Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his third inaugural address, Ellis Island, Jan. 1, 2019. (Illustration by Fox 5 NY from an image courtesy of Governor's Press Office)
NEW YORK (AP) - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has begun 2019 and his third term with an inaugural address on Ellis Island, promising the most progressive agenda in state history.
The Democrat spoke Tuesday evening on the New York side of the island, which New York shares with New Jersey.
Ellis Island was the nation's busiest immigration station for decades, welcoming millions of immigrants from around the world.
Cuomo calls it an "enduring symbol" of America's core values of hope and opportunity.
Cuomo won re-election last fall. He has listed legalizing recreational marijuana, codifying abortion rights and fixing New York City's subways as three priorities for the new year.
The speech's location is likely to encourage speculation that Cuomo may run for president, though the 61-year-old has said he has ruled out the idea.
THE GOVERNOR'S REMARKS AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Happy New Year.
Thank you to our great Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals Janet DiFiore for swearing me in.
Thank you to Reverend Richardson and Rabbi Schneier for your service to New York and inspiration to all of us.
Congratulations to my partner in Albany, our great Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Congratulations to New York's great new history making Attorney General - the first woman and the first person of color elected Attorney General - Attorney General Tish James.
And congratulations to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Let's also applaud him for his 32 years of public service.
Today, this first day of this new year, in this new term, as we together face a new reality, is a day that not only calls for celebration but perhaps even more importantly, perspective.
When they write the history books about our time and place, I believe they will record this period as one of global and national unrest.
A time that saw thousands of new immigrants reaching for our borders in search of hope.
A time that saw troubled, frightened, American citizens frustrated by economic stagnation and a deteriorating democracy, have grave new doubts about where our country is headed.
A fundamental questioning of the viability of the American promise.
A covenant that created our nation's founding 242 years ago and reached full flower right here in this hallowed Great Hall - for our ancestors yearning to breathe free - illuminated by the torch of our great lady in the harbor. A land that would work with you to lift you and yours to new heights, as high as your wings and work could carry you, with individual freedom and equal rights for all.
An American promise grounded on the theory that we would work together.
This sacred compact has held firm through the centuries, through world wars, internal dissension, and economic depressions. Through it all, we overcame, we rallied as one, and we built the strongest nation on the globe.
There is no other nation that can threaten us. America's only threat is from within: it is the growing division amongst us.
When we see ourselves as black or white, foreign or native born - instead of as Americans - as Christians or Jews or Muslims, gay or straight - instead of as Americans - that, my friends, is truly frightening.
Yet that is the threat we face today.
As our nation once confronted a great economic depression, we now confront a great social depression.
People's frustration turning to fear and the fear turning to anger and the anger turning to division.
It is impossible to overstate how dangerous, how malignant this condition is.
It is a cancer that is spreading throughout our society.
A disease that causes one cell in the body politic to attack other cells, to turn one against one another.
We see it in the spreading anti-Semitism, in the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting and the swastikas painted on our subways. We see it in the growing number of white supremacist groups, the KKK march in Charlottesville and the nooses strung on college campuses. In the rage unleashed in the mass shootings from San Bernardino, California to Parkland, Florida.
In the homophobia that erupted into violence and death inside an Orlando nightclub.
In the cruelty that breeds in the anonymity of the internet. In the misogyny and xenophobia and nationalism that for some constitute the political currency of the day.
This is not the America that lured our ancestors across great oceans to this sacred hall of hope.
It may surprise you but I don't fault our federal government for causing the underlying fear and frustration. But I fault them for something worse - for a failure of leadership and government malfeasance. For manipulating and using the fear and deepening the divisions for their own political purpose.
Like looters during a blackout, they didn't cause the darkness but they exploited it.
People's fear and frustration is caused by real problems in their lives. And there are two options for government leaders to take. The hard, but true path, is to confront and actually solve the problems.
The easy but false path is to use the anger to blame someone else. And the easiest target to blame is always the people who are different. And this Federal Government has sought to demonize our differences and make our diversity our greatest weakness rather than our greatest strength.
We always knew that the American concept of - E Pluribus Unum - forging one people from many different origins would be difficult.
Pope Francis has said, "Differences (among people) always scare us. Differences create tension, but resolving this tension moves humanity forward."
That tension has always been with us. And the notion of inciting it, to try to divide and conquer, is neither new nor novel. In fact, it is old and ugly.
New York knows the challenge well. With our density and diversity we have lived it daily: from ethnic gangs in the early 1900s, to the 1964 race riot in Rochester, to racial and religious divisions in Bensonhurst, Howard Beach and Crown Heights.
But New York has always risen above hatred. When racism or sexism or discrimination rears its ugly head we come together, all of us united, to oppose the division.
When they bring fists of fear and hate, we bring an embrace of love and hope.
We know that when we come together our darkest hours can be followed by our finest days.
When they write the history books and ask what did we do - in the face of anger and division, when people were disillusioned, let New York's answer be that in this defining moment we brought healing and light and hope and progress and action.
That New York did not seek to blame or use people's anger but rather chose the hard but true path - to resolve the fear by solving the problems that were causing the frustration in the first place.
Just as FDR turned the frustration of the economic depression into a movement to pass the New Deal let New York use the frustration of the social depression to pass a new justice agenda - advancing social, racial and economic justice - that addresses our very real issues with a progressive - not a regressive agenda - moving us up, forward and united, not down, backwards and divided.
We saw the growing crisis of climate change. We saw this harbor rising on its banks. And New York was the first to lead the transition to the new economy, the green new deal economy, that not only saves our planet for our children but develops sustainable economic opportunity for the next generation.
That New York led the way against the culturalized, the institutionalized degradation of women in our society and moved forward to pass a groundbreaking Equal Rights Amendment and Reproductive Health Act that provides true respect, dignity and equality.
