STATE RACES
STATE RACES: GOVERNOR
ABOUT EYE ON ALBANY

DEBATE TRANSCRIPT

NPR Debate Transcription: 08/28/02
Brian Lehrer Show

Moderators:
Gerson Borrero
Brian Lehrer

Participants:
Andrew Cuomo
Carl McCall



McCall:
Thank you very much and good morning and I want to thank you Gerson for your persistence. You've really worked at putting this together and was good of you to do it because this campaign is about issues and ideas so this gives us an opportunity to really talk about the things that will affect New York going forward. Let me start by telling you a little about myself. What I'm trying to do as governor really comes from my own life experience. I was raised by my mother, a remarkable woman who raised me and five sisters all by herself. We were poor, we were on welfare, so my mother couldn't give me a lot of material things but she passed on some good advice. She told me I'd have to work hard for everything I'd ever achieve, that I'd have to earn it, nobody would ever give me anything. And she told me that the most important thing I could do was to get a good education. My mother said education's like a sledgehammer. It can knock down any obstacle that anybody puts in front of you, and it can open doors to opportunity. And, you know, my mother was right because education did that for me. I've had some wonderful opportunities in New York to serve as a state senator, as an ambassador to the United Nations, to serve as the President to the Board of Education and I've had opportunities and now I'm committed to making sure that every child in this state has the same opportunity I had, to get a good education and to fulfill their aspirations and their dreams, and that's why I'm running for governor.

Cuomo:
Thank you. Buenos dias New York. It's good to be with Carl and Brian and Gerson Borrero and Carl's right, he really was persistent on setting this one up and I'm glad that he did. New York faces real challenge and has urgent needs, we know that. The world is less secure, our economy is stagnant and our schools are failing. Four out of ten public schools fail in state of New York, about 75 percent in the city. And I'm running for governor because I think what's worse is the old government ways in Albany just aren't working, they haven't gotten results for people, and I believe that we can make government work, I believe we can get results. That's what I've done all my career, that's what I did at HELP, which was a not-for-profit I started in my 20s, and it served 75,000 homeless people. That's what I did at HUD, we took this big old government that nobody could make work and we transformed it, it created jobs, it fought more against discrimination, it created more housing for seniors than ever before. I'm a can-do Democrat and I believe we can do more and we can make Albany work better.

Borrero:
And the first question is for Señor McCall as we had indicated to you. Señor McCall, it's interesting to observe what's happened since last year's mayoral election, particularly in the five boroughs that compose New York City. The cautious nature in which Democrats are conducting themselves in elections of how they address each other has quite frankly become somewhat predictable and boring.
(unintelligible interruption)
Where is the difference between these two guys? They keep agreeing with each other, they're afraid to say one thing about the other, they keep bringing Green-Ferrer or Ferrer-Green. That is over. Why the cautiousness in really outlining the differences between both of you gentlemen. Carl, you were supporting Fernando Ferrer, you went over to the Green clan. Andrew, you were supporting Mark Green from the beginning. It seems like you've both been very cautious as to not say the wrong thing, this is, for Democrats, you know, they expect a fight in the family.

McCall:
Well, you know, there are a lot of ways of fighting and the way I like to fight is simply to be very aggressive and very positive about what I have done and my vision to improve things in New York. You mentioned the campaign of last year. There was a difference. We don't have to fight about it, but the fact is that Freddy Ferrer was running for mayor and I thought he was the most qualified candidate. He was a candidate who also embodied the aspirations of the Latino community. The Latino community was seeking political empowerment and the best way to bring that about was to support Freddy Ferrer. And I've been a friend of his for many years and I was and still am a friend of all four of the candidates who were running. But you know in politics you've got to make a choice, you've got to look at the situation and say this is the person I'm going to be with and you go out and you fight for that person, you don't run away from a fight. Last year, the contest for mayor was a big fight and I took sides in that fight. I sided with Freddy Ferrer and I supported him and I'm glad that I did it. He is now supporting me. But there are differences, but we don't have to fight about the differences, we just go forward and tell you. Freddy Ferrer shares my commitment to education, to improving health care, and also he shares my commitment to bringing people together, to unify all the diverse elements in this great city.

Borrero:
It turned out to be a fight and that particular race involved the race question, it involved the conduct of Mark Green. Andrew Cuomo did not denounce that he wasn't. Were you pleased with that? And you jumped over to the other side immediately. There was no discussion as to Mark Green or condemnation from either one of you two gentlemen.

McCall:
I didn't think it was important to condemn anybody. The race was over. There was a primary, the voters spoke, and Mark Green was now the Democratic candidate, and I did go over because I thought it was important to heal the rifts. You see this is what I've done Gerson throughout my career, bringing people together, unifying people, finding common ground. It was very clear to me that the Democratic position was the position we had to uphold, Mark Green was our candidate and I moved over and supported him and I'm glad that I did that.

Lehrer:
Well there was some denunciation. Mr. Cuomo, you were caught on tape on election night last year telling a former American-Jewish Congress official that there was some kind of racial contract involving Mr. McCall's support for Ferrer and Latino leaders' support for him and that this was not a good thing. The exact quote was "Carl would be the second installment in that contract, that racial contract and that can't happen." Can you elaborate on what you meant by that?

