RICHMOND, Va. — As Chris Frelke surveyed the Thomas B. Smith Community Center, he conceded that the beige-and-green cinder block structure was not much to look at. But Mr. Frelke, the parks director in Virginia’s capital, spoke with excitement describing the image in his mind’s eye: One day, there would be a pristine new complex capable of providing services from child care to community college classes.
That dream complex is not some remote fantasy. The city of Richmond intends to build it in the next few years using $20 million from the American Rescue Plan, President Biden’s trillion-dollar coronavirus-relief law. Richmond will receive a total of $155 million, a cash infusion that its Democratic mayor, Levar Stoney, called “a once-in-a-lifetime sort of investment.”
“This is akin to our New Deal,” Mr. Stoney said.
Unlike the New Deal, however, this $1.9 trillion federal investment in American communities has barely registered with voters. Rather than a trophy for Mr. Biden and his party, the program has become a case study in how easily voters can overlook even a lavishly funded government initiative delivering benefits close to home.
Mr. Biden’s popularity has declined in polls over the past year, and voters are giving him less credit for the country’s economic recovery than his advisers had anticipated. In Virginia, Democrats got shellacked in the 2021 off-year elections amid the country’s halting emergence from the depths of the pandemic.