Some of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s second-year agenda does not sit well with a crucial minority constituency.
Members of the Hispanic Federation pushed back gently but firmly against it when Darryl Towns, the former Brooklyn assemblyman who now heads the Homes and Community Renewal agency, delivered a version of the governor’s State of the State address to them in lower Manhattan last week.
“I hate to be the party pooper,” one of them said as soon as Towns finished speaking, “but the balanced budget was done on the backs of poor women, especially women of color. I work with domestic violence survivors. Our budget was decimated.”
It was the start of a frank half-hour exchange between Towns and about 30 leaders from Latino nonprofits. Many of them knew him from his Assembly days and asked him to explain how Cuomo could justify proposals they don’t like – from budget cuts to education reforms, from increased gambling to decreased health spending.
“Now that I’ve become a commissioner, I have not moved to Connecticut. I still live in East New York and Cypress Hills. So every day, I am seeing those challenges,” Towns replied. “It is a guide. It is the governor’s plan that has some areas to tweak. But also, he has sent me here in order to have this dialogue so that we can go back and give some of this word.”
In the week after his State of the State address, Cuomo sent cabinet members to business, labor and community groups around New York to deliver a version of the speech – though as Observer blogger Colin Campbell noted, the version Towns delivered did not include Cuomo’s slides of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos as children.
“The governor has not filled his cabinet with a bunch of yes-men and yes-women,” Towns told the Hispanic Federation audience, promising to take their concerns back to Cuomo. Judging by the questions he received, there were plenty.
Sabrina Terry from UPROSE, a Puerto Rican community group in Brooklyn, challenged the governor’s plan to rebuild infrastructure around the state without maintaining New York City’s mass transit system.
“There are bus lines being cut. There are service reductions in the communities that are currently relying on them here,” Terry said. “Expanding the system to people who need it is great, just as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of … the current subway system, the current buses.”
“Those dialogues will be there – not only holding what we have, but also looking to see how we can expand,” Towns promised.
More questions and comments followed in a similar vein: Cuomo needs to partner with the teachers’ union, not attack it. Don’t give Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter schools free rein in the city. Don’t cut Medicaid costs or fill the $2 billion budget gap by singling out services that help Latinos – especially since those decisions are being made behind closed doors.
“A lot of the proposals that are moving forward are moving forward without enough transparency and local engagement,” said Lillian Rodríguez López, president of the Hispanic Federation and a member of Cuomo’s Spending and Government Efficiency Commission.
“The governor has been appointing a lot of task forces and commissions on very specific areas,” she said. “I believe that Latinos, particularly, and African-Americans have been under-represented on those task forces.”
Rodríguez López said later that the depth of the questioning shows that Latino groups are starved for a dialogue with the governor – and hope he will listen before imposing his will on them.
“Certainly there needs to be leadership – and the governor’s providing that – and there needs to be dialogue in regard to how do we achieve this,” Towns said afterward. “Certainly the governor does not want to just say, ‘I’m going to do this on my own.’ He wants to say, ‘This is where New York needs to go,’ and have New Yorkers to buy into it and help get us to those places.”
Tags: Adam Lisberg, African-American, Andrew Cuomo, brooklyn, budget, buses, cabinet, charter schools, Cypress Hills, Darryl Towns, domestic violence, East New York, Eva Moskowitz, Gambling, Hispanic, Hispanic Federation, Homes and Community Renewal, Latino, Lillian Rodriguez Lopez, mass transit, Medicaid, Sabrina Terry, State of the State, subways, Success Academy, UPROSE
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