Cuomo:
Sure I can. And I think it goes to Gerson's point also. Yes, I want to be Governor of the State of New York because I think I can help the state of New York, but I also want to make sure that the election process is a productive one and a non-destructive one. We know full well, as New Yorkers, especially from New York City, that the issue of race, which is an issue that New York in many ways pioneers, the Democrats in many ways pioneer—this can be a great strength or it can become a weakness in the wrong circumstance. And the way this campaign is waged is very important to me, and it very important that as a Democrat, as a New Yorker it is a productive dialogue and a unifying dialogue. And we don't hurt the process and we don't hurt ourselves, we actually improve ourselves by the campaign itself. And I have said from day one, I am going to work very hard to be governor. I am also going to work very hard as a Democrat, as a New Yorker, to make sure the campaign is a unifying positive experience and not a divisive one. If the Democratic Party cannot have a race, an election with people of different races, that is a terrible statement that we're making. If Carl McCall and Andrew Cuomo can't have a disagreement without handling it like gentlemen well then what are you saying to the kids and the communities all across the city.

Lehrer:
But what was divisive. Was there anything new or somehow dirty in New York politics by leaders of ethnic groups trading endorsements when you say racial contract and this can't happen?

Cuomo:
The point was, the discussion was last year, the discussion that had to be avoided last year and has to be avoided this year is the role of race in politics. Yes we are diverse and we celebrate our diversity, and we're an ethnic community and we celebrate our ethnicity and our race, but we have to be very careful how in the political process how the issue of race is dealt with.

Lehrer:
So are you saying specifically that it dealt with, that it was abused in some way in the mayoral campaign?

Cuomo:
No, but it is a statement of common knowledge that the issue of race did come up in the mayoral and that there were a lot of hard feelings all around. And I wanted to make sure that in this race we did not go down that road again. And I'll tell you the truth, one of the things I'm very proud of is that we haven't. We've had a good discussion, we've had a real discussion on the issue and Gerson I would take exception with you. There is a difference that we're talking about. And I think we're talking about a different style of government, a different operating style, a different philosophy, and we can have a good vigorous debate on that, and yes you're going to have the same position on issues but we're talking about a different operating philosophy, and you can do that and still be Democrats and New Yorkers and people of different races but having a productive dialogue, and I'm very proud of what we've done there.

Borrero:
Well let's address the issue of differences and where you stand, where Mr. McCall stands, where you stand Señor Cuomo. You've identified Bill Clinton and Mario Cuomo as your political mentors. Have either one of these gentleman, as president or governor, have done something to torment you, torment your philosophy? Where have you disagreed, for example, with your father? And people see Cuomo and say, and people say, and I'm talking as a governor, I'm not talking about daddy at home, I'm talking as a governor, where is the difference between Andrew and Mario? Are we in for a repeat of a second go-around as in the case of the president, Bush I, Bush II? What is the difference?

Cuomo:
It could be worse than to have a repeat of Mario Cuomo. He is, in my opinion, Mario Cuomo is one of the great public officials of all time. I have worked, Gerson, all across the country, I have worked with congressmen, senators, governors, mayors. Mario Cuomo, in my opinion, is in a class by himself on the issue that's really important. Mario Cuomo did 12 years of public service as governor and he came out with his principle and integrity intact, which is saying something.

Borrero:
Andrew I'm asking about a difference. There was not one issue that you differed with him?

Cuomo:
He was a governor at a different time, he came from a different place, he had different issues.

Borrero:
What about President Clinton? Did he do anything wrong?

Cuomo:
President Clinton, it's not for me to say what he did right or wrong. I take the best lessons from both. If you think I'm going to get into a debate with Mario Cuomo or Bill Clinton on your radio show Gerson you are incorrect.

Lehrer:
But as a matter of politics what does that say to voters who may have chosen Governor Pataki over your father in 1994, if you're in effect saying well I'm going to come back and be the same as my father.

Cuomo:
No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying he was a different person, at a different time, and we come from a different place. He was facing a different set of issues. And the place that New York state is in now is in a much different circumstance. And I will tell them very clearly my problems with Governor Pataki. That we had the strongest economy for eight years and we wind up with the highest state and local taxes in the nation is a tragedy, that the upstate economy is a failure is a tragedy, that the public schools fail four out of ten is a tragedy. That is the difference, and this election is going to be about the future not the past Brian. And if Governor Pataki tries to re-litigate the past he will lose the election because people want to hear about the future and they want to hear a productive conversation and not a post-hoc political analysis.

McCall:
I'm not going to have to talk about the differences. My daddy wasn't governor he was a railway waiter, so I can talk about him.

Lehrer:
I'm going to let his dad, in effect, pose the next question to you, because I want to play a short clip of Mario Cuomo on this program a few weeks ago in support of his son for governor talking about your résumé versus your accomplishments.

Clip of Mario Cuomo:
"He's comptroller, so tell us what the results were. Were they good? He was at the Board of Education. Did education get better? He was at the Human Rights Commission. Were there improvements? Do you hear any claim of accomplishments or do you hear only he has a long résumé?"

Lehrer:
I'm sorry, we might have had a technical problem. Were you able to hear?

McCall:
I heard it, and I reject what I heard. Mario Cuomo dismisses everything that I've done and I think that if he really wants to look at the record and be fair and objective, I mean, one of the things that I did in terms of standing up even to Mario Cuomo who supported me, when I became comptroller I sued Mario Cuomo because one of the things he did was he attempted to raid the pension fund and undermine the integrity of the pension fund. And in order to protect the pension fund and the million people who depend on it, I went to court and sued Mario Cuomo and we won and restored the integrity of the pension fund. But if Mario Cuomo wanted to be objective or anybody wanted to be objective, they'd look at what I've accomplished. Look at the pension fund for instance. I doubled the assets of the pension fund and the areas where you judge a pension fund's performance we performed superbly. Not only did I double the assets of the pension fund but I had the best performance of any large public pension fund in the country. I outperformed all the other large pension funds. And look what I did for the taxpayers. During my tenure we have saved the taxpayers over $2 billion because they no longer had to contribute to the pension fund because the performance was so good. The other thing that I did, I did something for all public employees this state and retirees. I gave all of our retirees in the state a cost of living adjustment, so as the cost of living goes up their pension benefits go up. That never happened before in the state of New York. I did that for public employees. And for women in the public service workforce, women who came to work and entered into the pension system and then went out to raise a family, raise their children, when they came back to the system they used to be put in another level where they got lower benefits. I changed that, and now women, when they come back, or anyone who comes back into the system goes back to the same level as when they left. And let me tell you what else I did. I gave 60 percent of our public employees a 3 percent increase in their take-home pay because I eliminated a contribution of 3 percent that they used to have to make to the pension fund, a very solid accomplishment and a very significant help to all of the public employees in this state.

