Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivered remarks and presented Vice President Joe Biden with the HELP HERO Humanitarian Award at HELP USA's 30th Anniversary Luncheon in New York City.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:
Well, good afternoon. What a treat to be introduced by George Washington. Went through all the cities in the state if you noticed. Governor of New York City. Governor of New York State. Governor of Albany. Governor of Rochester. What a great, great contribution the play Hamilton has done for young people for educating an entire nation. So, let’s give Bryan Terrell Clark, the whole play a round of applause.
It is so much fun to be here. This is all family and friends and I love this event. Maria, who has just done a really – I am so proud of Maria. Twenty-five years working at HELP, she’s done an extraordinary job. Let’s give her a round of applause. And her whole family is here. Her beautiful girls, Amanda, Emily and Catie are all here. It’s a pleasure to be with them, and even her husband is here Kenneth Cole. Kenneth doesn’t normally come because he’s busy, Kenneth, you know. But it is nice that he came this year, he made time, which is nice. I can poke fun at Kenneth because actually I knew Kenneth before Maria knew Kenneth. I was actually a Kenneth Cole model and I then introduced Ken to Maria. I used a different name, obviously at that time. Rex was my modeling name. Rex Master was my modeling name. But if you look back at the old Kenneth Cole catalogs, you’ll see me. I modeled what we called at the time, under fashion. So I can tease Kenneth, but the entire family has been such a support to Maria.
Maria was my father’s favorite. He would never actually say it, but she was. I’m my mother’s favorite. That’s clear. Chris is her least favorite son. That’s clear. He’s not even really a member of the family, Chris. He’s just a reporter. Chris isn’t here, Mom, if you noticed. I’m here, Chris isn’t here, and we know he’s not working because he works three hours a day. But, he isn’t here because I love you more mom, than Chris. That’s why I’m here and he’s not here. And because I love you more, you love me more. And that’s how life works. We love those who love us and I love you. And I am – my mother has been such an inspiration to the entire family. She’s done so much, raised a family, couldn’t be a better wife, couldn’t be a better mother and then she wanted to do more. She wanted to give back and she worked as a pioneer in mentoring – before anybody ever knew about mentoring. And now she’s revisited the mentoring program. She’s revitalized it all across the state of New York and it’s going great guns all across the nation. So let’s give her a round of applause.
We have great honorees today and let’s give them a round of applause: Michael Dowling, Leecia Eve, Kevin O’Connor, and Dr. Judith Rodin, who are really the best. A special treat, a special honoree and a great friend who I’m going to have the pleasure to introduce in one moment when I stop prattling on, Vice President Joe Biden. Let’s give him a round of applause.
Maria was talking to you a little bit about HELP. There’s only two facts you need to know about HELP because HELP was built on two pillars – started in 1986, I was in my twenties. In some ways, it seems like it was 100 years ago, in some ways it seems like it was just yesterday. But the premise of HELP was very simple: that we stand for principle and the principle is based on an unvarnished truth that society had an obligation to help those who were less fortunate and help those that are struggling. Back in 1986, what we did with homeless was we put them in welfare hotels, that was back at the time of the hotel Martinique because homelessness was a temporary problem, that’s what we believed. We were going to temporarily house them in hotels until we got past this glitch in the system. If you had said to anyone in 1986, by the way, homelessness is going to exist for 30 years and as we sit here today, the homeless problem is worse than it has ever been in the history of this city and this state, believe it or not. But these welfare hotels were terrible. I remember visiting hotel Martinique as a young fellow. Just think of what we did: we took families with problems, we put them in sub-standard hotels because no decent hotel would turn over its entire occupancy. We filled it up and we basically built a vertical ghetto.
I remember walking through the hotel and it could have been a bad scene from a Dickens novel. Kids had to play in the hallways because there was no place to go. These were just single room hotel rooms, and now you had 4 people living in them. Hot plates, extension cords running all over the place. There were families who had issues, so there was drug abuse, there were needles in the hallways, there was prostitution in the stairwells, and all these young kids running all around, because homeless families — 75 percent are children. And just walking through that place you said, how can we allow this to happen? How can you have children going through this circumstance?
