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Remarks of Secretary Andrew Cuomo to
U.S. Conference of Mayors

Washington, DC
January 28, 1999

SECRETARY CUOMO: Thank you . . . Thank you very much.

First I have the pleasure to present an impromptu Award Of Excellence. As the HUD Secretary of constitutional legal authority to do an on-the-spot-award-of-excellence if I believe it's in the best interest of the public, I am so moved at this time to present an "Award Of Excellence For The Best Presentation Of Awards Of Excellence I Have Ever Seen" to Mayor Buddy Cianci, please come up Buddy, the number one. That's what you do as HUD Secretary, that's why no one else wanted the job. Buddy also has with him the Mayor of Florence, Italy, who is Mayor Mario Primicerio. All we know is that Florence is never going to be the same after this experience, I'm sure.

Mayor Web, thank you very much for the kind introduction. President Corradini, congratulations to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. I am told that this is the largest attendance ever at a winter meeting for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. It's good to be with your past president, we did a lot of good work last year together, Paul Helmke and I; Willie Brown is here; Tom Cochran, an extraordinary Executive Director of the Conference of Mayors, he is really bringing us forward. Charles Ruma is here from the National Association of Homebuilders, a new participant but hopefully a new partner in the efforts as we go forward.

We have the entire HUD team here. And if I could I would just like to call off their names, why don't you stand as I call off the name. They are all standing. Well, the HUD team never sits, let it be known. We have Deputy Secretary of the Department, Saul Ramirez, former Mayor of Laredo, Texas; we have FHA commissioner Bill Apgar. We have Cardell Cooper, former Mayor of East Orange, New Jersey. Assistant Secretary Eva Plaza, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing. We have the General Counsel, Gail Laster who is here with us.

And we have an extraordinary team, we set up something called the Mayor's Desk two years ago when we started, which was going to be a liaison, a vehicle to really bring us together, it has done extraordinary, extraordinary work, and that team is Bob Hickmott, Nancy Kirshner, and Alexander Cochran, give them a round of applause please.

It is my pleasure to welcome you to Washington, DC, it's an interesting time to be here, you could say, experience first hand the government inaction, that's one word, inaction. I don't know if you've noticed but there is a slight consumption with an issue of impeachment that is now going on in this town. It has consumed the entire process, consumed the entire process. What I believe is, whatever your position is on the specifics, it is not worth the time of the American people to stop the entire machinery of government to make this happen.

They are now making their case, they've literally gone to trial, they have the Chief Justice, they are deposing witnesses and they are doing nothing on the real issues, the issues that you deal with every day, nothing on education, nothing on Social Security, nothing on crime, all about this. I have three words for their process, enough, enough, enough.

I'm an attorney also and I want to make a case, which is our case, a case which is more important to this nation. A case which is about the future of the American cities. Now I've argued in the past and we've argued in the past the morality of helping cities, that it is right to help cities. That that's how we achieve community, that's how we come together, that we're never going to do it without the cities. And that's a very powerful case. But I think to really win the case for the cities we have to appeal to the American people, not just by appealing to their heart, but also appealing to their head. Not just in terms of their compassion, but also their common sense. Not only the sense of justice but in dollars and cents. And we can make that case also, because it's true, so our case is simple.

The economic future of the nation lies in its cities, period. Five indisputable reasons. The case, the case is a winner - five quick reasons. Number one, American cities hold the necessary elements for the nation's continued economic expansion. If the economy is going to continue to grow it needs two things, it needs a labor market and it needs a consumer market. Businesses all over the country will tell you they can't get the workers; why, because we have the lowest unemployment, the lowest peace time unemployment rate in 42 years. They literally can't find the workers. They are taking ads, they have firms, they can't get the skilled work force. The cities have the skilled work force, over two million workers in cities unemployed, dying for an education, dying for the skills, dying to get into the American economy. That is the labor pool that business must drink from if business is going to grow. It is our pool.

Businesses need a continued market to expand. The market, the retail market in central cities alone, 665 billion dollars, billion with a "B". What is that relative to? That is the entire purchasing power of the United Kingdom. It is twice the purchasing power of Canada: that's just our central cities. If you take our poorest neighborhoods, you take the poorest census tracks and you look at their retail purchasing power, 7.7 billion. That is equivalent to Mexico's entire purchasing power. President Clinton hit this on the head in the State of the Union when he said, and I quote, "Our greatest untapped markets are not overseas, they are right here at home and we should go after them." And he's right, that's the first reason.

Second reason, for our nation to compete our cities must be able to compete internationally. Now if you look at what has happened to our large cities over the past 30 years by and large they have gotten smaller and poorer. If you take the longer snapshot the American city has shrunk at the same time that the international cities have grown. If you look at the past five years where we've seen a resurgence of the city, they are growing but not as fast as the international cities are growing. We won't make it at this rate. We all know the Conference of Mayors has pioneered the fact that the economy is moving to a regional economy. It is now going to be the Charlotte region versus the Atlanta region versus the Rome region and the city is the economic heart of that region. If the cities suffers the region will suffer. We understand that - city and suburb together.

You take our fastest growing large city, Los Angeles, most of the international cities are growing at three, four, five times the rates of Los Angeles, which is our fastest growing city. New York City, which is a great example of a come-back city pales in comparison to the growth of the other cities internationally. For our nation to keep pace our cities must keep pace.

Third reason, if we are to continue to develop as a nation it must be in our cities because sprawl is not an option, period. It is more and more clear, I don't have to convince you, we're literally consuming the planet. Four hundred thousand acres per years, seven thousand per week, one thousand acres of open space per day is now consumed. The Vice President is all over this issue. He tells the joke about Atlanta and Chattanooga. Sprawling and continuing to sprawl, if they continue to sprawl it's going to be one region. We'll either have to call it Chattatlanta or Atlantanooga. But it's happening all over the country. It's just going on and on and on, and he's right, sprawl is not an option.