Lehrer:
So, Mr. Cuomo, was your father, who helped make Mr. McCall comptroller the first time around and who appointed him Human Rights Commissioner not giving him enough credit in that clip?

Cuomo:
Well Brian, this is the discussion. When Gerson said there are no differences, this is the difference in this campaign. We're both Democrats, we're both progressive Democrats so we have the same position on issues but the question is who will actually get something done. And I welcome the dialogue and the debate on the record because past is prologue. Look at what I've done and tell me if you think I will actually get this done. And I think this is a good debate. I think the expression (says it in Spanish, then English) "stop talking, no more words, what are the actions." Look at what I've done. I transformed public housing when nobody wanted to go near it. I reinvented the worst federal bureaucracy, a 10,000 employee poster child of waste, fraud and abuse. More housing for senior citizens than ever before, more aid for the homeless than ever before, more cases against discrimination than ever before, more disaster reconstruction aid than ever before. I am an aggressive progressive. I don't want to just talk about things, I want to do them. And I think the comptroller's record is fair game, and I want to talk about why he didn't do more for affordable housing like California did with their pension system.

Lehrer:
He just talked about some things that he did as comptroller, might sound pretty impressive to some people. Do you diminish that?

Cuomo:
There are always two sides to a record, not to torture the metaphor. But the comptroller states one side, I state one side on my HUD record and there's a flip side. I think it is a fair discussion to say on the comptroller's record why didn't he do more on economic development. He did less than Ned Regan. He could have done more affordable housing like CALpers. I believe he could've stood up and not certified the budget with George Pataki and stopped this whole train wreck that is now coming down the road.

McCall:
I think to be fair we ought to just, my opponent's going to attack my record, he ought to be true. First of all he talks about certifying the budget. In our last debate I pointed out to him the comptroller doesn't certify the budget. All the comptroller does is he has to indicate whether there's enough money in the budget to meet the liabilities so that legislators get paid. It's hardly a certification. I was very critical in my analysis of the state budget and George Pataki's failure to put together a prudent budget for eight years in a row—been very clear about that. And in terms of investment and affordable housing, we invested as much as California in affordable housing, but you know you have to make tough decisions. Let me tell you one of the decisions you make as a fiduciary, the person responsible for the pension fund, which has performed quite well. Do you invest in affordable housing where you get a 4 percent return or do you invest in a shopping mall where you get a 15 percent return. And so sure, we invested some money in affordable housing. Would I have like to have invested more? Of course, but on the other hand I had to grow the fund so we could provide the significant benefits that I provided for taxpayers, for retirees, for public employees. So those are the tradeoffs that you have to make, and I think I made the right decisions in terms of the investments I made.

Borrero:
Señor Cuomo, you heard your opponent go through a litany of things that he's done well for the state. Your main opponent, for both of you, is Governor Pataki. He worked out a real, what some may term as a sweetheart deal with Dennis Rivera, 1199. Is that the kind of proper investment that a governor should be making even though it is a union, Dr. King's favorite union, composed of African-Americans and Latinos, is that better for Latinos and African-Americans, that kind of deal where they get benefits directly from the state in their pockets, or is it better to use that money to be able to get health insurance for the over 3 million that don't have health insurance in this state. What do you think of that? And I ask that of Andrew, and that at that time did the comptroller in fact raise his voice officially to satisfy your concerns, if you have any, or do you agree with the fact that the governor gave this to 1199.

Cuomo:
Gerson, I believe there is culture of Albany that is dysfunctional. That in many ways they are disconnected from the people, they do not perform, they do not get results, and my issue with the comptroller, which is a good discussion in this campaign, I think he could have done more to stand up. I think on the issue of the budget...

Borrero:
So it was a wrong deal on 1199, you don't agree?

Cuomo (continued):
...on the issue of the budget the comptroller could have stopped the budget, he could have said I'm not certifying it, the legislators don't get paid.

(unintelligible interruption)

McCall:
At least tell the truth. Be factual. The fact is, I do not certify the budget. I could not stop the budget.

Borrero:
My question is on 1199.

McCall:
But I want to correct this. The fact is I can't stop the budget. The only thing I could do with respect to the budget, the only legal responsibility I had is to indicate whether or not the legislators should get paid. That did not stop the budget and I did not certify the budget.

Cuomo:
But Carl, that is the whole point of leadership. The Court of Appeals says the word is certification.

McCall:
It does not say that.

(Candidates talking at the same time, arguing the point)

Cuomo:
Carl, I have the Court of Appeals case here. Here's the word, I'll read it to you. "The state comptroller has determined..."

Borrero:
Gentlemen, my question was about 1199. Do you feel, was that a fair deal or not for the workers of 1199 or was that a political accommodation by the governor?

