Edwards says ending poverty is top priority

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Bill Wade, Post-GazetteJohn Edwards, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president, does a dual hand shake with Patty Ameno of Leechburg, right, and Carol Maurin of Squirrel Hill, on stage, at the Hill House yesterday.
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Former Sen. John Edwards proposed steps to counter school segregation last night in a Hill District speech that was one stop on a national tour designed to draw attention to his presidential campaign's focus on the issues of poverty.

The Democrat called a quest to end poverty in America "the great moral cause of our time," as he spoke before a crowd of about 250 gathered in the Hill House auditorium.

Mr. Edwards' eight-state tour took him from New Orleans, where he announced his second bid for the White House, to Pittsburgh, where he had been introduced as a vice presidential candidate at John Kerry's side in 2004.

The one-term North Carolina senator noted that he had stood on the same Hill House stage a year ago as he traveled the country in a "Wake-up Wal-Mart" tour.

Mr. Edwards repeated his criticism of the Supreme Court's recent decision which sharply curtailed use of race in school district decisions on where students go.

While calling the ruling "a huge mistake," he added: "We don't just have racial segregation [in schools], we have huge economic segregation and everybody knows it."

To counter those patterns, Mr. Edwards suggested that school districts in more affluent communities be given financial incentives to offer places to students from inner cities. He also called for magnet schools within cities to attract students from a variety of communities. And in addition to raising teacher pay generally, he called for salary incentives for teachers "willing to go to the hardest places."

His speech didn't include a cost estimate for those proposals.

The candidate had started his day in Cleveland, where he toured a neighborhood chosen to highlight the abuses of predatory and payday lenders.

"In Cleveland this morning, I saw something that would absolutely break your heart," he said, describing one neighborhood where 34 homes faced foreclosure. He called for a national predatory lending law that would cap the amount of interest charged by so-called payday lenders.

Mr. Edwards' Hill House appearance started with a fleeting visit with about a dozen day care students. Normally, by then, almost all of the pre-school children would have gone home, but they stayed late to be willing, animated props in the candidate's photo opportunity.

There, Mr. Edwards accepted a hand-drawn card from the students that read: "Get Well Soon, Mrs. E. Edwards." It was their wish for his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, who has drawn national attention by discussing her treatment for breast cancer.

"Elizabeth is fine, by the way," he assured the crowd at his speech.

Mrs. Edwards had attracted comment earlier in the day about her observations in the online magazine Salon that her husband would be a better candidate for women than Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Asked about the comments, Mr. Edwards said, "It should come as a surprise to no one that my wife supports me," and he suggested that her remarks argued that he had better positions on issues of interest to women such as health care and poverty.

Mr. Edwards is consistently far behind Ms. Clinton as well as Sen. Barack Obama in national polls. In the often crucial launching pad state of Iowa, however, recent polls have shown Mr. Edwards close to or leading Ms. Clinton in samplings of likely caucus-goers.

Asked how he hoped to prevail in the Democratic field, he dismissed the early poll numbers but said, "Whoever does well in those early states will have a huge advantage."

Politics Editor James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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