Governor Also Announces Completion of $25 Million Assemblyman Herman "Denny" Farrell Pedestrian Bridge Over the Henry Hudson Parkway
Assemblyman Retires After 42 Years of Public Service
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo honored the retirement of Assemblyman Herman "Denny" Farrell Jr. by dedicating the most visited State Park in New York City as Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park. The Governor also announced the completion of the $25 million signature pedestrian and bicyclist bridge, named after Assemblyman Herman "Denny" Farrell, over the Henry Hudson Parkway, which will improve community access to the Hudson River waterfront. Farrell represented Harlem, Washington Heights, Hudson Heights, Sugar Hill, and Hamilton Heights in the Assembly for 42 years, making him the third longest-serving member in the history of the New York State Assembly. More information is available here.
AUDIO of the event is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below.
Thank you. This is my opportunity, boy, it's different up here, Denny, the oxygen. Welcome to the Riverbank State Park, which is a jewel in the State Park facility. Let's give the whole Park Agency a round of applause. To my colleagues who are here, first, Keith Wright, who has done an extraordinary job for the community. He is still doing an extraordinary job for the community and the democratic party and he's a great friend. Senator John Flanagan. Now, there is a when a person becomes a legislative leader, they develop some form of speech impediment. It's very interesting. They no longer have the ability to say, "Yes" or "No." Those two words are never in their vocabulary. So you ask Senator Flanagan or Speaker Heastie a question and it's, "Well, I. Uh. Hoh. I have to go back to the conference, well I need to know all the facts. Let me call you on that later. Let me think it through." But it's never "yes" or "no." Hence the endless series of meetings.
There was one time I got a firm yes from Senator Flanagan. I was shocked, almost fell off the chair. That was when I said, "What do you think of naming Riverbank Park for Assemblyman Denny Farrell?" He said, "Yes." To Speaker Heastie, he's doing a great job, obviously he suggested that one and he said yes. He's been a fantastic leader, fantastic leader for the state, he's been a great partner. Let's give him a round of applause.
The other speakers have all talked about... OK, we have to go now, 11:30, it's a Park Agency rule, coffee break. We have all spoken about Denny personally, we all know Denny's story personally, speakers have touched on it. We did an award ceremony for Denny in the mansion back in June where we talked about his personal life story, which really is extraordinary. It is the American Dream, how you can bring yourself up in this country. And he did that. But today I want to talk about Assemblyman Farrell's professional story, his career as an elected official and what he did. Riverbank State Park is actually a perfect analogy for that.
First, a little context about Denny Farrell and the Cuomo's. My father is running for governor in 1982, Lieutenant Governor, he's running against Ed Koch. We're 37 points behind in the polls, Ed Koch is extraordinary popular. He was going to run for Governor, then he was going to run for God. He's all set. Nobody supported Mario Cuomo, he couldn't get a campaign manager, I'm the campaign manager, 23 years old, just because no one in their right mind would take the job. I'm calling through all the democratic leaders, council and assembly and district leaders, I can't find anyone to support Mario Cuomo. Right? Because he's going to lose, first of all, to Ed Koch, and even if he'd win, Ed Koch is going to remain the mayor and why would you annoy the mayor? So no support for Mario Cuomo.
Two people of high rank - Erastus Corning, Mayor of Albany, because he believed Ed Koch was anti-Upstate, so he was against Ed Koch, and Assemblyman Denny Farrell, Democratic Leader of Manhattan. OK? Now, to support Mario Cuomo as the Democratic Chair of Manhattan when Ed Koch was from Manhattan, from Greenwich Village - the darling of the liberals - to support Mario Cuomo from Queens, Queens is "Over There." Wherever "There" is, Queens is "There." But Queens is not here. He supported Mario Cuomo for one reason. Ed Koch supported the death penalty and my father opposed the death penalty. Denny Farrell would never support anyone who didn't oppose the death penalty.
Now it was an extraordinary political risk for the Manhattan County Chairman. I mean, he just could have sat it out. But that's not who Denny is. Denny is a man of principle who acts on the principle. My father once said about Denny, "Denny is a giant in a world of little people." And I looked at my father when he first said it, and I said, "Oh yes he is very tall." And my father gave me that look like, I need a DNA test because I am not sure you are my son. But his point was, this is a man who in the world of politics, where everything is expediency and everybody is calculating, and everybody is tactical, this is man who stands up and acts out of principle, consequences be damned.
