Restores Right to Vote After Release from Incarceration - See Executive Order Here
Builds on Governor's Criminal Justice Record Including Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility, Appointing a Special Prosecutor in Deaths of Unarmed Civilians in Deadly Encounters with Law Enforcement and Overhauling the Public Defense System
Governor Cuomo: "We can re-enfranchise people...and we can be the reality that Dr. King spoke of. It's not a dream. It is a reality if we make it so."
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced an Executive Order restoring voting rights to New Yorkers on parole at the National Action Network National Conference in New York City. This reform will restore the right to vote upon release from incarceration and reverse disenfranchisement for thousands of New Yorkers. Parole voting restrictions have a disproportionate impact on New Yorkers of color, with African Americans and Hispanic New Yorkers comprising 71 percent of the population so disenfranchised. Civic engagement is linked to reduced recidivism and this action will promote access to the democratic process and improve public safety for all New Yorkers. Find more information here.
AUDIO of the Governor's remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event are available on Governor Cuomo's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Reverend Al Sharpton: The National Action Network is about getting stuff done. We are about achievement. And when Dr. King was in his last battle, he had a two-pronged economic philosophy. He fought for poor people, and he fought with a division of his organization called Operation Breadbasket, that I started in when I was 13, the year he died. To make corporate accountable with contracts, and to get us a piece of the kind of public economy that we need and deserve. We cannot keep becoming the ones that supply public taxes, and then we do not get any of the tax-funded development. Governor Andrew Cuomo and I have known each other for over 20 years. And he has been one that would always go toe-to-toe in a room, and if you tried to challenge, he would answer the challenge. When in the year 2000, we had over 100,000 people march in Washington about racial profiling, the first big racial profiling march. Mrs. Coretta Scott King introduced her son and I had a keynote. There was only one member of Bill Clinton's cabinet that would come and speak, and that was the Secretary of HUD, Andrew Cuomo.
A lot of other liberals was hiding inside. He came through the blinds, but he came out. He, when he was elected Governor, came with Raise the Age, came and stood up on the issues that mattered. The families here, and the next panel with Ben Crump from Sacramento, California, I want them to bring this back. Stand up, grandma. This is the grandmother of Stephon Clark, his little sister and his uncle from Sacramento. I raised them because the local prosecutor deferred to a special prosecutor. Well in New York, any police fatality we have a special prosecutor because the Governor signed that as an executive order. So from Raise the Age to executive order on special prosecutor he has matched the challenges that we've come up with, but that is what we want. We don't want people patronizing us, we don't want people talking about they down with us, we don't want people talking about they progressive and can't show us no progress. We want you to show your progress by what you do when we go home. Don't give me a pacifier, give me a bottle with some milk. I bring you the Governor of the State of New York, Andrew Cuomo.
Governor Cuomo: Good morning. Boy you are a good looking group and you give my soul strength. First, to Reverend Sharpton, I've known him more than 20 years. He didn't want to say that. When we started we were about the same age. I just read his bio, over the years he's gotten younger. Must be divine intervention. But I have watched Reverend Sharpton and in many ways he fits the theme of today perfectly because he has kept Dr. King's legacy alive and he has moved it into action. And it's the action that we need. The Reverend is exactly right. We hear a lot of talk, a lot of promises have been made over 50 years, but if we have a problem, we have a problem in that we haven't actually achieved enough progress. And that's what NAN is about and that's what we've done here in New York partnering with NAN with Michael Hardy and Paul Persaud and Charlie King and working with my counsel Alphonso David, let's give them a round of applause. Mr. Chairman Perez, I don't want to sound like a boastful, arrogant New Yorker, I hate playing to type, but New York is the most progressive state in the United States of America. And New York doesn't just say that. Working with NAN, first state to have a $15 minimum wage, Paid Family Leave, only state to have a special prosecutor for police killings, closed more prisons than any administration in history, more alternatives to incarceration, that's New York working with NAN. Thank you for making it possible.
It's always a pleasure to be with Reverend Richardson. I go to see him the week before every election. He says, I will say a prayer for you, don't worry. So far, every election I've done that I've won, so I'm not asking any questions, but I'll see you soon, Reverend. Tom Perez we are glad to have your strong hand on the tiller at this time of political crisis. Let's give the Chairman a round of applause. General Holder has been the General who served during two times of combat, the Clinton years and the Obama years and he's made America a better place to be. So it's a pleasure to be with General Holder. And to my second father and my second mother, Charlie Rangel and Hazel Dukes, I love you.
Let me say this, when I was HUD Secretary, as the Reverend mentioned, I had a beautiful honor. I was called by Mrs. Coretta Scott King one Martin Luther King Day and she asked me to come down and give the MLK address in Atlanta in Dr. King's Church, Ebenezer Baptist Church, from his pulpit. And I worked for months on the address and I studied Dr. King and his teachings and the more I learned about him, the more impressive he was and his eloquence and his poetry is how people remember him. But his poetry, he didn't mince words. He always got to the heart of the problem. And he wasn't talking about abstract solutions. He wasn't talking about theoretical progress. He was always talking about actual progress because the people he was speaking about had pain in their day to day lives and they needed help and they needed help now on practical issues like housing and education and employment. They needed change. They needed action, and they needed it now.
