NEW YORK (CNN) -- "I think the best way of doing good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty but leading them or driving them out of it."
What hate-mongering politician would be so politically incorrect as to suggest that things like higher minimum wages and more government handouts don't actually help the poor? I'll identify the culprit at the end of this column, but for now, I'm more interested in figuring out why that statement sounds so controversial.
Poverty is one of the few national issues that, at least on the surface, unites us all. It's not a political condition; it's a human one. After all, when's the last time you've heard a politician campaign on a pro-poverty platform?
But although the problem may unite us, the solutions don't. And perhaps nothing illustrates that better than what's been happening in Detroit, Michigan, and Buffalo, New York.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly a third of the residents in those cities are living beneath the poverty line, the highest rates among large cities in the entire country.
No matter what side of the political aisle you're on, that is nothing short of appalling. Yet if you ask people what we should do about it, you'll probably hear answers that inexplicably break down right along party lines.
Is there a perfect answer? Probably not. But what bothers me is that people stubbornly stick to their solution, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it's not working.
For example, Detroit, whose mayor has been indicted on felony charges, hasn't elected a Republican mayor since 1961. Buffalo has been even more stubborn. It started putting a Democrat in office back in 1954, and it hasn't stopped since.
Unfortunately, those two cities may be alone at the top of the poverty rate list, but they're not alone in their love for Democrats. Cincinnati, Ohio (third on the poverty rate list), hasn't had a Republican mayor since 1984. Cleveland, Ohio (fourth on the list), has been led by a Democrat since 1989. St. Louis, Missouri (sixth), hasn't had a Republican since 1949, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (eighth), since 1908, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (ninth), since 1952 and Newark, New Jersey (10th), since 1907.
The only two cities in the top 10 that I didn't mention (Miami, Florida, and El Paso, Texas) haven't had Republicans in office either -- just Democrats, independents or nonpartisans.
Over the past 50 years, the eight cities listed above have had Republican leadership for a combined 36 years. The rest of the time -- a combined 364 years -- they've been led by Democrats.
Five of the 10 cities with the highest poverty rates (Detroit, Buffalo, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Newark) have had a Democratic stranglehold since at least 1961: more than 45 years. Two of the cities (Milwaukee and Newark) have been electing Democrats since the first Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1908.
Two cities, 100 years, all Democrats.
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, the asylums in those cities must be as full as the soup kitchens.
Not too long ago, I had the great honor of being invited to a charity dinner hosted by Chris Gardner. He's the guy whose rags-to-riches life was portrayed by Will Smith in the movie "Pursuit of Happyness." Chris had been on my show a few times, and I've always admired his story and his message of hope through personal responsibility.
As I prepared for the dinner and looked into Chris' charity, I started to get nervous. The roster was filled with liberals, most of whom would probably hate me. Hillary Clinton, Mario Cuomo, Alan Alda, Kenneth Cole and Charles Grodin were just a few of the people I was worried about running into.
But the question I kept asking myself was, why? Why can't people from wildly different political stripes come together in support of a common cause without feeling alienated? Why is an issue like poverty "owned" by one political party?
I consider myself a conservative, but I consider myself an American and a human being first. When people whom I normally agree with screw things up, I call them on it. Yet the people in these cities apparently don't. Newark keeps drinking the Kool-Aid, electing the same people with the same ideas, slipping down the poverty list (along with the "Places Never to Visit Unless it's the Airport" list) and wondering why.
We've talked a lot about "change" in this country recently, but there's a much more important catchphrase that we've neglected: "All politics is local." Maybe instead of focusing so much on who we put in charge of our country, we should focus more on who we put in charge of our cities.
Oh, and before I forget. The hateful politician who suggested that we should be "driving" or "leading" the poor out of poverty? It was Benjamin Franklin.
Good thing he never tried to run for mayor of Newark