He was also very helpful and kind in the time he took with me, as a 23-year-old campaign manager, he was as a senior political person. I didn't know what I was talking about, so his tutelage was very important. And he taught me two lessons; when to shut up and when to speak up. He taught me when to shut up - we were having a discussion with my father in the campaign office on 39th Street, it was the weekend before the election. My father wanted to take the weekend off to get ready for the debate. He had a debate on Monday, and my father was very intent on being prepared, he wanted to know the facts, so he wanted to take the weekend off. And then there was going to be the debate on Monday and the election on Tuesday.
So we had this discussion, a vigorous discussion in the office, Denny, myself and my father. "You can't take the weekend off. You can't take the weekend before the election off. One day to get ready for the debate. The other day you have to be out there, you have to be campaigning." We go back and forth. My father disagrees, "I'm taking off the two days." My father walks out the room and Denny says to me, "This is a mistake. This is going to be close. This is a mistake. We have to get him to campaign this weekend." I said, "Yeah, yeah, you're right. We have to go down there and we have to convince him." I have this picture in my office in Albany. We go downstairs, get to the street, my father is already in the car and the car is coming down the block. My father sees us on the sidewalk and the car screeches to a stop. And he gets out of the car and his eyes are like this and he has his fists clenched and I see him walking around the car towards the sidewalk. This is going to be a fists of fury moment I'm afraid. So he comes up because he knew we were there to re-litigate the issue. My father was not big on re-litigation as a general concept, unless he was re-litigating, that was okay. But you did not re-litigate with him. And I start the same argument. "You have to work this weekend and it's important. If you lose by a point you're going to regret it. You don't need two days. You need one day." And he is red and he is yelling and horns are honking because he's backing up traffic and this goes on for about five minutes. He says some unkind things, referenced birth by the postman, gets in the car and leaves. Denny and I go back upstairs and I said, "You know, Denny, you did not say a word during that whole argument. You said we were going to go down there - we, we, we, we. We go down there and I get beaten to a pulp in the middle of 39th Street and you don't say a word." When you're in my office in the conference room, look at the picture. You can see Denny moving away slowly, like just backing away like he just happen to be walking by and this conversation was happening when he happened to be walking by. I said, "Denny, what was the we, we, we?" He said, Andrew, you have to learn how to read the audience. He said, it was the right message, but it was the wrong time. So, he taught me when to shut up.
But he also taught all of us what it meant to be in elected office. What it meant to use that office to do great things. Not little things, but big things. You have an opportunity in elected office. They don't promise you results when you're in elected office. But they promise you the opportunity to try to obtain results. And Denny did it. Denny took on all the tough ones, at a very tough time. Now Denny is before you have an African American Mayor, thank God, Mayor Dinkins. Before you have an African American Governor. Before you have an African American President. You just had a handful of African American Congresspeople. Charles Rangel was the leader of the group. And this was a real fight. This was a real fight for basic rights and basic justice. And they were the trailblazers. You know it's easy to go second. It's hard to break that path and go first. The first one down the path is the one who gets cut and scarred and has the hardest time pushing their way through. Denny Farrell, Basil Paterson God rest his soul, Charles Rangel, David Dinkins, these were the trailblazers, and we follow their path.
Now Riverbank State Park is a metaphor for the type of fight they had. And this park, as beautiful as it is now, actually tells the story of injustice in society and why we need the type of elected officials that we have. 1960, federal government says to New York you have to have a wastewater treatment plant, because we were dumping raw sewage into the Hudson. This is 1960. City comes up with a site to build the wastewater treatment plant, on the west side of Manhattan. 70 to 72nd Street. Ok? The west side of Manhattan, 70 to 72nd Street, opposes the wastewater treatment plant. Why? Because they did not want a wastewater treatment plant and the inconvenience that comes with it, and they opposed it. And City Hall buckled. Why? Because it was 72nd Street. This was a powerful community. They had resources. They could start lawsuits. So the city buckles, moves the plant to where it is today.
John Lindsay comes in, 1965, community's outraged. David Dinkins, district leader at the time, was one of the fighters against the plant. John Lindsay has an approach to appease the community opposition. He gets Philip Johnson, the same person who designed Lincoln Center, and Philip Johnson designs a fountain that is going to be on the top of the sewage treatment plant. And shooting up. The community proposes another alternative site for the placement of the fountain, which was very close to Mayor Lindsay. And that idea dies.
1968 there's a new idea. We'll build a park on top of the sewage treatment plant. Because Japan was building parks on top of the sewage treatment plant, and the community says now this is a great idea. They design a park. The design comes back, 1973, and the government says the park is too expensive. Now, the park is too expensive? They're spending $1.3 billion to build the sewage treatment plant, the most expensive public expenditure of a non-military nature in 50 years.
