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Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
Hobart and William Smith College

Geneva, New York
Thursday, November 30, 2000

It's a pleasure to be back in upstate New York. As Mark (Gearan) mentioned, this is coming home for me. I've been on station in Washington, D.C. for eight years, and they've been eight great years. I've gone all across the country, all across the world, literally. But as a New Yorker with the parochialism of a New Yorker, I can tell you, the more you see the rest of the nation, the more you see how special New York State is, because it really does combine, in my opinion, the best of everything we have out there.

And when you're in upstate New York, you really see a lot of that beauty and a lot of that diversity all in one place. Of course, you also see 25 inches of snow in Buffalo last week. That was really something.

But it's a pleasure to be back. Mark was very kind in his introduction. I want to correct a couple of small points -- not that we're incorrect. I just want to clarify.

I am the son of Mario Cuomo. I did run his campaign. That campaign, he won. I had nothing to do with the last campaign, where he lost.

I was the youngest Cabinet Secretary when first appointed. When I was appointed, I was 39 years old. That was about 4 years ago. I am now about 67 years old, because HUD is a very high-mileage job.

Mark mentioned when we took over, they wanted to eliminate HUD. And that was when I became the Secretary. I remember at the Senate confirmation hearing, one of the Senators said to me, "Don't bother unpacking, because you're not going to be here that long, because the Department's not going to be here that long."

And it was a very, very precarious time when I took over. The new Republican Congress had come in, it was a very conservative Congress. And their point was the best government is no government, and they were going to eliminate government, and HUD was up on the top of the hit list for the new Congress.

My brother-in-law, Joe Kennedy, a great Congressman from the city of Boston at that time, was the ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee, the congressional subcommittee that had oversight for HUD. So we would wind up doing a lot of events together in those first few months.

And Joe would get up, and he would do his thing -- I don't know if you ever heard Joe Kennedy speak. But he's got that real Kennedy boom going on. It doesn't matter what the size of the room is, he's going to just shout it out. And he would go on and on, and then he would come to introduce me, and he would say, "Now, ladies and gentlemen, my brother-in-law, the HUD Secretary, because no one else was stupid enough to take the job, Andrew Cuomo." I think there's a lot of family dynamics going on in that also.

President Mark Gearan. I knew President Gearan before he fled to academia. I knew President Gearan when he was running the transition. We actually met -- and I was thinking about this on the way up -- he was running the transition for the Clinton-Gore campaign.

I went down to Washington for a weekend from New York City. And I was going to work on the HUD transition, because as Mark said, I was doing housing/urban development work. And I was going down just to advise on the HUD transition.

And I wound up -- one weekend became a week, became 2 weeks, became 3 weeks. And Mark was the transition director. And he was extraordinary there. And talk about youth -- and that's one of the points we want to make tonight.

Talk about youth in service, and what he did -- transition director. Just a tad older than me, Mark, which I like to remind him whenever I get a chance.

But as a transition director, and then in the White House Press Office, where he was extraordinary. And then in the Peace Corps, and what he did with the Peace Corps. And it was always a magnificent idea, and a great legacy. But he breathed new life into the Peace Corps.

And we had the opportunity to be together in Central America. I saw him with the young people, literally, who were there to clean up after a hurricane. And they were literally saving lives. And I saw him in action.

And he was really something special to see there. And you are lucky to have him here in this capacity, because the nation was lucky to have him in federal service. And I'm sure it would be my honor to serve with him again one day. He's a good friend, he's a great American, and it's a pleasure to be with him tonight, Mark Gearan. Thank you, Mr. President.

Kudos to all of you for coming out tonight. I'm very impressed -- you could be home watching CNN, watching the Florida recount, the ongoing saga of the chads.

I love the whole concept of the chad, the hanging chad and the tricornered chad. And I love the dimpled chad. I've never even seen a dimpled chad. But it sounds like it's going to be very cute, doesn't it? A dimpled chad. Like if I were a chad, I'd want to be a dimpled chad.

And then they talk about that pregnant chad. I knew, because I do have political instincts, I knew as soon as I heard pregnant chad, that there was going to be trouble that came along with this pregnant chad. There was something that was going to happen with this pregnant chad.