Cuomo:
It's the same point. Somebody has to stand up and say stop. I'm not going to certify the budget, the legislators don't get paid, do a real budget. Someone has to stand up and say stop. Someone has to stand up and say the Dennis Rivera deal was a political backroom deal, it should not have been done, it was an abuse of the process. It was politics in the legislative session at it's worst. I've been a student of Albany for a decades. I can't recall a situation that was more political and less public service oriented the way it happened.

Lehrer:
Mr. McCall do you agree with that?

McCall:
I agree. In fact, let me just tell you if you look at Dennis Rivera's letter to his members, he equally excoriated both Mr. Cuomo and myself for opposing the deal. I was outspoken about it, it was a terrible thing. And let me tell you what's most important about it. What is most important it's not going to work. Everybody sees it for what it was, and it shows that George Pataki is willing to use public money to buy the endorsement of a union leader, because the endorsement is only the union leader. I go through the streets every day and the 1199 people come up and say "Carl, don't worry we're with you," and I don't believe that his members are going to follow his leadership in terms of going out and working for George Pataki. So it was an abuse of power, it was a terrible thing to do and it's not going to pay off for George Pataki.

Lehrer:
George Pataki has a 75 percent approval rating now among Latinos in the latest Hispanic Federation poll. How do you account for that?

McCall:
I account for it because he spent a lot of your tax money and my tax money and everybody else's tax money on television promoting himself, particularly for a program called Child Health Plus. He was on television constantly. We estimate that he spent about $75 million, tax-payers' dollars, on television promoting himself under that guise of promoting Child Health Plus. And you know the sad fact about it...

Lehrer:
It's health insurance for uninsured children, which is a good thing, right?

McCall:
Which is a good thing, and by the way it was Democrats in the legislature and myself who forced the governor to expand the entitlements of that program, but what was important was that there's been an under representation of Latino children in the program. So George Pataki going on television didn't do what it was supposed to do that is to sign up more children, but it promoted George Pataki and it gave people in the Latino community the impression that he was there doing things for them. But this is the same George Pataki who is saying to Latino children we're only going to give you an 8th grade education. This is the same George Pataki who said to the Latino community I'm going to reform the Rockefeller drug laws, yet he has allowed his cronies in Republican Senate to block that reform. This is the same George Pataki who said I'm for working families, and he would not approve an increase in the minimum wage. So when we get to the Latino community and tell them the true story about George Pataki, that George Pataki is trying to be their new friend, recognizing the political potential of that community, but the Latino community is going to stay with its true friends, the Democrats who've been with them in good times and bad.

Borrero:
Andrew, you've seen the poll from the Hispanic Federation. It's a very specific poll. Your sense of what occurred and what your opponent has just described with regards to what Governor Pataki has done with our money. Is this the case in which I had not heard Mr. McCall be so passionate about the use of our public monies with this regard about Mr. Pataki. What would you have you done in a similar position and what do you say right now in terms of him being able to get that kind of approval. 75 percent is a staggering figure for both of you gentlemen in terms of receiving any support from Latinos who for the most part are registered Democrats. Now what are you doing wrong? What are the Democrats doing wrong that the governor would get it, and elected in the 5 boroughs three mayors that are Republican. Now that's telling you something about what Democrats are not doing.

Cuomo:
Well, Gerson, I don't want to speak to all the elections but I can speak about Pataki. I believe he has been given a free ride in Albany. I believe he has gotten away with murder in some ways, to use an expression. The comptroller is exactly right, he took money that was supposed to go to insure children and families for health care and he used it basically for political advertising for himself. But look, I don't think he's going to fool anyone in the final analysis, especially not the Latino community (says phrase in Spanish then English) "What has he done. What has he achieved." And you can talk about affordable housing, you can talk about the Rockefeller drug laws where I am the only candidate who actually wants to repeal the drug laws, you can talk about what is happening with the economy, what is happening with the education system, he has not delivered. And the Latinos know better than anyone else, Gerson. They want progress. Pa'lante! Did you get anything done for me? Did they move forward. We have one of the highest child poverty rates in the United States. Now, nobody's made the case, and he's been allowed to this for eight years and go to the airwaves and nobody's critiqued him. But at one point you have to be responsible for what you have done, your record, your results. You wanted to help the Latino community? Did you hire more Latinos? Look at my record on hiring Latinos. I hired more...

Borrero:
How many? How many did you hire?

Cuomo:
Mr. McCall, Governor Pataki hired less. My percent went up 7 percent.

Borrero:
How many total?

Cuomo:
Let's talk about the record. I had one of the highest rates in the federal government.

Borrero:
Who was your top Latino at HUD?

Cuomo:
My deputy.

Borrero:
Who is he, what was his name?

Cuomo:
Saul Ramirez, former Mayor of Laredo, Texas.

Borrero:
Don't give me percentages. How many numbers did you have in terms of numbers, Andrew. You mentioned this.

Cuomo:
I had more Latinos overall, the number was up 7 percent, I can get you the raw numbers, I had more Latinos in senior positions than ever.

Lehrer:
Did I hear an actual difference on an issue sneak in there. Do you say that you're more aggressive on the drug laws than Carl McCall.

Cuomo:
Yes, I'm for repeal of the mandatory minimum.

McCall:
I'm for reform of the drug laws, which would include repeal of the mandatory minimum. My basic approach to the drug laws is to support the bill that's already been passed by the Assembly, which can now pass if George Pataki would only go along with the Senate. And basically it would give judges the discretion to determine whether someone should be sentenced and incarcerated or whether they should go into a rehabilitation program, which is really in the long run more cost effective in terms of turning people around.

Lehrer:
So what does repeal mean? You'd have to replace it with something, we have to have drug laws.

