Cedar Rapids residents wish McCain would tour city

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - September 18, 2008 - McCain, they say, is only the latest official to ignore their city's pain.

"That's exactly what's happening," said Lee Clancey, a Republican and a former mayor who is coordinating flood recovery efforts. "I don't know if his advance team is making him aware that there are significant needs here."

McCain's schedule for Thursday calls for him to land at the Eastern Iowa Airport about five miles outside of Cedar Rapids, hold a rally at a private flying service with running mate Sarah Palin, then wing off to his next event.

"He's in and out," said David Roederer, chairman of McCain's campaign in Iowa. There had been "some discussion" about touring the flood-ravaged city, he said, but scheduling pressures barely six weeks before the election prevailed.

"My preference would be for every member of Congress, every member of the U.S. Senate and every member of the Legislature to come over and visit," said state Rep. Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from nearby Hiawatha. "For whatever reason they decided not to do that."

In June, a flooding Cedar River devastated Cedar Rapids, swamping hundreds of city blocks and leaving thousands of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed. Much of that damage remains, and Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers dot the community.

Damage in Cedar Rapids has been estimated at $1.3 billion and many in the city have lamented that federal help has been slow in coming.

"We have received very little attention and less help," Clancey said.

While a presidential candidate touring flooded-out homes and businesses would be only symbolic, Clancey said that's important.

"It gives people hope that they're still being considered and there might be help forthcoming," she said.

Joan Benda, a Republican who works for a property management company, said she wishes McCain would opt to see some of the damage.

"It would be nice, I guess, if he could at least do a drive-through," Benda said. "I think the best way to trigger compassion is to actually see the damage."

And Brian Hughes, owner of the dance club Volume, said he thinks McCain owes it to the city to see the damage.

"I think the least he could do is spend an hour and drive through it and see what happened," said Hughes, an undecided voter whose business received about $250,000 in damage from the flooding. "Why spend the money to even come here? It seems a little hurried and rushed."

Most polls have given Democratic rival Barack Obama an edge in the race for Iowa's seven electoral votes, though the state has been very competitive in the last two presidential elections. It went for Democrat Al Gore in 2000 and President Bush in 2004.

Both McCain and Obama had been scheduled to campaign in Iowa just as flooding washed over much of the state. Gov. Chet Culver asked both candidates to cancel their plans to ensure all local police could focus on the flooding rather than be diverted to candidate security.

Obama agreed to cancel his trip to the Cedar Rapids area, but McCain proceeded with a tour of Columbus Junction, a severely flooded community in southeast Iowa.

Later in the summer, Obama made stops in Cedar Rapids and held a meeting with flood victims and local officials at the devastated Czech and Slovak Museum.

Paulsen said many spots in Iowa are still reeling from flooding, including the city of Palo, where nearly every building in town was damaged.

"Would I like to give him a tour of Palo? Absolutely," said Paulsen. "That opportunity is not provided on this trip. We'll take what we can get."

Clancey said McCain's in-and-out rally reinforces a belief among many Iowans that the nation has forgotten the flooding that caused so much misery in the state.

"They feel as if this is the forgotten disaster," Clancey said. "It's especially true when all you hear about in the news is the hurricanes and what we're going to do to help in the Gulf." Paulsen said he's discussed the flood recovery issue with McCain's campaign officials in the state. He's confident the nominee is committed to the recovery effort.

"He's already visited once. I don't make these decisions," Paulsen said.

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