an inferior proposal written by someone that knew nothing about South Los Angeles. This time, South Los Angeles knew nothing about the process (so their representative claim). Or did too little-too late. Maybe next round? Not likely.

Poverty is too large a problem nationwide to give one city TWO grants, when more deserving cities won’t get one—at all. We shouldn’t pay attention to the false promises in the apologetic aftermath of remorse. Los Angeles got its nut…now it will have to swallow it.

The Promise Zone award is a demonstration of connected politics being the first at the table. The poverty consideration for the city was secondary. And South Los Angeles loses again.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.

anthony asadullah samad

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D