But it's also not an option to say, we'll stop building. To say we're going to stop building, to say we're going to stop developing is economic death for this nation. Where 1.3 million households per year need homes. We can't stop building, but we can't continue the sprawl. There is only one option, develop the cities, don't develop new, rebuild the cities. Don't spoil the green fields, clean the brownfields. Don't continue going out and out on the concentric circles, rebuild the core. It is that, that clear. We have all the infrastructure in the cities, we have the roads, we have water and sewer, Mayor Rendell makes this point, extraordinarily well, we have everything you need, we just need the kind of infusion of capital to develop those assets within the cities. Do a U-turn on the development highway and build back our cities.

Fourth reason, cities know how to solve their problems. Old myths die hard. And there is an old myth that cities can't solve their problems. That cities don't work: baloney cities don't work. It was never true - if there was a perception it's 30, 40 years old by now. Cities don't work, go to cities all across the nation you'll see the exact option. The greatest challenges of the day are being solved in cities all across this nation. Go talk to Richie Daly about education. Go talk to Mayor Ed Rendell about how you bring jobs back to a city. Go talk to Mayor Coles about regional plans and green space and open space. We have stories to tell all across the Board. Mayor Giuliani can tell you about fighting crime.

We know what works, we see what works, economic development works. And sensitizing the private market to develop in cities works - giving cities a little help with the private market, to make up for the edge that the green fields have, works. EDI works - EDI Program, Economic Development Initiative works - empowerment zones work, homeownership works. The more homeownership you can get into a city the better.

We announced yesterday a number, that if you're looking for an indicator of how cities are doing, highest homeownership rate in the nation yesterday, over 66 percent, but even better, highest homeownership rate in history in this nation's cities, over 50 percent of the people in our own cities are homeowners. In cities you now have more homeowners than renters, more people who own. What a validation of this nation's cities. People literally putting their money where their mouth is, literally investing in the city and saying, "I bank in this place." We know it works, all that's left now is to bring it up to scale. We know economic development works, we know housing works, we know homeownership works, we just have to bring it up to scale.

President Clinton did that last year in the HUD budget. The best HUD budget in over a decade last year. Best budget in over a decade. Now I can't 'scoop' the President because that is not a good thing to do when you're a Cabinet Secretary. And you're going to speak with him tomorrow so you might tell on me. But let me say this, last year's budget was the best in 10 years. The President will announce the new budget shortly. This year's budget will be even better than last year's budget, and that's really saying something.

And we should not be shy about arguing for resources. We are not asking for charity, we are asking for equity. This nation did not develop as a consequence of the private market, without assistance. We did great, great suburban development in this nation, but not just as a function of the private market: there was government assistance driving that development. Who built the roads that went out of the cities in the first place? Who had the FHA home mortgages that only gave for new home and brought people out of cities? Who sponsored the VA mortgages, who paid for the water and sewer? Who subsidized the environmental pollution? That's all government, not a bad thing, a good thing. That suburban development, that rural development, was a product of government assistance, God Bless America. But now let's do for the central cities what we did [for others] over the past 50 years. Let's bring it up to scale.

Fifth point, final point - because I can only have five points, because I can only do it on one hand - otherwise I forget. As go our cities so goes our nation. The challenges our cities face today, the nation faces tomorrow. You look at all these challenges, there is a common theme and the common theme is this: can we come together? We've beaten everything else, we've beaten all the countries on the globe, the only challenges now are literally within. Cities are the gateways to, the portals to, the nation. Where people first enter, they are still the melting pot. And that's where we're going to learn to live together. And make no mistake, if we don't learn to live together we will not succeed as a nation, I'm convinced.

We tried the alternative, we tried running from each other, we tried moving out and moving further and further and further out, but now we're at the edge of the envelope. There is no place else to go literally. It is time to turn and face each other and take our diversity and make it a source of strength and not a source of weakness. In 2050 this nation will be a majority minority for the first time. Majority minority, totally different culture, totally different context. How will we do when we get there, the cities will tell you. The cities are the canary in the coal mine, as go the cities goes the nation.

Tell me how the cities are doing in 10 years, and I'll tell you how this nation is going to be doing in 50 years. That's our case. The five points. Why it is smart to invest in cities. It is not just smart for cities, it's smart for the nation. Now that is our case for justice. A different case then they are making in this town for justice, but I would submit a much higher form of justice. This is about social justice, about economic justice, about racial justice, and it's the kind of justice we need for this nation if we're going to make a difference.

We don't need any witnesses. Why? Because our case is self-evident. We know this from Lincoln, from Martin Luther King, from John F. Kennedy, this is the right case. We don't need any witnesses. But if you insist on calling witnesses we have the witnesses to call. We'll call a 20-year-old mother who is struggling to get off welfare and is dying to get a job, but needs help to make that transition. We'll call a 12-year-old who is sitting in a public classroom right now without a future because he is being failed by the public education. That's the witness that we'll call to tell our story. We'll call the 5-year-old who needs daycare. We'll call the 65-year-old who doesn't have health care and has to choose every month between buying medicine or paying for his rent. Those are the witnesses for our case. I'll call every Mayor in this nation and I'll ask them to testify to the real problems facing real Americans in real cities every day.

That is our case, and it is a winning, winning case. And the jury, let the jury be the American people who hold fast to the dream of this nation, opportunity for all. And let history be our judge, we will win. I rest our case. Thank you.


Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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