And then, a welfare hotel costs $36,000 per year in 1986. Just think of that – $3,000 a month. It was more than any rent for any apartment. And HELP said, this can’t be. We have to be better than this. We have to do something more than this. We have a social obligation, a moral obligation. And that was what started HELP. That premise. The second pillar was it’s not enough just to talk. It’s about getting results. It’s about achieving. And HELP went out and built alternatives to these hotels, we built safe, clean, decent, transitional housing, with support services so people literally moved from the hotels into better housing, with job training, with day care, with substance abuse treatment, and we worked through the problems with families. I did it for about five years, and we built facilities in Brooklyn and the Bronx and Albany and Suffolk. But then frankly, I was burnt out at the time and Maria came in, so of the 30 years I just had a quick stint of five years and 25 years it’s been under Maria’s leadership. And under Maria’s leadership it is now a national organization, the largest provider for the homeless families in the United States of America. Over 400,000 people helped by HELP. But that’s what it was about. The formula was take a principled stand, fight for what’s right, get results, make a positive difference in people’s lives. It’s a formula that works for an organization. It’s also a formula that works for an individual. And for a life well lived, and that’s why there’s no surprise today that the HELP award goes to Vice President Joe Biden.
Joe Biden’s career is a testament to caring about people in need, telling the truth even when it’s hard to tell the truth, and making a difference for people in their lives. That’s what brought Joe to public service in the first place. He was a fighter for people who struggled. People who struggled with a disability, people who struggled making ends meet, people who struggled because they were abused.
Joe represented the struggling middle class. That’s where he is from, that’s what he identified with. That is the same group who now politically are alienated from the political process and believed they have no champion, and that they have no voice. That’s what Joe Biden was all about. And Joe tells the truth. Joe calls it like it is and he does it with his own personal style, where he adds a little color and a little emphasis just so you make you don’t miss the fact.
Joe had one of the classic statements about New York, which I love. He was talking about infrastructure and he was making the point about how bad our need for infrastructure was. He said, “If you were blindfolded, put on a plane and the plane landed and you walked into a terminal, and then when you took off the blindfold, you would think you were in a third world country, but actually, you would be in LaGuardia Airport.”
He says this, and all of the New York politicians go crazy. “It was an insult to New York, he’s not allowed in anymore, we are going to revoke his passport, he can’t come any more north than Delaware, how could he say that?” And I said, “You know what? First, he’s a friend. But you know what? He is right. LaGuardia is hellish as an airport.” And we actually used that statement and used that moment to gather the public’s attention. I stood with the Vice President several years later announcing that we are rebuilding all of LaGuardia. We are taking it all down and we are building a brand new airport at LaGuardia because the Vice President was right.
And Joe Biden is also about the second principle and the second pillar, which it is about getting results. Government is not an abstract art. It’s not about debating. It’s about getting things done. Government is a service bureau. It’s supposed to make a difference – a tangible difference in people’s lives.
And Joe never lost sight of that fact, and that’s why he will go down in the history books as one of the most effective legislators in the history of this country because he took on the tough problems, he let others handle the easy ones and he got results. The gun issue is probably the toughest political issue for an elected official in this country. He leaned into it and he led the fight for the federal ban against assault weapons during the Clinton administration. He was one of the first to fight for economic sanctions against South Africa. He was one of the first to lead the real battle against child exploitation and internet crimes against children before it was on anyone’s radar screen. He fought and won for appropriations to fight sex trafficking on the internet. He led the movement to protect the families of 9/11 here in New York. He proposed health care for all Americans in 2007. He fought for the family medical leave act. He fought for public education always because he knew it was the great equalizer in the ladder of opportunity for the middle class to work their way up. And when the truth was too ugly for some to reveal, but the pain was too real to ignore, Senator Joe Biden opened this nation’s eyes to the dirty little secret of domestic violence when he pushed the violence against women act, which is one of the greatest legislative achievements for women in our nation’s history. Now, as Vice President and he’s taking on one of the real great challenges with his project, the Cancer Moonshot. If anyone can get it done it’s going to be Joe Biden. He’s improved millions of lives and generations to come will benefit from his work.
Last point is, we lost my father a couple of years ago and my father was a tough critic on the political process and on elected officials. My father had no time for politicians who valued their worth by the number of press releases they issued. He had no time for elected officials who ducked the hard issues. He admired people with principles and he admired people with guts. He didn’t admire many politicians, but my father admired Joe Biden and so do I. I have the honor of calling him a friend, to myself, the Cuomo family and all the people of the great state of New York, and it is my honor to present the HELP Hero Award to a true American hero, Senator Joe Biden.
VIDEO of the Governor's remarks is available in TV quality (h264, mp4) format here.