Cuomo:
My proposal goes further than the assembly proposal, which is the one the comptroller has endorsed. Obviously goes further than Governor Pataki. And I would repeal the law, not reform the law, repeal the law so there is no minimum mandatory. The Rockefeller drug laws has a minimum mandatory sentence, and I would repeal the minimum mandatory. Let the judges decide. We have young people in jail who have no business being there.

Lehrer:
He just said let the judges decide too. Is it really different? Is there a difference here?

Cuomo:
I did not understand Carl's position was for repealing the Rockefeller drug law, but that's not the assembly bill.

McCall:
The assembly bill would reform, you know, in the process of repealing, making changes, in the process of reforming some aspects of the law would in fact, such as the mandatory minimum, would be repealed. I think this is a semantic difference and not a substantive difference.

Cuomo:
No, no, no Carl, it's a substantive difference. It would leave people in jail. It's a real difference. I go further than the Assembly bill, it's a real difference. And Governor Pataki has said it was a priority and has accomplished nothing.

Borrero:
So you're just right now knocking both what Pataki's proposing, what the Assembly's proposing, it isn't going to work, you're going to get rid of it and come up with what?

Cuomo:
No, not that it wouldn't work. It would work to the extent it works. It doesn't go far enough Gerson.

Borrero:
And where is far enough? Can you take us to far enough?

Cuomo:
In my opinion?

Borrero: Yes.

Cuomo:
Repeal the law. No minimum mandatory, period. Let a judge decide. And let the judge have the option of substance abuse treatment, which costs about $17,000 per bed, versus a prison cell that costs $34,000 a bed. Let the judge decide. Repeal the law. Roll back the rock.

(Informational break, followed by candidate Q&A)

Lehrer:
...Mr. McCall will you ask Mr. Cuomo a question.

McCall:
Sure. Mr. Cuomo, of course I want to thank you for being here and being involved with me in this dialogue, which I really think is helpful and useful. And what I would want to know is would you join me in making a pledge that, we've got less than two weeks to go, and it is important that we really outline to the people of the state of New York our vision for the future of the state, what we plan to do to really bring about the kind of changes that are necessary to get New York moving forward. And therefore I would hope that you, I'd like to hear from you whether you would agree with me that as we go forward we should keep this campaign and our discussions and our dialogue on a positive level and not become involved in negative campaigning, which can distract from the real issues and also possibly provide divisions in our party so that it would more difficult for us to come together in the end to do what we really both want to do, and that is to defeat George Pataki.

Cuomo:
Carl, thank you, it's a pleasure to be here with you in what I think has been a good debate throughout the campaign, and I believe it will stay that way. I have never made a negative personal comment about you, your family, you know I took exception when the Congressman, Rangel, said disparaging comments about my wife and about my father. I have not done that. I will not do that. I want to talk about the issues because Gerson is right. This is an election and we should tell people the differences. And I want to talk about the differences in philosophy and achievement and results, and it's not just a scorecard on issues. Who can get them done. Who can get them done. You have an education plan, I have an education plan. Who do you think can actually get the schools reformed. And the discussion on the issues is a good one, Carl. And voters should be informed on that and I don't think we should be afraid of a discussion on the issues, and I'm not afraid of my record and I'm not afraid of discussing my record. And I welcome that, and I'm sure you're not afraid of discussing your record and your achievements. So that will be the discussion and that will be a good one for voters. It will also point out how little Albany has done in general and how little the governor has done, how little progress he has made for people.

Borrero:
Mr. Cuomo, you have a question of Mr. McCall and then we're going to go to some of the calls from our listening public. The question for Mr. McCall from Mr. Cuomo.

Cuomo:
I would like to get back with Carl on the point. Let me read you the language Carl, because I think it's an important point on the budget. You could have, in my opinion, stopped the budget. The reason I raise it is because you now have this three men in a room at Albany. And its been going on forever where Albany now passed the budget. First they never passed the budget, then they finally passed the budget, but they passed the budget and it's not really a budget.

Borrero:
For the benefit of the listening audience, who are the three men you're talking about.

Cuomo:
The three men are what they call, it's a euphemism for the governor and the legislative leaders. They can't pass budgets, they finally pass a budget this year, everyone says that it's not a real budget, it's not in balance, but yet, Gerson, it still goes on and nobody stands up. I believe the comptroller had an opportunity to stand up. The language says the comptroller determines that such appropriation bill of bills that had finally been acted on by the legislature are sufficient for the ongoing operation and support of state government and local assistance. If he doesn't, if the comptroller doesn't make that determination certification, the legislators don't get paid. If the legislators don't get paid, they didn't really complete their work, they didn't pass their budget, they have to stay. Carl, why didn't you say "I'm not signing." It's a sham budget, we all know it's a sham budget, you said it was a sham budget, the legislators said it was a sham budget, I'm going to be the guy who stops the dance. I'm going to stop the Albany madness. I'm not going to certify. And you know what, I know the legislators would've gotten mad. And they would've said now I'm not getting paid. But you didn't do your job. You didn't pass a budget that really worked.

McCall:
Well the fact is I did my job. The law is very clear about the fact that in this very, first of all, this entire law was a sham. It was simply a way to cover up a pay increase by saying that if there's no budget the legislators wouldn't get paid because there was a sense that that would bring about an on-time budget. That has not happened. The law is very narrow. And basically, as you read it, it does not say certify. I have to indicate whether there is sufficient money in the budget to pay for the ongoing operation of the state, and that is in fact true on paper. On paper there was enough money appropriated as there was money that was going to be allocated to programs. So within that narrow constraints my job was to indicate that that was in fact the case. Was it a good budget, was it a prudent budget, was it a fair budget, that's not what the law allows me to do. So, you know, it's nice to say gee you should stand up you should stop the process, but you are restrained in government by law. This was a very narrowly construed law and I did the only thing that I could do, and that is to indicate that on paper this budget was in balance. So it would be nice to do some kind of symbolic stand, and it would look good and I would get a lot of press, but it wouldn't advance the process in Albany and this is what I'm trying to do.