Now 50 years later, I'm sure if Dr. King were with us today he would lament what happened in this federal administration and how extreme and conservative they are. Extreme because they won't compromise. Extreme because not only do they believe what they believe, but they want to take what they believe and impose it on you. And that's not just anti-democratic, that's anti-American, my friends. And this administration is repugnant to all the values Dr. King spoke about. It's anti-immigrant, it's anti-woman, anti-gun safety, anti-equality, anti-environment, anti-inclusion, it is anti-everything that Dr. King preached about. And I'm sure he would say to us, remember November because the time for change is here and change happens when we make change happen. But Dr. King did not mince words and I think he would also make the point that we have to understand what happened in that election.
How does a nation go from President Obama to President Trump? How did we lose that election? Because there is another November coming and we want to make sure what happened never happens again in this land. So I'm sure Dr. King would say, look in the mirror and understand what happened and make sure it doesn't happen again. Denial is not a life strategy. You will never solve a problem you are unwilling to recognize, and that's why we're so lucky to have Chairman Perez lead the Democratic Party. Because I don't believe that Mr. Trump won the election. I believe we lost the election. I don't believe anyone ran into the voting booth and said I can't wait to vote for Mr. Trump! Oh I feel good about this. I think we allowed them to get to that place. And I think there are two lessons when we look back.
One, the Democratic Party got disconnected from the middle class. There was a desperation that they had because in terms of real wages the middle class has gone backwards over the past 20 years and they're in real pain. And they're 45, and they're 50, and they're 55 and the bills are still coming in and they still have to pay college tuition and they still have to pay a mortgage and they're afraid about their job and they're afraid about their security. And they felt that desperation and they reached out and they touched that desperation and they said, don't worry I'm going to take you back to the good old days. We're going to go back to the good old days. I'm going to bring back the plants and the mills back and you're going to get your old job in the mill back, and we're going to bring those factories back to America. There's no economy that goes backwards. It was a fantasy but when your reality is that painful you will believe a fantasy. Reminds me of those commercials you see late at night. One pill will regrow your hair, will make your chronic lower back pain go away, will increase testosterone, will make you feel 21 years old again. One pill. $19.99 for one bottle, and you get an extra five bottles if you buy the one bottle. Too good to be true. But sometimes you need to believe. And if you need to believe you will buy that prescription. And that's what Trump offered because we left the void.
Second lesson I think is what we're talking about today. The Democratic Party, government of the Democratic Party under-delivered for our minority supporters, period. 1967, Dr. King said the country had not yet made a single solid determined commitment to genuine equality. He was right in 1967 and if he was in New York in 2018 he would say the same thing. We have not made a commitment to genuine equality. Dr. King's eloquence did not mask the harsh truth. They talk about the school to prison pipeline. Truth is it's worse than the school to prison pipeline. It happens before that. Inequality starts very young.
It starts in the home and for too many the home or the projects and then it's school and then it's joblessness and then it's jail and then it's prison. It starts in the home, it starts in the projects. Dr. King said in 1966 in the Chicago Housing Authority we are here today because we are tired. We are tired of being seated in the flames of withering injustice. We are tired of paying more for less. We're tired of living in rat infested slums, and in the Chicago Housing Authority's cement reservations. What a beautiful phrase: cement reservations. What we did to the Native Americans—we put them on reservations. The least valuable land in the middle of nowhere and we left them there. Cement reservations. This nation's public housing projects.
New York City's Housing Authority is a cement reservation today. 600,000 people it would be the second largest city in the State of New York and still many of the conditions are still slum conditions. New York City Housing Authority has lead paint still in the apartments. Lead paint is a poison that this nation outlawed in the 60s and the 70s and it still exists in New York City public housing. People live with no heat, they live with mold, they live with vermin, they live with rats. The tenants have to sue to get any attention. The federal government and President Obama began it was a civil rights investigation it was so bad. President Trump thinks he has made America great again. If the President thinks he's made America great again, I say to President Trump, why don't you visit NYCHA housing and tell me what you think?
But, the project you live in determines the school you attend in America. Today, your zip codes can shape your destiny. And the truth is, there are two school systems in this state and in this country. Not public and private, but one for the rich and one for the poor and you can go to the school on the rich side of town and they will talk to you on how they are on the internet. You go to the school on the poor side of town they don't even have a basketball net. You go to the school on the rich side of town and they show you how they have laptop computers and the child goes home with the laptop computer and they talk to the parents. You go to a school on the poor side of town and the most sophisticated piece of electronic equipment is the metal detector that you walk through on the way to the classroom. That's education in America today.
We have some failing schools that have been failing for 20 years. Generation after generation after generation and those are the high schools that have the highest dropout rates. It's not about the money. New York spends more on education than any state in the United States of America and I am proud of that. It's how we distribute the money. It's like income equality. It's not like this country is a poor country. This country is the richest country on the globe. It's how we distribute the wealth. We have 4,000 public schools in this state. Some schools we fund $33,000 per pupil. Some schools, $11,000 per pupil. How can that be? How can that be in one state? New York City, 1,600 public schools. Some are in wealthy districts and high performing, some are poor and low performing. Well, how much do we fund the rich schools and how much do we fund the poor schools? Truth is nobody knows. Nobody even asks. It's that simple.
