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Secretary Andrew Cuomo's Remarks
Fair Housing Press Conference

Monday, December 4, 2000

Thank you very much. Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones represents Cleveland, but she represents the entire nation, and she's a voice for the entire nation, especially when it comes to these issues, the issues of housing and social justice, and economic justice, and racial justice. We've done many good things together. It's a pleasure to be with her again.

Assistant Secretary Eva Plaza, who has done extraordinary work here with the whole fair housing operation. The fair housing mission is, in many ways, I think the most important mission that this department manages and we manage many very important missions. We do economic development, and we do basic housing, we help homeless people. But the fair housing work, which, in my opinion, very much goes to the founding principles of this nation, and the soul of the nation; if we can't enforce the fair housing laws, if we can't come together as one nation, then none of this works. And the fair housing operation in this department was, for many years, let's say not the most aggressive operation.

Under President Clinton's leadership, we turned that around. We will do twice as many enforcement actions over these past four years, as any other four years in the Department's history. And nothing gives me more pride than being able to say that, and I want to thank the entire fair housing operation, and the Assistant Secretary, for that great work.

Katherine Beard, thank you very much for coming up and joining us today, as well as Fred Underwood from the Realtors. And Michael and Pamela Keys, thank you very much.

I know that it is very, very difficult to come up and talk about this again. It was a terrible situation. And our instinct says, let's just get past it. Let's forget it, let's put it in a closet, close the door, and not visit it again. It takes true courage to say, I'm going to relive that. I'm willing to go and make a formal complaint to government. I'm willing to stand up and tell my story, just to make sure that it doesn't happen with anyone else. That is a true act of public conscience and courage, and we thank you very much for it. Thank you for being here.

You heard the story from Pamela and the Congresswoman and the Assistant Secretary better than I can say it. I've said from this podium many times in the past, racism is alive and well in America today. That's all you need to say. Racism is alive and well in America today.

We normally don't say it that concisely. We don't say it that sharply, because it makes us uncomfortable. We don't really like to admit it. We don't really like to hear those words. Racism is alive and well. Then, who's a racist? Am I racist? My family racist? My community racist? Boy, what a terrible thing to say.

But then, if you don't admit it, you are destined to live with it forever. If Pamela Keys had said, well, forget that. Let's just forget that, that never happened, we'll put it in the closet, we'll lock the closet and throw away the key, well then, it will happen to another family, with another home.

Maybe that's why we're still here today, still fighting this problem. Because we have been unwilling to admit it, with all its ugliness, and all its obnoxiousness, and all its repugnance, and as violative of our very spirit and ethic as it is. It is alive and well today. And in my opinion, it's one of the most important issues that faces this nation, period. The diversity is not going to go away.

We're not becoming more homogeneous, we're becoming heterogeneous. By the year 2050, we're going to be a majority minority. And it's not just going to be a black-white issue, African Americans and Caucasian issue. It's going to be with Asians, and our Hispanic brothers and sisters. We have to resolve the issue.

To begin, the first step in resolution, is admission. And that is our first step today. This is not then just a Mississippi issue. Once you admit it, you start to see how prevalent it is. It is almost everywhere, every day. We've brought hundreds and hundreds of cases in this Department. No state is immune from this. Sure, it's Mississippi. It's also West Virginia. It's also New York. It's also California. It's also Pennsylvania. We did a case, Bonnie Jouhari. We sued the Ku Klux Klan in Reading, Pennsylvania, up north, where this isn't supposed to happen. Reading, Pennsylvania, 50 miles outside of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.

Different faces of discrimination. Sometimes, it's just as obnoxious and brutal as we see it today, the old-style discrimination. But now, there's almost a new style for the new millennium, a more sophisticated discrimination, where it's not as obvious, it's not as blatant. But it's just as dangerous.

When the banker looks at your financial sheet, and says, oh, you don't qualify for the loan. But really, the only data that the officer is looking at, is the color box.

The story that the Congresswoman tells. No, that apartment isn't available anymore. I'm sorry. Oh, you just missed it. It was just rented. Too bad. A few minutes late. Not at all. Quiet, with a smile, but just as insidious and just as dangerous.

What do we do about it? We do two things. First, President Clinton's One America initiative. We talk about it, we understand it. We talk about the differences. We get young people to talk about it, we get communities to talk about it. We get college students to talk about it. Let's talk about the differences.

I happen to be an Italian-American heritage, this is my culture. How does that make you feel? Explain it to me. Let's talk about it; let's understand it. Don't fear it. Don't run from it. Don't ignore it, don't hide it, don't make believe it doesn't exist. Let's talk about. Let's come together.

We're doing that with the realtors. The One America Realtor Program, where we do training with the realtors, so they can understand these issues and they can spot these issues. If you have a white seller and an African American potential buyer, the realtor might be aware of the issues, and can help foster the dialogue. Understand it, discuss it, communicate about it. That's the first prong.

The second prong is, enforce the law. Discrimination is not just unpleasant and unethical. It's also illegal. Well then, enforce the law. We're so good at enforcing the law, we're a nation of laws. We lock up more people than any other industrialized nation on the globe. We're very good at putting people in prison, and enforcing the law, and beating our chest when we enforce the law, because we're doing it in the name of truth and justice. Well, good. Then in the name of truth and justice, enforce the Fair Housing Law.

Martin Luther King died. One week later, we have the Fair Housing Act, which was a tribute to his death and his work. No law can be clearer, you shall not discriminate, period. Enforce the law, with the same vehemence, and the same moral indignation and righteous indignation that you enforce the law when a kid gets caught with drugs in public housing. Use that same vehemence, that same adamance. This is not America. We won't tolerate this. Say that about discrimination, and send that signal to this nation.

It's not just a thing that we would aspire to. It's the basic law. And this system, this federal government will tolerate no discrimination. When you discriminate against Pamela Keys, Washington, D.C. and the federal government, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and every American citizen was violated. This was not a violation just against the Keys family. It's every family that was violated. And we will have zero tolerance for discrimination.

That is our message today.

The Congresswoman mentioned that this is the 45th anniversary of Rosa Parks, and that the Keys are today's Rosa Parks. And you very much are. And that is the spirit. Rosa Parks sat down, so her people could stand up. Just an ordinary person, who said, enough is enough. Fannie Lou Hamer: I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. When we all adopt a little bit of the courage of Rosa Parks, when we say this is a violation against me and mine, and this is about my country and my community, and I will not tolerate it, that's when we will have resolved the issue.

Today we take a big step down that path. And I want to thank the Keys for leading us and showing us the courage and the vision of what we all should do, because you are the model in this regard, and you inspire all of us.

Congresswoman, thank you for your leadership. Assistant Secretary, thank you for your good work. Thank you all for being here with us. I would ask the Congresswoman and the Keys to join us for questions. Thank you.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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