Earlier today, Governor Cuomo delivered remarks at the North America Building Trades Union’s Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
VIDEO of the Governor delivering remarks is available on YouTube here and in TV-quality format here.
AUDIO of the Governor’s remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event is available here.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is below:
Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Well first, to President McGarvey who has done an outstanding job leading this movement. Let’s give him a round of applause for his great leadership. It is my pleasure to be here with the men and women who have built this nation and will build this nation and let me begin also by the two most important words in the English language – thank you. Without the friendship, the support, and the kindness of the people in this room, I don’t believe I would be Governor of the state of New York. They’ve had my back every step of the way and I will never forget it. I would like to give a shout-out to the New York boys, Jimmy Cahill and Gary LaBarbera, who are here. Our Commissioner of Labor is here, Roberta Reardon – you had a chance to say hello to her. Secretary to the Governor, which is a top position, Bill Mulrow is here. And Alexander Cochran who runs our Washington office. He could be very helpful. It’s a pleasure to be with all of you.
I’ve been in and around construction and this trade for a number of years and a number of capacities. I’ve built housing in the private sector, I’ve built a thousand units in different projects. I was the HUD Secretary for eight years and I worked with you in that capacity during the Clinton years on important issues. We made a lot of progress. And now I’m Governor of the state of New York and I’m proud to say that in New York we have the most ambitious construction and development program of any state in the United States of America – a $100 billion program.
I think it’s simple. I start with a society premise: you are what you build. It’s almost that simple. We have a vision for our future. We have ambition, creativity and confidence, and we build to make that vision a reality. Without a vision for the future, without a goal on the horizon, you are at a standstill, and at best, maintaining the status quo. And we shouldn’t be surprised when the competition passes us by. When I was HUD Secretary, I would be flying into the city, visiting cities all across the country, and I would count the cranes that you could see as you were flying over the city. My message was always the same. I would count the cranes and I would say to the city officials, “You are either building or developing or you are going backwards.” If you’re not building and you’re not developing, the city up the coast is, the city on the other end of the state is, your competition is. So you either build or die in many ways.
How we build is how we grow. It determines our development patterns, our housing patterns, our business patterns, our transportation patterns, and construction. And the signs of construction actually has a very positive impact on the nation’s psyche. People see growth, people see construction and they believe you’re moving ahead. It instills a sense of direction, excitement, and progress in our people. At one time our nation understood this and we made this nation into the greatest superpower on the globe. But remember, our success didn’t just happen. We didn’t just evolve into the greatest nation on the globe. We built this nation into the greatest nation on the globe with our hands and sweat. That was the American way, we were tough, we were gutsy, we were daring and there was no challenge that we wouldn’t take on and we built this country and we regained that spirit of energy and positivity and ambition. And that story was the early American story.
1817 here in Washington D.C. in 1817 the big question for the country was how do you get goods to the western part of the country? In the mid-west now where the Mississippi river divides, the best way to transport goods was by water in 1817. So they were trying to figure out a water access route from the East Coast to the Mississippi. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are in this town and they have a plan: ships can come into the Potomac up the Potomac to the Chesapeake and then from the Chesapeake they are going to build a series of canals and dams which get them to the Mississippi River. That is there plan and they start to build the C&O Canals.
There was a governor up in New York by the name of Dewitt Clinton, no relation. DeWitt Clinton says we can’t let Virginia do that because then Virginia will become the number one seaport and they want New York to be the number one seaport. So Clinton has a different plan: ships come in from the Atlantic, they get to the Hudson, they go up the Hudson 150 miles, they get to Albany and they make a left. They go across the state, come out in Buffalo and now you are in the Great Lakes and once you are in the great lakes you can get to any river you want and you are in the mid-west. They said, “But Governor Clinton, one question. When they get to Albany and make the left how do they get to Buffalo? There is no water between Albany and Buffalo.” Clinton says, “No problem, we will dig a canal.” Dig a canal across the state of New York? This is 1817 it is 524 miles. Clinton says, “Yes, we will dig a canal and the ships will go through the canal.” They think he is out of his mind, they move to impeach him because they think he is crazy, he goes ahead with the project and it is done in seven years, on time, on budget. Just men and mules, they dig that canal and it becomes the Erie Canal. It opens up New York and it makes New York the success it is today and it makes this country the success that it is by expediting development to the west. That was the spirit that is who we were. Look at how outrageous the dream, but there is nothing that we can’t do and it was true and it worked and that is what built America and that is what we have to get back to now. That was the American ethic and it was all across the country. You could see it in the Hoover dam and the golden gate bridge and overseas highway in Florida, Tennessee Valley Authority bringing electricity to places that never had it before.
