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Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
All-America City Awards Celebration

Washington DC
Wednesday, November 1, 2000

Thank you very much. Congratulations to all of you. It's truly a pleasure to join you on this very special day. I'm very excited and very proud of what we've done. What we've done is actually do the best we can to help you do your job. Because, as Mickey Ibarra said, it all happens at the local level. The challenge for Washington has been to realize that and recognize that and orient ourselves toward serving the local community.

I want to applaud the National Civic League for this great undertaking and all the good work they do; Mr. Bruce and Allstate Insurance for their support of this program and communities all across the nation; Mickey Ibarra, who spoke to you about what his office does -- it is the connector. It brings the federal government, the White House, to local communities, and he's done an extraordinary job. It's been my honor to serve with him. Mickey Ibarra.

The members of Congress here, Congressman Peterson and Congressman Pomeroy. It was my opportunity to work with them in a real challenge to community and community building during the Red River flood. Talk about building community and starting from the ground up. That's what they did. Congressman Peterson and Congressman Pomeroy, it's my pleasure to be with you.

Senator Sarbanes was and is the Senator who is, in my opinion, responsible for the authorization and oversight of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He confirmed me as the assistant secretary and then as the secretary. When you go through that confirmation process -- which is unlike anything I had done before or, hopefully, ever will do -- it's akin to running the gauntlet. But Senator Sarbanes, for me personally, has always been a model of what public service can be when it is done well.

When there were some dark days here in Washington, when you wondered if it was actually working for the good of the country or not, Senator Sarbanes has always been a powerful light of what can be. He has worked tirelessly for his state. He has been a voice for cities all across the nation, and he has done great things for cities all across the nation. I want to thank him very much for what he's done. Senator Paul Sarbanes.

This award has been in place for over 50 years. But I think when we look back and when they write the history books, these past eight years or so are going to be a little different because I think the cities really have made progress that they hadn't made before.

You look at the numbers and they will tell you that. The 22 million new jobs. The highest home ownership rate in the history of the nation that was announced last week, 67.7 percent. The highest in history, and the highest home ownership rate in cities in history -- for the first time ever, over 50 percent. As you know, home ownership is very much a bellwether for how cities are going because people don't buy a home unless they have consumer confidence, unless they feel that this is a place where they want to invest.

To have the highest home ownership rate in history in cities really says that we are making great progress. Crime, what we've done with crime. The crime numbers show progress, but you feel that progress in communities all across the nation. Unemployment is down, poverty is down. So the numbers tell a great story of success.

You also see the success in the lessons that we've learned. We are better at what we now do. We are better at governance, especially on the local level. We've learned from mistakes made in the past.

We have not always had the best experiences in urban development, but we've learned from them. We really are smarter at what we do. We understand that we have to be comprehensive in our approach. We have to get out of the cylinder mentality and put these pieces together in a holistic, interconnected way.

We know that we have to be regional in our approach, that the lines on the map that say I am a city and I am here, and you are a county and you begin here, that those lines on the map don't really work anymore. Unless we get outside of our box and we have the courage to step over those lines and put our hands out and forge partnerships between the cities and the counties and among the counties, we're not really going to have a plan that works. Montgomery County cannot work unless it works in partnership with Washington, D.C., etc.

We've learned that lesson. We've learned that the development must be sustainable, that the environment is a factor and that all these pieces must work together. We've learned that the only plan that works long-term is a plan that comes from the bottom up, that is truly civic-driven, that is truly driven by the people.

We've learned all those lessons. We know what needs to be done and how to do it. We also know it is very, very difficult to do. We talk about partnership and putting everybody at the table and coming up with a common agreement, that that's the plan. One caveat: it's very, very difficult. Many different people, often different agendas, you have historical differentiations. So to actually make this happen is truly an art form.

We talk about community development - about developing community. Community is from the Latin: communitas, of the common. That's what community is, of the common. But doing it is an art form, and you do it better than anyone else.

One of the other things I think we've learned --probably the most important lesson -- is that we actually can do this. We actually can take cities that were on the decline and reverse the decline. Cities can come back. That is probably the most important lesson. That's the lesson that you bring home today. Cities can work. Cities are not just a part of our past, they're a part of our future.

Yes, there were some bad years for cities. Yes, there was an impression at one time that cities were on the decline, but we have reversed that and now cities are on the upswing. There is an urban renaissance, and that's why the home ownership rate is the highest in history, and that's why people are moving back to cities or staying in cities, investing in cities, developing businesses in cities, because cities are part of this nation's future.

That's good news not just for cities but for the nation. Because as go this nation's cities goes this nation, period. You cannot separate the two. The cities are the looking glass into the future of this nation. Cities are where we come together. Cities are where the nation was birthed. As go the cities, goes the nation.

Your statement today -- 10 communities making the statement, but speaking for hundreds -- is we can do this. Cities can come together, they can have a strong, vibrant future for themselves and for the country. That is a great testament to possibility. You are 10 cities, 10 awardees, but you are 10 candles lighting the way for the nation and telling us what is possible and what direction to follow.

It is my pleasure to share this day with you. We all owe the awardees a debt of gratitude for their great public service this day. Congratulations to all of you.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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