They're spending $1.3 billion to build the plant, but they won't spend money to build the park. Why? Because it was Harlem. They didn't have to. That's what they were thinking. Community opposition continues, continues, continues, my father becomes governor in 1983. Denny Farrell then taught me how to speak up. And he went to my father and my father loved Denny. Loved. They were cut from the same cloth. And Denny said, "we have to do something, we have to make this park a reality, the community has suffered long enough." It is unfair, it should have never been moved, the only reason they moved it was the rich white people at 72nd Street didn't want to have it. So they moved it up to the poor black folk up in Harlem. The same reason why five out of six bus depots are located in Harlem, the same reason why the only 24-hour marine garbage transfer station is located in Harlem, the same reason why when we have to site a homeless facility or a prison or a substance abuse facility, we site it in Harlem, or poor communities across the city. Because that's the easier place for government to put it.
That's why. It is a pure injustice. And Denny said we have to build the park. Now the price tag for the park--$130 million. 1982, $130 million is all the money in the world. It is an unbelievable sum of money. I don't care, dry appropriation, wet appropriation, mildew appropriation, it was just a tremendous amount of money. And my father said, with Denny, we will spend the $130 million on the park, then what happens, because it's never easy, the park people oppose the park. Why? Because state parks are supposed to be in places of natural beauty. Waterfalls, scenic landscapes, and there are no waterfalls or scenic landscapes in Harlem. So they oppose the state spending the money because they want another state park built at a place of natural consequence. To them my father said BISS. It was a short conversation but a powerful one. And the $130 million was pledged to this now truly magnificent, magnificent facility. Twenty-eightt acres, Olympic size swimming pool, tennis courts, recreation center, theater, an unbelievably beautiful fantastic facility that would not have happened but for the persistence and the courage and tenacity of one man—Assemblyman Denny Farrell.
Denny is retiring but it's very important that Denny's model of service lives on because it is the essence of good government. It's taking on the real fights that make a real difference in people's lives. It's about social justice and racial justice and economic justice. And taking on fights if you weren't afraid to lose, and taking on fights that you're not afraid to get bloody—because my friends the good fight is a fight. Don't kid yourself, it's about power, it's about money, and people have it and other people need it and that is attention that is not easily or gracefully concluded.
It is a fight. And you look at the issues that we have conquered today - the great accomplishments from this legislature, and this senator, and this assemblyman, and this speaker - they have all been the tough ones that changed people's lives. We passed marriage equality, not because it was easy but because it was hard. Fifteen-dollar minimum wage to change people's lives. Gun control to save lives. Paid family leave so people can live with decency. Free college so every child who puts their head on a pillow tonight knows that they can go to college. Those are the hard ones. And that's what their lesson is. That's the lesson of David Dinkins and Charlie Rangel and Mario Cuomo and Denny Farrell: you take on the tough ones.
And we have tough ones all around us today that we still have to address. The issue of public education, and the truth is we have two education systems still: not public-private, but one for the rich and one for the poor. One for minorities and one for the whites. That is true. We have a duality in our criminal justice system - we have Rikers Island - where if you're poor and you're a minority, you have one reality in the criminal justice system, and if you're rich and you can make bail, you have another reality. We have a federal government that is antithetical to everything we believe as New Yorkers. They have declared war on immigrants. By the way, their war on immigrants isn't against all immigrants. It's not against the white immigrants; it's against the black and the brown immigrants. Their toleration of the ignorance of the Ku Klux Klan, believe it or not, the KKK, talking about real Americans, "we're the real Americans." You're the real Americans? Unless you're a Navajo or a Sioux or an Apache, you're not a real American.
President Trump is talking about DACA and rescinding DACA, which is just feeding the beast of bigotry red meat. That's all this is about. And Denny's example and my father's example says you stand up and you fight this fight not because it's easy, but because it's tough. You want to talk about North Korea as a threat? And it is. I'll tell you another threat: it's racism. Because racism is a cancer in the body politic. It turns one cell against the other, and it starts the battle from within. And only Americans can defeat America. And these lines and these divisions and this racism and this bigotry is the greatest threat this country faces. And New York's example is the exact opposite. We believe in diversity. We believe in welcoming people from all over the globe because we're not one religion, we're not one race - we're one idea. If you come here and you work with us, you join the family of New York. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
Denny Farrell's model of government service says it all. It's not about the positions you take. It's not about the races you win. It's about the principles you hold dear, and it's about what you accomplish for the people you serve.
My brother, Assemblyman Denny Farrell, you have set the bar high for all of us, and for those who follow you, we're going to have a difficult time living up to your standard. But you've been a great teacher, and a great mentor, and a great role model for generations who will come. God bless you.