Andrew Cuomo Urges Redefined Government

Photograph: Andrew Cuomo. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

In an era of middle class disillusionment with government, educated and interested citizens must find a way to make government work rather than simply reject all public programs such as welfare, Medicaid and job training, argued Andrew Cuomo, assistant secretary for community planning and development at HUD, in a speech last week to students in the graduate program in Public Policy and Administration.

"There has to be a very serious reevaluation," Cuomo said, speaking Oct. 2 at the Kellogg Center. "Because this new budget in Washington says 'end everything.' From one end to the other, and they're going to do it so fast you can't figure out what's going on."

The purpose of Cuomo's speech was, in part, to address the status of Empowerment Zones, a federal urban policy program to strengthen poor urban communities. One of the zones, which was instituted in Harlem and the South Bronx with the help of Columbia, is an example of government doing something right, Cuomo said. New York City is one of the six major federally subsidized Empowerment Zones in the country, and will receive $100 million and tax benefits to create jobs and economic opportunities.

"Empowerment Zones are doing exciting things," Cuomo said. "They let the community come up with its own plan."

Cuomo, 37, is a younger version of his father, Mario, the former governor of New York. He has the same impassioned speaking style, the same eloquence with a Queens inflection. He said he wants to give reasons for the middle class to once again have faith in their government, and he understands their anxiety.

"The person in the middle feels threatened by immigrants, oppressed by the rich, and pressured from the side by affirmative action. Who do they blame? Government. The older generation believes government can work," he said, noting the successes of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration with social programs such as the Workers Progress Administration. "But people of my generation haven't seen government do anything like that. Culturally, government is a dinosaur."

Cuomo explained that he, like many, is of the ATM generation, and is fed up with government that is incompetent and inefficient: "I can get cash in China from an ATM machine, but I have to wait on line for 5 hours to get a driver's license."

Speaking before a room full of public policy students, Cuomo instructed them to meet the challenge now of redefining the role of government. They must ask the right questions, he said, before offering answers. They must resolve the issue of what is the role of government before taking action.

"Ideology is not enough for these times," he said. "You need economic analysis."

To be successful, Cuomo told the students they must create change, not just rhetoric.

"You're not going to convince them with a speech. You say the function is to get the homeless off the streets, then get the homeless off the streets. You have to show you are capable of doing something. The product is not the process.

"The American people do not want to believe what they're hearing now, that you have to leave some people behind, that some people have to be on the streets. You can do it, and we're all counting on you, by the way."

Columbia University Record -- October 13, 1995 -- Vol. 21, No. 6