And sure enough, I heard coming up tonight, that the Republicans have filed another lawsuit against the pregnant chad. It's actually a paternity suit to determine who the father is of the pregnant chad. And they allege that Secretary of State Warren Christopher is the father of the pregnant chad. He has said that while he is flattered, he nonetheless denies the charge.

However this turns out, this is going to be a truly fascinating, historic event. I believe -- and I don't want to get political tonight -- but I believe at the end of the day, Al Gore's going to wind up President Al Gore, because he happens to have more votes. And that's what an election is about in this country.

But put that aside. This is an episode that is going to have a dramatic, dramatic effect. I am afraid it's going to have a very negative effect, because I'm afraid this vote mishap in many ways will wind up punctuating, if not accelerating, a 30-year trend, a 30-year movement which has seen an increasing alienation from government, an increasing isolation from government, a distrust of government, a disrespect of government. More and more of a sense that government just doesn't work. Government can't do anything right. Government isn't part of the solution, government is part of the problem.

I'm afraid they're going to look at this Florida situation and say, "Look at this, government can't even count the votes. This is how the elections have been happening all these years?" We just happen to put a microscope on one small area. But look, the system is dysfunctional. All these different mechanisms, and who's in charge, and who designed what, and is the paper hanging.

How is this any way to run a nation? It's what I believe, which is this thing called government just doesn't work.

That's my fear. My fear is, and my anxiety is, the 30-year trend, this as a punctuation and an acceleration of that trend, frightens me. Why? Because this is reminiscent of what you see when you walk into the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Where do most people meet "government"? Department of Motor Vehicles. That is not a happy experience, in most cases. You walk out of there saying, "If this is government, I want to have nothing to do with it." The other place that government touches people's lives? The IRS, when they go to file an income tax form.

And I think what has happened over the past 30 years, is that as the alienation has grown, it has fed on itself, and it becomes a downward spiral. The more disrespect, alienation for government there is, the fewer people then choose to go into it, and try to correct it, and try to make it better, the less public interest. And then, the less effective the government becomes.

If you wish for it long enough, it will occur. If you believe that government isn't working well, and government isn't part of the solution, and you believe that long enough, and you abandon it long enough, and you starve it long enough, it will occur.

And now, the truth is, that voting system stinks. And the truth is, we just happened to look at Florida. If, for some reason, you happen to pull up the Hillary Clinton election, and you put the same microscope on counties in Upstate New York, my guess is you would see the same thing. And you would see it in any state across the nation.

And the truth is, the Department of Motor Vehicles does not work the way it should. And the IRS does not work the way it should. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development did not work the way it should.

But that has now become a result of the alienation that started. And the point I want to make at the conclusion of tonight is, if we don't stop that cycle, it is going to continue to go down, and it is going to bring us down with it.

You cannot divorce yourself from the goal of government without paying a price. And the longer it goes on, the worse it gets. The average tenure of the workforce in the federal government, is close to 19 years. 19 years.

The average tenure in the private sector, is about 3.6 years. You stay at a job for about 3.6 years, then you go find another job. New talents, new mind, turnover, new blood.

In government, it's the exact opposite. The federal government is, in many ways, just atrophy for decades. Why? Because it was not the place to go. Because young people didn't go there. It was not a career choice that you would pursue. We were disillusioned.

The election in Florida, the machine that creates the chad -- the true father of the chad after we litigate the case with the Secretary of State -- is the Vote-O-Matic machine. The Vote-O-Matic machine, is the latest in voting technology, designed in the 60s, the Vote-O-Matic machine.

Vice President Gore said on TV, it looks like something that should be in a Jetsons movie. He's right. Well, why are we still using the invention -- the Vote-O-Matic came out at the same time as the Veg-O-Matic. Remember the Veg-O-Matic?

Why are we still using the Vote-O-Matic? So many ways to vote. It's not the most complicated task in the world to accomplish. At a time where you can order things over the Internet with a credit card, all sorts of security devices, why are we using a 1960s Vote-O-Matic?

Because you haven't seen the same interest, the same creativity, the same young, fertile minds coming into the government arena. That is the downward cycle.

Well, maybe it's not so bad. Who cares whether or not this thing called government works? Life is good. Right? Things are going well. The Dow-Jones didn't have such a good day today, but by and large, life is good. College is going well. President Gearan looks well. Enrollment is good.