We have to now look for the truth and make sure the money is going to the people and the places that need the money. We should not be subsidizing rich schools. We should be helping the poor schools. And when you get into trouble because you didn't get the right education and you didn't get a job, you wind up in the front of the criminal justice system, General Holder is exactly right. You walk before the judge and there are the statues of justice, blindfolded holding the scales of justice. Supposed to be color blind, judging just the merits, but is that really what happens? The judge determines bail and what bail means is, if you can pay the bail you walk and you if you can't you sit. And if you can afford it and you're rich and you pay the bail you go home. And if you can't pay the bail, well then you go to jail.
Our jail is Rikers Island. Rikers Island is the worst jail in the State of New York. More assaults, more gangs. Rikers Island is our Robben Island. 2014, federal government started a civil rights investigation on Rikers Island. What's happened in four years? Basically nothing. Everybody said close Rikers, we have to close Rikers and have to build smaller jails that are more manageable. You know what? They came back and said we're going to close Rikers. Guess how long it's going to take to close Rikers and build a new jail? Ten years. Ten years. Two mayors from now, three city councils. Ten years. How can it be? We're going to build a new airport in LaGuardia and its going to take four years. We built a new Yankee Stadium in one year. We're building a new Tappan Zee Bridge, largest infrastructure project in the United States. It's taking four years.
When they say it's going to take ten years it means it's not our priority. We don't want to do it. And there's been no outrage. Editorial boards said, well you have to understand it's complicated. You know how it would be simple? If it was their son sitting in Rikers Island, you'd see how fast it would get simple. The common denominator for all these issues, the projects, the failing schools, the joblessness, Rikers Island. Poor minorities, that Is the common denominator. It's a question of power and political power and voice and that's why the inequality has persisted. What do you need to do? Let's make genuine equality a reality. And actions speak louder than words, especially after 50 years for public housing. This is what I say. I recently declared an emergency. I said, you know when Hurricane Sandy came and hit and people were decimated and people had no heat, it was an emergency. Well, we have an emergency in public housing because people are displaced and they have no heat and the state committed $500 million and bringing in emergency management to make the changes and make the changes now.
On schools, we're going to take all 4,000. We passed a piece of legislation that said for the first time ever we're going to see how much we give to each school. And then my position is, we take the state money and we start at the bottom, and we work our way up, and we never give another dollar to a rich school. We equalize the spending by giving to the poor schools.
On cash bail, cash bail has got to go. It lets the rich walk and it makes the poor sit. And that has to stop. We tried to get it passed through our Republican legislature this year, they stopped it. I say we need a new legislature in November. I don't want to give anyone any ideas, but there have been states that have been sued on the cash bail system. Now if someone were to sue our state on the cash bail system, I can tell you this, I would not defend that lawsuit. We're going to start an investigation on the bail bondsmen, who extort the poor at their highest point of pain, with excess collateral, with excess conditions. And we're going to do that now. I don't accept ten years to close Riker's Island. Make us believe you want to do it, do it in real time, and get those young people off that island, and start treating them like the decent human beings they are, getting them services, rather than cells.
And on re-entry, General Holder is exactly right. We spend $40 for a jail cell. Re-entry and alternative programs are always less expensive. And we're trying to re-integrate a person into society, we're trying to find them a job, we're trying to get them re-enfranchised. We work against it as a government. In this state, when you're released from prison and you're on parole, you still don't have the right to vote. Now how can that be? You did your time, you paid your debt, you're released, but you still don't have a right to vote. At the same time, we're saying we want you part of society, we want you to get back into the community. I proposed a piece of legislation, General Holder, this past year, that said parolees should have the right to vote. The Republican senate voted down that piece of legislation, which is another reason why we need a new legislature this November. But I'm unwilling to take no for an answer. I'm going to make it law by executive order and I announce that here today.
Thank you, thank you.
And my last point is this. Dr. King spoke about the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. He was not saying that passively the arc bends towards justice. He was saying with active intervention we can bend the arc towards justice. That's what he was saying. And it is about progress. One of the reasons we lost that election and our people didn't come out the way they should come out. Because after 50 years of talk enough is enough. Promises only go so far for so long. And they're tired of press releases, and positions, and proposals. They want to see real change. And that's what government is supposed to do. Make the change. Be the change that you advocate. And that's what New York is. And that's what we've done working with NAN. We've done the progressive things that everybody else has talked about, but they couldn't get done. And we said, you want hope, and you want to see the future? And you want to know what this country can be? And you're tired of the hate coming from Washington, then you look at the State of New York, the beacon of possibility that says we can do these things, we can close prisons, we can have alternatives to incarceration. We can re-enfranchise people. We can reach out to the middle class. And we can be the reality that Dr. King spoke of. It's not a dream. It is a reality if we make it so.
Thank you and God bless you.