1956 President Eisenhower, the interstate highway grid, what an ambitious undertaking to make one transportation system. Somewhere along the way we lost that drive. In 1960 the federal budget dedicated six-percent of all the revenue to construction and development. Today that number is half the amount – literally half the amount. Even more concerning, other countries are continuing to build and develop. Europeans are developing at twice the rate, China has built 21 of the 50 longest bridges in the world. We have built 7. China has built 21 bridges in the last 20 years, we have built one. There are 14,000 miles of high speed rail on this globe. How many miles are in the United States? 456. The last new airport that was built in the United States was 20 years ago, the Denver airport. Meanwhile other countries are building theirs that are phenomenal and dwarf ours. And when we do build in this country more of our construction is about maintenance than building new, it is about maintaining the status quo rather than building towards a new vision to make us more competitive.
New York is going to take a new and completely different path this year we passed $100 billion, the largest undertaking in the state’s history for roads and construction, the largest of any state in the nation and I am proud of it and we are not going to repair what is. We are going to build what never was before, and we believe this is an investment in our state that is going to keep New York as the international capital.
Now it’s a culture change for New York too. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s ambitious, and it’s a little bit frightening. But it’s one of the statements I wanted to make as the new governor. I was all excited and I went to the state officials and one of the first meetings I had with them all around the table, I said I want to do a really big project and I want to show them that government could work. I want to get a little bit of that New York “machismo” back in our step – give me a really big project. They all looked at me like I had a big nose or something. We went back and forth, but they had no projects. I said, “Well how about the Tappan Zee Bridge?” Now if you’re in New York, the Tappan Zee Bridge they have been talking about replacing for literally 25 years. Four governors have gotten up and said we should replace the Tappan Zee Bridge.
The Tappan Zee Bridge goes across the Hudson River from Rockland to Westchester and it was built as a temporary bridge. It’s about 50 years old and it has been in terrible shape all of my life. It is a frightening experience going over the Tappan Zee Bridge. First, they tell you that they should replace it because it’s going to fall down, but then you keep driving over it, which makes you a little nervous to begin with. They keep doing these patch jobs on the Tappan Zee Bridge, including those very heavy metal plates over holes in the Tappan Zee Bridge. And when you go over the heavy metal plates, you see the truck in front of you bounces just a little bit and then you see a little light coming through from the corner of the plate. I would always take my seatbelt off when I was going over the Tappan Zee Bridge. I was getting ready to swim, I would take off my shoes and I would open the window. I was ready.
This goes on for years and every governor said, “We’re going to replace the Tappan Zee.” So I said to the new team, “Well how about replacing the Tappan Zee?” They said, “Well, you can say you’re going to replace the Tappan Zee.” I said, “ I know I can say it, but why can’t I do it?” They said, “You can’t do it.” I said, “But the bridge is falling down. Everyone says it’s falling down. Why can’t we do this?” They said, “Well, it goes across the Hudson River, there are all of these environmental groups who are going to sue. God forbid a hammer falls into the water, you can’t do it and you have Westchester on one side and Rockland on the other, you’re never going to be able to do it for free, it’s expensive. You should say you’re planning to replace the Tappan Zee.” I said, “No we are not going to do that anymore, we are going to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge. We can do this. We can do this. And by the way we have to be able to do this.” Otherwise it’s over as the America we know we are.
Make a long story short we worked on it every day, from announcing the groundbreaking to groundbreaking was one year. The project is now underway. It will be about four years in total. It’s coming out of the river, it is magnificent, it has energized the entire region, and people are feeling positive they are seeing this happen, they are believing in us once again and our capacity.
President Obama had it on the front of their budget document last year. As one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in the United States the Tappan Zee Bridge, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg, my friends. I learned something from the Tappan Zee Bridge: yes we can. We can do these big projects. We did do these big projects everything we did was the first and the biggest. The George Washington Bridge, the Verrazano Bridge, hundreds of miles of subway system under New York, an 80 mile aqueduct built in the 1800s just to get water to New York City.
We never said no, no challenge was too big, tallest building after tallest building, that’s who we are. And that’s our plan for New York $100 billion. You want to grow New York, you need capacity to bring in more people. It’s the concentric circle theory, so from the East we are going to build a third rail so we can get more people coming in from the Long Island Rail Road and from the North we are expanding Metro North and we are improving the Metro North Railroad to bring more people in. From the East the cross Hudson tunnel that goes to New Jersey that brings in the trains is in dangerous state of repair, if that tunnel goes down the entire northeast corridor gets hurt because you can’t get trains to the entire northeast corridor and we just announced $20 billion to rebuild the tunnel across the Hudson River.