The economy is good. Life is good. There's no war. Middle East, knock wood, is going to be resolved. Maybe we don't really need government, maybe everything is fine just the way it is.

I don't think so. And that's what I want to show you tonight. I've been the HUD Secretary for 4 years. If the job is done right, the HUD Secretary goes to the places left behind. That's what I said I wanted to do when the President nominated me.

And in some ways, I think the reality that you see, in this country, in this world, is a very jaded reality. We are so euphoric in talking about how good things are, and how the economy is doing well, we tend not to see the full panorama. And in many ways, we are doing extraordinarily well.

Don't get me wrong. I'm very proud of the progress this nation has made over the last 8 years. And the economy is going great guns. 22 million new jobs. We have the highest home ownership rate in the history of the United States: 67 percent. Highest home ownership rate in the history of the United States.

I want to say that twice, because I want you to remember who was the Housing Secretary when home ownership hit the highest rate in history. It may be on an exam one day. (Laughter) Please, do me one favor. Put it in a test.

Things are going very, very well. But they say the brightest light casts the greatest shadows. I think this very bright light, is casting great shadows. And that when you look behind or beneath the obvious, you start to see different things.

As my term is winding down, we're putting together a compilation of what to us are the most egregious issues of injustice. This nation has always thrived because it makes one basic promise, which is the promise of justice. Not just criminal justice, which is how we use the word most commonly.

Criminal justice we do very well in this nation, if you consider imprisonment doing criminal justice well. We lock up more people than any other industrialized nation on the globe. So we incarcerate people well. Upstate New York's second-largest employer is the prison system. So, criminal justice - locking people up - we do well.

But there are other forms of justice, which are really the founding planks of the country: Economic justice, social justice, and racial justice. And that is the promise. That is the ethos. That's the standard operating agreement that we all make, one with another, and then as a society.

And if you look at how we're doing on those forms of justice, there is a different America that you can see.

If you look at the field of economic justice, and you look internationally -- Mark mentioned the international work that we've been doing at HUD. But as the globe gets smaller - and this is your world - as the globe gets smaller, and we all get closer, the problems of China are no longer so far away. 130 million transient workers in squatters' villages all across China. They're just moving to a private economy. They have challenges that they haven't even begun to think of.

Honduras: 85 percent of the population, in extreme poverty. This is extreme poverty. South Africa: 71 percent rural poverty. Six million infected with the HIV virus. Some estimates are as high as 40 percent of the population of Africa, affected with the HIV virus. 40 percent. What are the consequences of that, in the next couple of years?

We have Indian reservations in this country that you would not believe. HUD does the housing on Indian reservations. This is a picture I took on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. This is the home of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The Lakota Sioux.

The Sioux were the fiercest warriors. And now they live on a reservation that is like from another planet. 73 percent unemployment, domestic violence is through the roof, fetal alcohol syndrome. You see children all over the reservation with birth defects. One of the poorest counties in the nation, if not the poorest county in the nation.

This room -- I took this picture, that's why it's not a good one. This room is about 9 x 10. I didn't even see the two children in this room until after I took the picture.

You have rural poverty that is as bad as it has ever been. 20 percent poverty in Kasigluk, Alaska. This area has a very high rate of childhood cancers, because the groundwater is poison.

You can go to Appalachia. It is still the way it was in the movies from the '50s and the '60s. You would think you're in a bad movie from the '50s. The colonias, which is the Texas-Mexico border, 40 percent poverty. Half of the homes don't have plumbing.

Migrant farm workers -- sounds like a cause of a generation ago. The Coachella Valley in California, still happens. They have migrant farm worker streams who come up from the south to pick the goods. They live in bushes, in streams, in ditches. Who has infections, who has sores, because they bathe in the run-off from the fields, which brings the pesticides with it, et cetera.

Cities in this country. The big cities are doing very well. The bright lights are doing very well. New York, Chicago, L.A. -- the big cities are doing very well.

The small cities have real issues. One in five are shrinking: Gary, Indiana, 27 percent loss. One in three, poverty over 20 percent. One in seven, high unemployment which is 50 percent above the national rate.

You have housing authorities. Chicago Housing Authority should have never been built in the first place. If the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the poorest Census tract in the United States, the next 11 of the 15 are the Chicago Housing Authority. Four and a half miles of high-rises, one after the other.

