The death of Gov. Mario Cuomo made me go back and listen to the keynote speech he gave at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. I watched that speech as a young college political science student and it shaped me politically into the person I am today.
In response to Ronald Reagan’s proclamation about America being a “shining city on a hill,” Cuomo worried about those in that shining city who were left behind by the American Dream. Cuomo mused: “But there’s another city; there’s another part to the shining city; the part where some people can’t pay their mortgages, and most young people can’t afford one; where students can’t afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate. In this part of the city there are more poor than ever, more families in trouble, more and more people who need help but can’t find it. Even worse: There are elderly people who tremble in the basements of the houses there. And there are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter, where the glitter doesn’t show. There are ghettos where thousands of young people, without a job or an education, give their lives away to drug dealers every day.”
Gov. Cuomo could give that speech today and it would still ring true. After spending decades as an attorney at the Securities and Exchange Commission, as a Wall Street attorney and as the corporate counsel of a Fortune 500 company, I understand how important it is to have a vibrant economy with high corporate profits.
However, I also understand that we as a nation are better off when everyone participates in our nation’s success. The conservative ideology of “trickle-down” economics has repeatedly failed us. Making the rich richer and letting Wall Street police itself does not lead to a better economy. It just makes the rich richer and, sooner or later, it will lead to the type of financial crisis we experienced under President George W. Bush. The Great Depression, the savings and loan crisis and the Great Recession were all the end result of failed “trickle-down” economic theories.
Thirty years later, Gov. Cuomo’s speech can still teach us. Yes, we must ensure that our capital markets are strong and investors are willing to put their capital at risk. However, we must also make sure that the largest amount of people can participate in the success of our economy.
The working class and middle class must believe their children can do better. Parents need to know that their children can get a good public education and that their children will be prepared to compete in the global economy of the 21st century. Seniors should not have to decide whether to buy their prescriptions or pay for the heat in their home. People should be able to walk in the street and not have to worry about being stopped by police simply because of the color of their skin. We must keep working so that everyone believes in that shining city on the hill.
Rest in peace, Gov. Cuomo. You were an inspiration to me and to many in my generation. You made me proud to be a Democrat and proud to be from Queens.