On MTA: No, Gov. Cuomo Doesn’t Know How to “Fix It” — Jumaane Williams


Governor Cuomo. File photo–Flickr


Yesterday, I watched as Governor Cuomo reflected on his tenure in office and outlined his plans for New York’s future. The issues highlighted and solutions discussed in his address are of critical importance, and I fervently hope that many of the policies that the Governor proposed are enacted.

However, I believe that Governor Cuomo’s assessment of the state of our state was flawed in several ways. I agree that our justice system is unjust, but would go further. The system is not simply broken; in fact, it is working in the way that it was designed. What is necessary is to continue to completely revolutionize our thinking and our practices in the criminal justice system.

I further agree that fighting on behalf of unions and working people is among our most important tasks as public servants. I was among those on the front lines of the Fight for 15, working for a living wage for New Yorkers both in the streets and in City Hall, leading protests and sponsoring legislation such as the Living Wage 3.0 package.
In fact, on many issues, it would seem as though the Governor has finally started to take notice of the work that local activists, organizations, and elected officials like myself have been doing on these progressive causes for years.

He spoke about the affordable housing and homelessness crisis we face across the state while threatening to freeze funds for localities that he feels are not doing enough to combat the crisis, ignoring all of the work that we have done in New York City and threatening, in effect, to make that work for more difficult. The Governor, with his falsely branded “Affordable New York” housing program, has stunted the progress we could have made.

As Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, I worked tirelessly with my committee to address our housing crisis, to achieve real, deeper affordability and to keep New Yorkers in their homes. The Governor’s actions at times have stood in the way of our efforts, and we have fought back. I was arrested alongside my colleagues in government and activist allies for protesting when he failed to deliver on rent regulation, and  I will continue to stand up to the Governor on these issues when necessary.

The Governor rightly acknowledged the significant drop in crime across the state, but failed to acknowledge the immense role that initiatives here in New York City such as the Community Safety Act, the Criminal Justice Reform Act, and the Crisis Management System for combating gun violence have had in effecting that change.

Additionally, the Governor seems to want us to forget that  New York was the 49th state to “Raise the Age” of criminal responsibility. I find it difficult to call that progressive.
He made mention of increasing youth employment, but failed to highlight the Summer Youth Employment program here in New York City which I worked with my colleagues to expand to historic levels, currently providing 70,000 jobs. The state would be well served following the model we have created.

Perhaps the most surprising claim that the Governor made in his address was that, in regards to the MTA, “We know how to fix the system.” With our public transportation system in crisis for so long, and New Yorkers suffering as a result, we should ask the Governor: If he knows how to fix the system, why has he  continued to allow it to fall into disrepair? The Governor cannot stand for photo-ops at the Second Avenue Subway and then abandon the city where the real work is needed.

After hearing all of the Governor’s proposals, I am sure that I am not alone in questioning both the Governor’s conviction on some of these progressive goals and his intent to carry them out, regardless of political consideration. In progressive politics, there are those who work from deeply held beliefs, and those who take up the progressive mantle when it is politically popular. True progress comes from those who are driven by cove values and willingness to fight. I am pleased that Governor Cuomo is coming around to many of the causes for which I and others have spent years fighting, but I question his resolve for the fight. The Governor said that a progressive government requires the confidence of its citizenry and the trustworthiness and strong management of its officials, and I believe that he has overestimated his own standing in each of these areas. Hearing his discussion about “leading the resistance” fell flat to any true activist resistor.

In the time of Trump, the state of New York must be nothing less than a progressive beacon, an embodiment of the ideals that the progressive movement has championed on local and national platforms.

Governor Cuomo has presented an agenda that would represent significant positive change for New Yorkers, including around tax reform and infrastructure, and it is my sincere hope that he has the conviction and strength to act on it in full, as we in local government fight for forward progress in our communities every day.

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