That when the nation's infrastructure was deteriorating around us New York knew the way forward was not by building walls but by building new bridges and airports, roads, and a mass transit system that allowed growth, and created new good middle class jobs, for a new generation.
That New York restored confidence in our democracy with automatic voting registration and early voting and campaign finance reform.
When the Federal Government declared war on the middle class and labor unions - we fought back - because unions grow and protect our working families.
That when our Federal Government demonized new immigrants and ripped babies from their mothers' arms and left them to die on America's doorstep, New York sued the Federal Government for violating the constitution and welcomed new immigrants by passing the Dream Act.
That New York opposed the federal government's trickle down taxation policy and passed the most progressive tax code in its history and sued to stop the punitive federal SALT tax scam on hard-working New Yorkers.
That to ease the pain of the homeless on our streets, the state provided more funds for affordable housing than ever before and brought hope to tenants by ending vacancy decontrol.
That New York put justice back into the justice system by ending the cash bail system. Because a judge should determine an individual's risk of release, not an individual's access to wealth.
That New York led on legalizing recreational marijuana, bringing justice and new economic opportunity not for rich corporations, but for the poor communities that paid too high a price for too long.
That in the midst of horrific violence and mass shootings, New York once again brought more sensible gun safety to the forefront.
Our new legislature is now governed by Democrats. We will not repeat the mistakes of the past. We know hollow campaign rhetoric and false political posturing only aggravates the frustration. New Yorkers are smart. They know there is no magic wand. My father used to say, "we don't need ideas that sound good, but rather ideas that are good and sound." New Yorkers know the difference between rhetoric and results.
We either perform by delivering real solutions that restore hope and progress in people's lives or we fail.
And failure is not an option for New Yorkers. And it won't be just what New York did in that moment but how we did it.
By bringing people together - Democrats and Republicans, upstate and downstate, young and old. All of us together.
Because we believe that we can be a people truly guided by our better angels.
Because New York believes that our interconnection and interdependence come from our essential goodness. Because we believe that your child's success is my child's success. That your acceptance is my acceptance and that your rejection is my rejection. That your respect and dignity is my respect and dignity.
Our official state seal proclaims us the "Great State of New York." The question before us today is how do we define great.
In New York we define great by the size of one's heart and the depth of one's character.
That what makes New York great is that we will not tolerate hate in our state.
Our credo is not only I love New York but New York loves you.
That divide and conquer is not our path, we unify and grow. New York has done it again and again throughout history.
When we led the women's suffrage movement at Seneca Falls, when we led the workers' rights movement after the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, when we led the gay rights movement after Stonewall, when New York ended the moral sin of slavery 35 years before the Emancipation Proclamation and when we rejected discrimination by electing the nation's first African American congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm.
And recently what the people in this room accomplished - when we passed marriage equality, and free college tuition, and the best Paid Family Leave program, passed the SAFE Act, when we raised the minimum wage to $15 - the highest in the nation - a 66% raise that will improve life for millions of New Yorkers - and is effective today.
That the promise that attracted five thousand people a day from across the globe to come to this sacred place through this historic portal on Ellis Island is not a faded memory of yesterday but a shining beacon for a better tomorrow.
That it remains the place where Maud McKoy arrived from the poor island of Jamaica whose son was educated in New York public schools and rose to become the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
The place where Rose and Joseph Amster, Jewish immigrants from Austria arrived, whose Brooklyn-born granddaughter would become Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
This place that no matter how high one rises, one must never forget nor deny.
The place where Richard Cawley arrived fleeing starvation in Ireland whose grandson would become the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence.
The Harbor where Frederick Trump arrived from Germany whose grandson would become the President of the United States.
Ellis Island is real and true and the promise made here lives.
That my friends is my perspective today. January 1st is bittersweet for me. A happy day, but also a sad day. It is the anniversary of my father's death. Four years ago his health was declining but he had promised that he would be with us until Inauguration day. And he was. He heard my swearing in over the telephone from his bed and he died soon afterwards. True to his word - always. I took him from his bed that afternoon and we put him to rest. I loved him so, so, so much.
We buried him with a special New York State necktie that I had made to wear for the inaugural. He had loved it. The state colors - navy blue and gold - adorned with the state seal. I learned this lesson of America and government from him and from my family because we lived it. My grandparents were the people at the southern border today.
My mother's parents, Charles and Mary Raffa and my father's mother Immacolata and his father - Andrea - who I am named after - came poor and alone through this very hall.
It wasn't easy. My grandparents would cry when they talked about their journey and the hardship and the stereotypes and the ugliness of discrimination. But they never gave up hope and they made it. God Bless America they would proclaim. And that their son went from behind their little grocery store in South Jamaica, on the other side of the tracks, where he was born, to occupy the highest seat in the greatest state, in the greatest nation, in the only world we know, proves the American success story once again. My father may be gone but he is still with me. The spirit lives. I can hear his voice and imagine his pain and anger if he could see his beloved country today.
And he would say this is an outrage, it is un-American, it violates everything we fought for and believe in and he would implore us to stand against the tide, fight back and that New York should lead by the power of our example. That New York should show the nation a better way. And he would be right.
And Pop wherever you are, and I think I know where, please give us the strength to fight this good fight, to resist the negative, the hatemongers and the naysayers. Help us rise up.
And let New York say that the federal government may shut itself down but it will never extinguish the Statue of Liberty's torch or erase the words of her poem, they will never close our harbor, they will never close our hearts, and they will never close this hall of dreamers or disrespect the legacy they left.
It is New York's duty, it is New York's destiny, once again, to bring the light that leads the way through the darkness. To show the nation the way forward and upward. And we will.
That is my pledge to the people of the State of New York, and we begin today.