If you ask 64-year-old Anita Maltbia why she got the call to sit in the first lady’s box during President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight, she’ll tell you straight up that it’s because the work she does “is so in line with the plans and the aspirations of the current administration.”
Anita Maltbia got an evening call from the White House exactly one week ago, minutes before leaving her office to hold a citizen’s leadership training program in Kansas City, Missouri.
Since receiving the second call confirming her coveted box seat as the president addresses a joint session of Congress, Maltbia’s been very busy, still working but also calling friends and family, packing, and figuring out what to wear.
“I wavered between something I already had in the closet, and then I did go buy a new suit,” she said. “The verdict is not in yet.”
It’s no surprise Maltbia was invited. After all, it’s not every day a formerly retired city employee takes on a project that involves revamping a 150-block section of a declining urban community in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Green Impact Zone is composed of five neighborhoods rife with old housing, public education issues and has been in, according to Maltbia, “a steady economic decline for the past 40 years.” Like many poor urban areas around the country, this predominantly African-American neighborhood has been at the bottom of the priority list for years as local and state governments struggle to deal with budget deficits, crime and health care.
Maltbia is the director of the local Green Impact Zone office in Kansas City. As part of Obama’s “new approach” to federal urban policy, Maltbia has spent the past few months providing green job training to ‘zone’ residents, holding community meetings and overseeing the millions of dollars of funding for this major effort. Maltbia has the experience for this historic experiment of sorts. She has spent much of her career working for the city, heading the administration for Kansas City’s public works department and serving as assistant city manager for Kansas City’s local government.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) came up with the idea for the Green Impact Zone. Using grants and money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Green Impact Zone project aims to revitalize a once forgotten neighborhood through, go figure, ‘green’ initiatives. ‘Green’ job creation is a priority for project staff, as is weatherizing homes, establishing a community garden and, among other things, working to develop a “smart” electrical grid. Maltbia’s efforts with the project are part of what Obama’s administration hopes to use as a model for similar green initiatives nationwide.
On Maltbia’s scorecard, Obama is doing well on bringing issues affecting metropolitan areas to the nation’s attention. In regards to the dizzying number of other issues he is working on, “I hope he just hangs on in there,” said Maltbia. “There are a lot of things that need to be dealt with in our country.”
Regardless of what Obama says or doesn’t say in his speech tonight, Maltbia will be sitting comfy in her coveted box seat near the first lady. Clearly, she’s not in Kansas (well, Kansas City) anymore.