(Moving on to first caller)

Caller: "Carlos"
(Question posed in Spanish and translated by Gerson into English) Mr. McCall, do you still think that Dominicans' support for Governor Pataki was bought as you suggested?

McCall:
I didn't suggest that the support was bought for Dominicans, I suggested that Governor Pataki was buying support from people across New York state, and when he marches in various parades he's surrounded by people that he has paid or a union has paid to be with him and it's not legitimate support. The support that I have in the Dominican community as it was explained by Assemblyman Adriano Espilat who went on radio to explain my position because he was with me when I took it was one very supportive of the position that I've taken that Governor Pataki is buying support of many communities across the state and the support that's come to me from the Latino community, the Dominican community and others, is legitimate support for people who realize that I have been with them on the issues that are important to that community.

Caller: "Carlos"
Mr. Cuomo, why did you attack and call for the dismissal of Antonia Lobello, the ex-Surgeon General and who is now the Commissioner of Health in New York state, and do you still feel that way in insisting that she be removed by Governor Pataki?

Cuomo:
The conversation we had at that time was not about the commissioner personally. This was a terrible, terrible tragedy, where hundreds of people lost their lives unnecessarily. I believe government is a tremendous vehicle to do good things. And I take very seriously the operations of government, and here you had a tragedy where the government was possibly negligent in the way they were providing care for hundreds of New Yorkers who were in adult homes, they were disabled, they needed assistance, etcetera, and the government provided a terrible job. And I believe in accountability and I believe in results. This was a story that was broken by the New York Times, I believe it was even on the front page, and really one of the worst failures of state government in modern political history I don't think is an overstatement. And my point was Governor Pataki should address this. By the way, the deaths, bad government doesn't discriminate. The deaths involved Latinos, African-Americans, Italians, Irish, Jewish people, and it doesn't matter the color of the skin of the commissioner. Good government needs to operate, when we find a case of governmental abuse it has to be remedied, and that was the point in this case.

Caller: "Brian"
When I first heard about this debate, the thing that stuck me out is that it was being promoted as "ok we're also going to take answers in Spanish" or questions in Spanish. The thing that strikes me, to be a good citizen here, and I don't mean, it's not politically correct, but to be a full functioning citizen, you know, to take driver's license and understand signs and everything, I believe that English should be the main language of this state. And I don't mean it as an insult to any Spanish, there's Chinese, there's Polish. I mean, in New York City you could probably pick about 90 different languages that people speak. So I want to know how the candidates feel about making it, and also helping out the citizens of the state learn how to be, learn to read English. I mean, if you're going to come to this country, become a citizen or hope to become a citizen, I mean you should be able to speak English because that's how we do most of our business.

McCall:
I think that's a very awkward kind of attitude. New York is great, America is great because so many people come here from so many different places, and what we try to do is assimilate people, but through the process of assimilation we like to celebrate the cultures, the traditions and the languages of the people who come here. So to the degree that people are more comfortable speaking in some languages than others, we ought to understand that and we ought to make accommodations for that. And that's what this program is all about. There is a very large Latino community. Many people in that community speak English, many of them still speak Spanish and they're moving, transitioning into English. This is so important, that they participate and fully understand what government is about, and we want them to participate in government. So by speaking to them in their own language to the degree that that facilitates their participation in the political process, I think that is a very good thing

Lehrer:
Let me ask you a follow up question. You were President of the New York City Board of Education for two years. Did you support bilingual education in the New York City public schools the way it was conducted then, and do you think it's working for foreign language speaking first language students today?

McCall:
I supported it then and I continue to support it. Like any other educational program, can it be improved? Yes it can be improved. I've made specific recommendations about improving it and we should do it. But yes, I believe that bilingual education is a good way to transition students from their native language into English, which is still the dominant language and a language in which they should be facile.

Lehrer:
Any disagreement Mr. Cuomo?

Cuomo:
I think when you talk about, on the specifics on bilingual education, no, I think it is relevant. We have to fix this public education system. We've been talking about it forever. Four out of ten schools fail. And for the Latino community the concern I hear over and over and over again is the public schools aren't working. And that was the ladder of opportunity. And my kids are in public schools, not because I'm making a political statement but because the public schools work in Westchester. The public schools do not work in the south Bronx and in parts of Brooklyn. 75 percent of the schools fail, and my position is enough is enough, we have to reform the schools, we have to get good teachers in, we have to be willing to close the failing schools. And I think when you look at my record at HUD fixing public housing, which by the way nobody wanted to go near that either, and we took down the worst public housing authorities across the nation because we were willing to go and in and we respected management and results and I'll do the same thing as Governor of New York.

Lehrer:
Let me ask you a follow up question. We have record homelessness today in New York City. Can you call yourself a success as HUD secretary in light of that?

Cuomo:
As HUD secretary could you always have done more. Yes. But as HUD secretary, we had the highest homeownership rate in the history of the nation, highest Latino homeownership rate in the history of the nation. So we did a lot of good things. On the homeless budget itself, we went from $300 million to $1.2 billion on the federal side, and I won an award from the Kennedy School at Harvard government, basically their Nobel Peace Prize of government innovations called the innovations in government award. Could I, on the federal side, make up for a state that was nowhere on affordable housing? No. And that's what happened here in New York. The state has no affordable housing program to speak of. It is de minimus. If they had been doing what the other states had been doing across the nation over the past eight years when we had the strongest economy in history, we wouldn't have the problem we're having today.

