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The forgotten issue

   Michael R. Petit has been waiting for more than a year for America's presidential candidates and the news media to start talking about the issue of children in poverty.

   Petit is the president of Every Child Matters, a Washington-based organization that lobbies for better living conditions for children living in poverty.

   For him, the 2008 presidential campaign has been a time of extreme frustration. He laments that his organization, and others like it, have been unable to get Barack Obama or John McCain to talk much about poverty.

   Nor has he had much success getting the news media to raise questions about an issue that faces an estimated 37 million people -- well over one in 10 Americans.

   "Obama has a section about poverty on his Web site, and he has proposed some programs to help, but neither of these candidates are talking about the issue," said Petit, former commissioner of Maine's Department of Human Services.

   "Since the wars started in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2001, 28,000 American children have died of child abuse, suicide or homicide. Thirteen million kids are in poverty, 8 million lack health insurance, 14 million are left alone after school ... I try to get the media to ask the candidates what they are going to do about it, and the media won't pursue it."

   The Buffalo News did raise questions along those lines with both major party candidates. The same 12 questions on poverty issues were e-mailed to spokesmen for McCain and Obama on Sept. 22. An Obama spokesman got back to The News the same day.

   It took two more e-mails before a McCain spokesman responded, and only to say that McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, would not be available for interviews. (Obama and Joe Biden also declined to be interviewed.)

   Finally, after several more e-mails and phone calls, McCain's Western New York campaign coordinator, Russell Gugino, sent answers to the questions on Oct. 9.

   "I understand why the Wall Street meltdown is the major story right now," Petit said. "But we've been trying to get people talking about poverty since long before the meltdown."

   Do readers think that either one of the candidates really would make an effort to help people pull themselves out of poverty?

   -- Dan Herbeck

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