It was as if you planned to build a ghetto and a slum, this is how you would do it. All of the people on one side of town, four and a half miles of high-rises, built as high as you can. Then wall them off from the rest of the city by putting a Freeway in between. Put them in the buildings, lock the door, walk away. Come back 25 years later and say, "My gosh, look what these people did. They destroyed the buildings."

Still exists today. I can't tell you how many journalism awards have been won for writing about the horrors of the Chicago Housing Authority, going back 20, 30 years. 85 percent unemployment, in one of the projects called Robert Taylor Homes. So bad, that they can't be secured, they can't be maintained.

Upstate New York, as an area that is being left behind economically, tells the story in volumes. If you look at just the upstate economy, and you take New York City out of the equation, it would be second to last in the United States, second to last in job growth. Buffalo, close to 30 percent poverty. The unemployment is down 24 percent.

The young people in Upstate New York - this is a frightening statistic to me - 40 percent of Upstate New Yorkers 18 to 30 - I just miss that category, Mark is a little further away than I am - say that in the next 5 years, they plan to leave Upstate New York.

They're going to leave their home, because they don't see a future.

Social justice. Homelessness. Just as high as it was 12 years ago. One out of four is a child. We forget that when we talk about homelessness. We tend to think of a person on a street. One out of four is a child.

Gun violence. 10 children die every day by gun violence. We lose 12 times more children to gun violence than the other 25 industrialized nations combined.

This is a distinctly unique American phenomenon. We are in love with guns, if not obsessed with guns. Seven times more gun dealers than McDonald's in the United States. Is there any guess why we have the violence and the death that we have?

And racial justice, which I was not prepared for. Coming from New York, where we celebrate our diversity. We see the rankles of it occasionally. But we understand the fundamental beauty to the diversity.

At HUD, we've done racial discrimination cases. We've done them all across the nation. Cross burnings. Situations as ugly, as brutal, as mean, as anything you can see.

In Pennsylvania, the Ku Klux Klan has their own cable TV show. This picture is taken from the KKK Pennsylvania call-in cable show, where they are in their regalia, spewing their filth and their venom. And you can call in, and you can ask questions.

There was a biracial young woman in a city called Reading, Pennsylvania, which is 50 miles outside of Philadelphia. White mother, African-American father. She's biracial. And the biracial daughter was targeted by the KKK, because that's their fear: Diluting of the bloodstream, biracial daughters.

And this biracial daughter was a very light-skinned woman. And their fear was somebody might go out with her, not knowing she had African-American blood. And what a tragedy that would be.

So to preserve the stock of the whites in Reading, they had to chase her from Reading. They chased her from Reading. They chased the family across the country. The family then moved five times in the next 2 years, because the KKK is now on the web.

So they moved to Seattle. But on the web, they communicated where the family was, and they chased them across the United States.

Temple burning in Sacramento. Governor Gray Davis. This was just last year. Pure anti-Semitism. Burned temples, because they didn't want temples in the city of Sacramento. The city of Sacramento is the state seat of the state of California.

The good news is, as President Clinton says, there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America. Yes, we have issues. Yes, we have problems, and serious ones, and ones that are beneath the bright light.

But the good news is there is nothing that we can't fix. Chicago Housing Authority, public housing in this nation. We know how to build housing. It's not rocket science, it's bricks and mortar. If it was rocket science, I wouldn't be the HUD Secretary.

Blow up the big old buildings. They should have never been built in the first place. And then build them right. Build lower density, integrate them into community, economic integration, income-mixing. Blow them up, build the housing. We will have done 100,000 units by the time we leave, more than ever before.

This is what public housing was in Louisville, this is what it is today. We know how to do this. Build it with a sense of decency and community.

We know how to bring the upstate economy back. We're doing it with the Erie Canal. Governments all across the United States are doing it, once you cross the threshold and believe that government has a role in this.

The economy is not going to come back on its own. It has left Upstate New York for certain reasons. Find out what they are, form partnerships, go out, and make it happen. We took the Erie Canal in Upstate New York, we put in an investment - 400 million. We're making it work as a tourist attraction, bringing in tourism, generating jobs through the tourism.

