Youth Town Meeting

WASHINGTON--Close to 5,000 high school and college students packed a George Washington University auditorium yesterday for a "youth town meeting." The event, held just blocks away from the White House, underscored the importance of youth issues to the Clinton administration, which will take over today.

Panels focused on the economy, environment, and foreign policy, and Eli Segal, President-elect Clinton's choice to head up a new national service program, made an appearance to rouse enthusiasm for a domestic version of the Peace Corps.

"I really think that the Clinton administration sees the power of the youth vote," said James A. Harmon '93-94, president of College Democrats of America. "If Americans under 29 hadn't voted for Clinton he would have lost. It's not just a do-gooder thing. It's a smart thing, too."

But, despite a stellar cast of panelists--including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Apple Computer CEO John Sculley, former Sen. TimothyE. Wirth '61 (D-Colo.) and Jessica TuchmanMathews, vice-president of World ResourcesInst.--the event was less a pep rally for what isto come and more a somber reminder of difficulttasks ahead.

The high school students, nearly all of whomare in Washington participating in the Close-Upprogram, a weeklong workshop on governmentstudies, were aggressive and unusuallysophisticated when challenging the panelists foranswers.

But the subjects of their questions--rangingfrom Clinton's policy on refugees to nuclear wasteto the L.A. riots--did not reflect their age. Andthe crowd often buzzed in conversation rather thanlisten to answers from some of the expertsassembled.


"They aren't listening," one Close-Up teachercomplained in the midst of the event.

Segal, the chief of staff for Clinton'scampaign and chief financial officer for thetransition, fared no better than the otherpanelists, as he sketched broad plans forforgiving college loans in return for publicservice.

Despite stern warnings from newspapereditorialists and politicians that a nationalprogram would be prohibitively expensive, Segalpromised to press forward.

"Service was the core of Bill Clinton'scandidacy," said Segal, who gave Clinton his firstbig political break as Texas coordinator forGeorge McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign.

"The Washington Post says its too expensive todo national service," Segal said. "I say it's tooexpensive not to do national service."

One group that was listening attentively was acontingent of 35 City Year volunteers and staffmembers, who traveled from Boston to meet withSegal yesterday morning at a national conferenceof U.S. mayors.

According to James Simmons, 21, of the SouthEnd, Segal praised City Year and elaborated uponsuggestions that the urban service program beexpanded nationally.

Simmons said he agreed with Segal's belief thatan urban service program could be expanded, saying"I think City Year could work in everycity--there's a lot of youth out there."

"In Boston alone there were 200 core members,"Simmons said, using the program's lingo forvolunteers. "They had to turn down 1,000 people.That shows there's a lot of interest out there."

City Year, which ties together five concurrentpublic service projects on the environment,housing and the homeless, youth leadership,education and service for Chelsea, Mass., drawsfunding from corporate sponsors and an annualserv-a-thon.

Many advocates are taking heart that Segal, along-time confidant of the president-elect, willhead the public service initiative, which promisesto be the cornerstone of the administration'syouth policy. A youth corps incorporates many ofClinton's top priorities for young people:encouraging public service, enabling highereducation and providing incentives to avoid crimeand drugs.

Still, yesterday's panel indicated that manyhigh schoolers, who will be of age to vote in thenext year, have other priorities. The studentsgrew most enthusiastic when questioning Rep.Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) and former Rep.Timothy Solarz (D-N.Y.), both experts on foreignpolicy.

Keith Geiger, president of the NationalEducation Association, the natin's largestteacher's union, and Gov. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana)spoke on education.

Waters and Sculley took questions on theeconomy and Wirth and Tuchman Mathews heededqueries on the environment

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