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Secretary Andrew Cuomo's Remarks
at the White Houe Community Empowerment Conference

Columbus, Ohio
Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Thank you very much first to Secretary Dan Glickman. I want you to know he's not just a friend to rural America. He's also a friend to urban America. Dan Glickman, thank you.

Good afternoon, Columbus, Ohio. How are we doing today? Fine. We're doing better than fine. We're doing great. Thank you, Mayor Coleman, and thank you, Columbus, and thank you for demonstrating, once again, for the nation what cities are like in this new millennium. You can feel the energy. You can feel the vibrancy. You can feel the sense of positivism and the sense of future, and it's a pleasure to be here.

Let me acknowledge Mayor Wellington Webb, who has been the president of the United States Conference of Mayors, 1,000 cities strong all across the nation, cities large and small, and Mayor Webb has done extraordinary, extraordinary work with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Cities are in a fundamentally different place today than they were just a few years ago, and Mayor Webb and the U.S. Conference of Mayors have been a partner in that all the way. Thank you very much, Mayor Wellington Webb.

Secretary Riley is the greatest Secretary of Education. It's not even close. Aida Alvarez, because small businesses are the heart of this new economy, and she is doing great work. And Alvin Brown, with the Community Empowerment Board, who keeps it running day in and day out, thank you all very much.

And there is a gentleman who you're going to see in a little while, who you already know, who in many ways has been the driving for Empowerment Zones -- not just at the creation, but every step of the way. Whenever we needed an ally, whenever we needed somebody to do the heavy lifting, whenever we needed a budget passed, Vice President Al Gore was there every step of the way. He is Mr. Empowerment, and I thank him.

And in many ways, everyone who is in the room today -- we started this thing called the empowerment concept eight years ago. I remember I was the Assistant Secretary at HUD at that time. I was about 34 years old. It was about eight years ago. I'm now the Secretary. I'm now 67 years old. I don't know exactly how that happened, but I think it came with the job.

But we were talking about the empowerment concept, and this was a very different concept. And we developed it, and it has now actually become a movement in many ways. And you have done not just your communities a service, but literally the nation a service, because the empowerment concept was a very different concept. It said, yes, we have to get the economy running nationwide. And Dana is exactly right.

Don't you ever forget, when President Clinton took office, we were facing one of the largest deficits in history. Today we have one of the largest surpluses in history, and that is the story of this country over the past eight years.

But the empowerment concept said we have to get the economy running, the nationwide economy running -- because that is the engine that pulls the entire train. And that is the first order of business, get that economy up and running. And we did, and we have, and we now have over 20 million new jobs, and crime is down, and unemployment is down, and welfare is down, and poverty is down, and the train is moving in the right direction.

But then the empowerment concept said something else: That it's not just enough for the overall economy to be doing well, but the more people we have on that train, the more communities we have part of that growth, then the stronger the overall nation will be. And it's not enough of an economic success if we have great growth for the few at the top without including the many.

That's what the empowerment concept was all about, and that's what the movement was all about. And we said, look, we're not asking for charity. It's Mayor Webb's point. We're not saying bring the cities along with you, as a matter of charity, bring the poorer places with you along, as a matter of charity, bring the poorer rural communities along, as a matter of charity. We're saying bring them along, because it will make you stronger.

Ask any businessman who's with us today, when the corporation is doing well and it has a dividend, what do they do? They invest in the liabilities and turn the liabilities into assets. Why aren't we as intelligent as a nation? When we're doing well economically, we don't we invest in the places left behind, get them doing well, and raise us all?

That was your gospel. We then had to prove that we could do it, because it sounded almost too good to be true. And you went out and you did it, and that's what Empowerment Zones are all about, and that's what Enterprise Communities are all about. You did it, community by community, all across this country. And now we can fill an entire volume with chapters of success stories.

What we can do when we do it right, when we know that it's about economic development and about job growth, nobody ever asks for a handout. Nobody ever asked for a handout. I've been all across this country. No one ever said to me, Mr. Cuomo, do me a favor, get me a welfare check. Never once. Do me a favor, get me a job. Get me an education. Help me get transportation to get to the job. Help me get daycare. Help me get health care. But never once give me a welfare check.

It's about economic development. It's about jobs. It's about education. It's about putting it all together. It's about partnerships. The mayor driving the train, the local community driving the train, the not for profits driving the train, all together putting the pieces together bottom up, letting each community craft its own destiny. That's what you did with Empowerment Zones. And you can go now from coast to coast and see the success stories one after the other.

All the stories you've written over the past eight years, city after city, rural community after rural community, turning around. Detroit and Atlanta and Columbus -- all across this country, beautiful stories of success and potential. And what the stories say to me is you haven't seen anything yet. You haven't seen anything yet.

Look at what we've done, but then imagine what we can do. You've only whet this nation's appetite with what you've done. You think this is a success? You think we've done well thus far? Imagine what we can do, when every child in this nation is educated, when every woman is making the best contribution that she can, when every young man is contributing his skills not on a corner, not in a prison cell, but working and earning and learning.

That is the movement that you birthed eight years ago. That is the work that you've done. That is the story that you have written. It's an exciting story. It's a story of possibility. It is the American story. It's the story of inclusion and opportunity and what we can do when we just do what we said we were going to do in the first place, offer people opportunity and offer people hope.

It's been my honor over these past eight years to be part of it, and it's been my honor to work with all of you, and to work with Vice President Al Gore who started this when it was just a flicker of a idea and stayed with it day after day after day for eight years and brought it to the great success story it is today. Thank you, and God bless.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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