Cornell University did a report on the project, and reported that 27,000 new jobs are likely to be created by the Erie Canal.

So, we know how to do this. We're doing it in cities that people thought were gone, cities like Detroit. Empowerment Zone - great name. Tax incentives bring businesses back, create jobs, 300,000.

And we know how to fight racial discrimination in this nation. You know how? Enforce the law. You know how good we were at locking up people when you caught somebody with drugs, or somebody robs a car, and we have more people in prison than any other industrialized nation? Be just as adamant, in enforcing the civil rights laws.

The case I mentioned in Pennsylvania? We brought the first lawsuit ever by the federal government against the Ku Klux Klan. First ever. They said it couldn't be done.

Death threats: Oh, you can't sue the Ku Klux Klan, they're very powerful. Baloney. They violate the law, you sue them. We settled $1 million from the KKK, largest settlement ever. Enforce the law.

We know how to do these things. Get young people into government. Get young people into government. At HUD, we revamped the whole program, we changed the way the department worked. And then we said to young people, "Come in. Take a second look at government. Think of it as an alternative."

We had over 10,000 applications for 200 jobs. Bring the connection of government and people together again. Restore the relationship between people and government.

It's something Mark knows a little something about. It's what the Peace Corps did. That photo's actually touched for Mark, it's retouched. You see? Mark took the Peace Corps, which was an idea by John F. Kennedy, his way of reaching out and bringing people into government.

When I say that our decline has been the '70s since, why then? Because the '60s -- we had John Kennedy. And we had a belief in this nation that we could do great things.

And John Kennedy was the spokesperson for that. And government was very much the vehicle for it. And the nation believed in itself, and government was leading the charge. We could go to the moon. Why? Because John Kennedy said we could go to the moon. That was the '60s. A lot of energy, a lot of positive energy, and government was there as the cheerleader.

Before that, the '50s, the '40s, they had a different relationship with government. My father's generation, they are very accustomed to government and the role of government, because they believe, many of them, that government saved their lives.

They fought in wars. You don't have to tell them about government. They know what government is. Government brought them together, and they went out, and they won wars. They got all sorts of benefits from government: FHA mortgages, VA mortgages, GI Bill.

Government does great things -- that whole generation believes that. '40s, '50s -- the '60s had Kennedy. '70s, '80s -- my generation? You gave me Watergate. You gave me the Vietnam War.

What have you ever done positive for me? That's the problem. Why do we have to have the discussion? Because of those pictures. Those pictures, are your world. You may not see it every day. You may not see it between the classroom and the dorm room. You may not see it on a Friday, you may not see it on a Saturday night, but it is there.

And it costs you. It costs you. You can't say Chicago Housing Authority, wherever that is, I just won't go there. And then what do I care? You're paying to keep the lights on in the Chicago Housing Authority tonight. You're spending $30,000 a unit tonight, to run the Chicago Housing Authority.

If there's a shooting tonight, a kid winds up in a wheelchair, you pay for that kid for the rest of their life. Another child is born, unprepared to go into life, and you start another cycle of poverty, you pay the welfare check.

The economic cost is very high. You put them in prison? $40,000 a year. They go in for life? $40,000 per year for every year that they live.

You pay in the lost productivity. They're not working. They're not contributing. You pay economically. It is your world.

And you pay in another way. Because fundamentally, we are all interconnected. There is no fancier way to say. The Chicago Housing Authority child, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation child, are all connected to us here tonight. And as they go, we will go eventually. Maybe not tomorrow, but if we allow them to sink too low, they are going to pull us down. That's what the concept of community is all about.

We know how to do these things. We just have to commit ourselves to doing it. And that's where you come in. That was Mark's message to the Peace Corps, and that's what John F. Kennedy's message to the Peace Corps was.

No one else is going to do this but you. No one else is going to do it. It's no one else's job but your own. And I think the Florida message is also important there. Look how important one vote turns out.

Why should I vote? Why should I participate? It doesn't matter. It matters. It matters. You're going to pick a President of the United States, you're going to chart an entirely different course, on a handful of votes. It matters.

You can make a difference. This is your world. Mark Gearan made a difference. He's making a difference today in a different way. He made a difference in public service. You can make a difference.

And if you don't do it, then who? Thank you for listening.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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