Our new transportation hubs – we’re going to build the first new airport in twenty years at La Guardia Airport. We’re not rebuilding. It’s all coming down and it’s going to be a brand new state of the art airport. Penn Station in Manhattan is going to be all redone with the Farley Building next door. It will be about an $8 million project but it will be a front door to New York when you get in and get off the train. This is going to be great for the state and it’s going to be great for the country because I want to have a positive example of what we can do, and remind us of what we can do and that there’s no challenge that the men and women of this can’t build.
And my friends, every project we build is going to be built with organized labor – every project. That is why Gary LaBarbera and Jimmy Cahill are all smiles. They have work for the next three generations, and all they have to do is sit at their desk. I believe in the labor movement. I believe in the labor movement as a social force. I believe the labor movement built the middle class in this nation. I believe in the building trades. I believe in the skill they bring to the job, I believe in the quality they bring, the safety they bring, and the fairness they demand in wages. That’s why as HUD Secretary, I always quoted Davis-Bacon. That’s why I support a prevailing wage, because people deserve a decent living for a decent day’s work.
And let’s be honest – what’s happening in this country, is an anti-union movement. Sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, but it’s always there. It’s attacking the public sector unions, but it’s attacking the private sector unions even more and they’re growing in strength and they’re growing in strength. We have a tremendous battle in New York right now. It is a battle that every person in this room should be engaged in. There is a proposal for an affordable housing program in New York that is before the New York State Legislature. Affordable housing is good, obviously, we all support affordable housing. But the question on the legislation is that there are forces that want the program to be open shop. Why? Because if in New York State, which is the bastion of labor support, if you can get a New York City construction project that is government-subsidized to be open shop then you have really diminished union labor and if you can do that in New York, it is a national statement that union labor is not what union labor once was. That’s what’s going on.
It’s about a piece of legislation called 421-a, but forget 421-a – it doesn’t mean anything. It’s open shop or a government program that recognizes the importance of union labor and prevailing wage. That’s what’s at stake and that’s what’s on the table and I want you to know this: I will stand shoulder to shoulder with organized labor. I will not sign a bill that does not – is not accepted as a fair deal by organized labor and by the building trades and by Gary LaBarbera and by Jimmy Cahill – period.
Thank you. Thank you. My friends that is a fight for all of us and it’s going to be a tough fight. It’s a fight that is going to require resources but we’re going to stay together. It’s a fight that we’re going to win. It’s a fight that we can herald all across this country. I’m looking forward it.
My last point is this – and I’ll let you get on with your business. This is an election year and I’m here in my official capacity so I don’t want to get into politics. Otherwise I’d get myself into trouble. I get myself into trouble anyway but – this one I want to avoid. I support Hillary Clinton and you’re going to hear from her in a while and you’ll understand why. But this election is an important one, my friends. Because this nation is at a fork in the road. I’m proud of what my state is doing. But in truth, I can’t do it alone. And no state can do it alone.
We need a federal government that works once again. This gridlock has to stop. In gridlock, everybody loses. And what they’re doing in gridlock, really, is they’re putting their politics above the people of this country. I don’t care if you’re far left or you’re far right. Everybody has an opinion. And it’s too easy to insist on your political opinion, and that you are 100 percent right, and if the other side doesn’t agree with you, then they’re wrong and they’re bad.
That’s not what this country was all about. We have political differences. We do. We were founded on political differences. Our founding fathers had political differences. Otherwise they would have never gotten the constitution done. But they’re approach was “yes, we have differences – but we have to put the differences aside and we have to find the similarities and the commonalities and we have to compromise, otherwise we are paralyzed.” This nation is paralyzed today. You have gridlock where nothing happens. They don’t even get a budget passed. There’s no bold legislation. There’s no vision. There’s no creativity. There’s no commitment. It’s all on the margins, because no one wants to commit to any one course. That’s not who we are. That’s not what you do. We build great things. We do things that never happened before. And we need a government that is as good as the people of this state. Have your arguments, have your disagreements – but at the end of the day reach a compromise and move this nation forward, otherwise you do us all a disservice.
And it doesn’t have to be that complicated. In our state, in our harbor, we have a beautiful monument that says it all. We have the Statue of Liberty that tells you everything you need to know about what America is about. She stands there, she holds the torch, and she says you are all invited. You are all invited. We’re not going to discriminate by black or white or rich or poor or Italian or Irish or Jewish or Polish or Asian – you’re all invited. And we invite you to join this country and join this family, and we will support one another. And we will work with one another. And we’re not going to demonize each other and we’re not going to separate each other. And we’re not going to try to scapegoat each other. Turn us against immigrants. We’re all immigrants, my friends. Unless you’re a Native American, we are all immigrants.
It came down to our founding premise. E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. Let’s bring back the unity that made this country the best country on the planet. Unified, there is no one – no one – who can defeat us. Only we can defeat ourselves. Let’s come together with a vision and let’s build and let’s build with organized labor. Thank you and God bless you.