Borrero:
Señor McCall, your opponent caused quite a stir in partisan and non-partisan circles in 62 counties of New York State, outside of New York, when he criticized the lack of leadership of Governor Pataki during the 9/11 aftermath, the terrorist attack. Right now, September 10th is primary day for you gentlemen. On the 11th, the next day, here he is (Spanish quote) he's going to be center stage stealing the thunder on primary day. What do you feel, right now Mr. McCall, Andrew's already expressed his opinion of what he's done, what do you feel Governor Pataki is doing. Is he really being patriotic, being responsible, or is he an opportunist on that particular day.

McCall:
I don't think so. I think during that very difficult and tragic period for all of us it was important for people to be united, for everybody to come together and to do their best and I think all of our public officials did their best to show that kind of unity. What is important is not whether George Pataki is present and whether we see him during that crisis or whether we see him in the commemoration, but people are beginning to look beyond, but that's George Pataki's position. He has failed our children, he has condemned them to second class citizenship.

Borrero:
Mr. McCall, wait a second for a minute. It's the first day of the general election and he will steal the thunder from both of you. You have no problem if you're the nominee of the Democratic party that he's there? And taking advantage? You have no problem with it.

McCall:
Whether I have a problem or, he will be there. But that's not why people vote for you. They don't vote for you because you show up at a commemoration at an emotional time. They vote for you based on your performance. If you fail to educate our kids, fail to provide prescription drugs that are affordable to senior citizens, fail to have an affordable housing program state-wide, fail to provide jobs, particularly through upstate New York, those are the things that people will look at when they decide who they vote for, not where you stand on September 11th.

Lehrer:
Mr. Cuomo, you're quoted in the Post today criticizing Governor Pataki for making decisions too slowly on the rebuilding of lower Manhattan. Can you elaborate on that?

Cuomo:
Sure Brian. Look, I believe, and again Gerson's point, what are the differences, performance and results. That is the issue of the campaign. Everyone wants to do the same thing. You could get George Pataki sitting here with us. We would all say we want to reform the education system and help the upstate economy, etcetera. Who has done it?

Lehrer:
Do you think the public wants the Governor to move faster on ground zero decisions and do you have a specific plan?

Cuomo:
Yes. Yes I do on both. Brian, I'd done, at HUD, first I started as a private builder, I built $120 million worth of housing starting when I was in my 20s, so I've done development on the private side, a not-for-profit called HELP. I then was the largest urban development official in the nation for the past 8 years. And I also did the disaster reconstruction at HUD. HUD is now funding the rebuilding of downtown Manhattan. I worked on the disasters all across the nation for the past 8 years: Northridge earthquake, Midwest floods, etcetera. I believe we can be doing a lot better than we're now doing. By the Governor's own definition he's back to square one. He is now putting out, looking for another set of plans because the first set of plans didn't work. And my point from the initiation of this, Brian, was you can't ask for an architect to do a set of plans until you know what you want built. What is the vision? What is the activity? And then you can design a building around that vision. There has been no discussion on that basis. This process will never work until you say look, we have this as the most aggressive urban development project that we've undertaken in this nation, we need an economic generator, something like moving the UN or moving up the World Bank, but we need something that brings the economy back and then we'll design the building around the activity.

Lehrer:
Mr. McCall do you agree that the Governor's been to slow?

McCall:
I agree the Governor has been very slow. And, you know, the governor's problem with any economic development program is the people he puts in charge are not professionals, but people who have had some success raising money for the Republican Party. And that's been their approach. They do not have that kind of first-rate team in place that has the vision to develop real plans, nor has that group been empowered to carry them out.

Lehrer:
And do you have a plan?

McCall:
Yes, I have a plan. I have a plan to put in place a representative group of people with the kind of talent, skill and experience, and track record of building and developing such a great site with such great potential.

Caller: "Maria"
(In Spanish, translated to English by Gerson): Mr. McCall, you speak very highly of what you will do with Latinos, but she points out to the fact that in your office, in fact, state comptroller, the amount of Latinos employed by you has decreased. So how can you explain that you have so much concern for the Latinos and how would you be different in terms of specifics. She says also that under Governor Pataki the number of Latinos employed by the state has also decreased. So, Mr. McCall, and I've got to add to that Carl that I've asked you at editorial board meetings several times when in fact how many people do you employ, and nobody has ever gotten back to me, how many people do you employ, and I'm going to add to Maria's question, how many people do you employ specifically that are Latino and who are your three top Latinos and what do they do?

McCall:
Ok. I employ about 2200 throughout my office. About 8 percent of them are Latinos. And they're throughout the office in a variety of positions. And I am always seeking additional Latinos and we have had an increase not a decrease in Latino employees in my office.

Borrero:
Who are the top three?

McCall:
The top three Latinos in my office are Frank Sabrino who's in charge of my New York press operation, the second one is Carmen Labron who is in charge of our Office of Unclaimed Funds, which administers a budget of about $4 billion, and the third is another young man, Javier Gomez who works in our Long Island office in terms of in charge of audits in that particular office.

Borrero:
But isn't Javier on your campaign staff, Javier Gomez is on your campaign staff, isn't he?

McCall:
But he came over from the office....

Borrero:
Wait a minute, I'm confused. Because last time I heard Javier Gomez was working in the press office of Borough President Adolfo Carion.

McCall:
That's right, but he came into our office and then was transitioned from our office into the campaign and he will be going back into our office.

Lehrer:
Mr. Cuomo.

Cuomo:
I ran an organization of 10,000 people. I increased the number of Latino employees by seven percent.

Lehrer:
From what to what?

