When a tornado ripped through the North Side of Minneapolis a year ago, it revealed just how ineffective our leaders have been when it comes to communities that need help the most.
Even before the tornado, there were massive signs of decay on the North Side, and in other parts of the city as well. While I live in Minneapolis, my home is not in the North Side.
But I was raised in New York's South Bronx in the early 1970s, when the place looked like a war zone. Street violence ruled, and politicians busy with their own, self-focused agendas ignored block after block of crumbling, empty and decaying buildings hijacked with crime and infested with drugs.
I know what it's like to live in a community that has been written off. I know, firsthand, what urban decay does to the aspirations of a child. And I understand where it all inevitably leads when we do not have leaders focused on our own community.
We must be clear about the conditions within our community. Our Twin Cities are home to the largest achievement gap in education between black and white students in the entire country.
Unemployment for blacks in Minneapolis hovers around 20 percent, but it's just 6 percent for whites -- also the biggest gap in the entire country. As a black man, I say this is unacceptable.
How has this happened? Because of a lack of smart, selfless and focused leadership.
The tornado had a disproportionately harsh impact on the North Side's hurting residents. And the lack of assistance from federal agencies served as a later kick in the gut. The unstated policy from Washington bureaucrats is "we will decide who gets the services our tax dollars pay for."
A continual lack of focus by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat representing the Fifth District, led to a failure in making the case for the North Side in Washington. Who else is there to make the case? Instead, Ellison focuses on issues in the Middle East concerning Palestinians, Syrians and Egyptians. They are not the 99 percent of constituents, are they?
We live in a political age when, if you live in a politically one-sided congressional district or state, an administrative department can afford to ignore you. Why? Because if a member is from a "safe district," voters cannot punish the congressman for his neglect.
But if we were one of those "hotly contested" congressional districts or "swing states," we not only would have gotten federal assistance promptly, it probably would have come with a marching band and a presidential visit.
As a 21-year combat veteran of the Marines, I know that our community needs a combination of focused leadership and policy changes. We need policies that give states and local communities the ability to develop customized solutions.
In the age of smartphones and smart cars, it's time for smart leadership. Smart leadership is more than making a speech or writing an article for the opinion page. Smart leadership is independent and collaborative; it is cooperative and not corrosive. It uses a convincing velvet glove far more than it uses a cold steel hammer.
Selfless leadership puts people before politics. Neither ideology nor political parties repair homes after a natural disaster; communities do. Focused leadership makes needed resources available through relentless advocacy for constituents.
Those in need must have a representative who is focused, who fights for them in Washington and who isn't distracted. It is as simple as that.
Chris Fields is the Republican-endorsed candidate for Congress in Minnesota's Fifth District.