Cuomo:
I will get you the baseline figures, I don't have them. But increased by seven percent. Also at HUD, the agency had the highest percentage of employees of color at senior pay levels of any federal department, I'm proud to say. 27 percent of the senior staff were employees of color. When I left HUD it had the second highest percentage of minority employees of any federal cabinet department at 46 percent. I'm very proud of that record and I think the caller makes a good point. Before we tell you what we're going to do, show us what you've done. I say I'm going to be there for the Latino community because I was there and I hired Latinos. The numbers that I've received show that under Governor Pataki and Comptroller McCall their numbers went down. I got the numbers from the civil service information from the state of New York. But I think performance counts, results count, and if you haven't done it before why should people believe you're going to do it now?

Borrero:
We're going to the segment right now Mr. Cuomo where you will get a chance to ask first a question of Mr. McCall and then Mr. McCall will do the same of you, and if we can really tighten up, the time is betraying us, the clock always does that when you're having fun. I think we're having fun. Mr. Cuomo.

Cuomo:
I think because you're asking too many questions Gerson. If Carl and I could just speak more...

Borrero:
(laughing) Ok.

Cuomo:
Carl and I have the same goal, which is to defeat Governor George Pataki. I think, Carl, that if we can point out an issue that was raised in the papers today, where the funding that's coming to downtown Manhattan has been awarded by the state of New York and a large percentage of that has gone to political contributors, to the governor and the Republican Party. The connection between the political donors and who gets state work, this is an obvious flaw in the system, people all over the state get it, we call it the quote unquote "pay to play" system. Why don't you and I say today we will no longer take money from anyone who does business with the state and then highlight that Pataki won't say it. And let's say that this is a Democratic reform, point out that the governor is unwilling to do it, and that's the difference between us. And let them explain the pay-to-play system because you can't explain it.

McCall:
Well the fact is that people under the present campaign finance laws people can make contributions and I live by those laws, and although I have been a longtime adherent for changing those laws and will continue, and when I become governor it's one of the first things I'm going to do. I'm going to implement campaign finance reform plan that I've always supported. And that is one that will limit the amount of money we can contribute, limit the amount of money we can spend, ban all contributions from people who do business with the state, and also outlaw any soft money. Those are things that I will put in place. You can only do this by law. We have to have a law to make it possible. The people who contribute to my campaign, and I'm sure the people who contribute to your campaign, they don't do it because they expect any favors or they expect any contracts. Anybody who does business with my office has been selected on the basis of their merit and their performance. That's why we have performed so well. I point to the performance of the people we've selected. No to whether they've contributed, because most people who we do business with haven't contributed. So let's be very clear about the fact that we are committed to campaign finance reform and when I become governor we are going to have campaign finance reform.

Borrero:
Mr. McCall, your last question of Mr. Cuomo.

McCall:
My last question. One of the things we're very concerned about is the environment and how we protect the environment, and the fact that one of the ways in which George Pataki has really failed us is that he has allowed the Superfund to run out of money, so we don't have money to clean up toxic waste sites around the country. This is a hazard to the health and safety of New Yorkers. Mr. Cuomo, how do you feel about the governor's record in terms of the environment, and what do you think we can do to bring to the people of the state more information about the governor's utter failure to really protect the environment. He refuses to join us in terms of our demands that Indian Point be closed. He's refused to put money into the budget so that we can reclaim Brownfields and make them productive. He's refused to put money into the Superfund unless the legislature agrees to lower the standards for remediating a hazardous waste site. What can we do as Democrats to make it make it clear to the public that George Pataki has failed us and has failed to protect the environment?

Cuomo:
It's a good question Carl. I think we can point out the dramatic differences because I agree with you. Governor Pataki has failed on the environment. He has done a couple of things, in fairness he's done a couple of things well. He has done preservation-conservation fairly well, not as well as he would suggest to New York that he has. He's been attentive to the groups along the Hudson River, but there is no Brownfields program in this state of New York. The Superfund as you pointed out is bankrupt. We consume more green space at a higher rate than we have in the past. We have no energy policy and we haven't. He doesn't want to close down Indian Point. He's now commissioned a study only to save him from making the difficult decision.

Lehrer:
Let me jump in because we have a minute left and that question was in effect "would you like to be my running mate?"

Cuomo:
And if they give us more time we could make the case.

McCall:
They ask too many questions.

Lehrer:
Follow up, real quick, give me a short answer Mr. McCall. The Village Voice this week, since you mentioned the environment, says as the man who controls the state pension fund investments your proxy votes in major corporate resolutions reveal a chilling pattern of social indifference, that you opposed or abstained on 90% percent of environmental investing resolutions.

McCall:
Yeah, you know this article is, you could be very aggressive in terms of pursing shareholder resolutions which are symbolic and have no impact on government, on the governance of corporations, or you can focus, as I have, on managing the pension fund to meet the real goals of increasing the value of the fund and helping taxpayers and retirees. That's what I've done.

Lehrer:
And Mr. Cuomo, you are both critical of the governor for taking a lot of commercial credit for Child Health Plus. How much further would you go in health care funding for New Yorkers and how would you pay for it given the deficit and that neither of you would raise taxes?

Cuomo:
Well, I think first of all it could be very simple. Don't use the money for political advertising, use that money to actually enroll children in Child Health Plus and families in Family Health Plus. Stand up to the drug companies and pass a prescription drug plan like we've outlined in the campaign that can reduce cost about $500. Use the state's purchasing power to get uninsured New Yorkers health care now.

End Debate
(posted August 29, 2002)

 



Eye On Albany 2002 is a guide to the races for the 91 seats of the New York State Legislature that represent residents of New York City.

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