“NY Rising” was the title of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address, and not only did he stress many of the expected things, but he tossed in a few others for state legislators to ponder and hopefully pass.
The audience was quickly on its feet, delivering a sustained ovation when the governor repeated three times: “Women’s Equality Act!” This was roared after stating that there is no full equality in the state.
He rose to the occasion on several critical points, and none more passionately as when he stressed the need end gun violence. “Just enough,” were the two words he cited to open his demand on curbing the spread of high-capacity assault rifles. “I own a Remington shotgun,” he said, but not an assault rifle. “You don’t need an assault weapon to kill a deer.”
Federal background checks, halting the sale of multiple loading magazines for the rifles and other measures were specified in lowering the number of people killed by gun violence in the state. “We led the way in the past, and we can lead the way again in saving lives,” he said, after recalling the Sullivan Law of 1911, passed first in New York.
There was apparently some last-minute negotiating between the governor and legislators over gun control, and this, along with other ceremonial preliminaries, delayed his speech, which was also interrupted for over seven minutes on NY1 due to breaking news about a crane collapsing in Long Island City.
The extended discussion on gun violence and control certainly resonated well with the packed auditorium that included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and every elected official in the state, as well as the widows of the firefighters killed in the West Webster shooting around Christmas. Cuomo presented flags to the widows of Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka. They were killed when a deranged man opened fire on them while they struggled to put out a blaze.
In his one-hour and 15-minute speech, he gave considerable time to a number of cost factors, making it one of the most ambitious of his three State of the State speeches. Perhaps referencing the title of his speech, he proposed raising the minimum wage to $8.75 from the current $7.25, where it’s been frozen for the last several years. This would be a significant increase when compared to some 20 states that have exceeded the federal wage by adding only 10 or 15 cents.
His comments on Hurricane Sandy, like the rest of his address, were given added poignancy thanks to a PowerPoint presentation. He compared the federal response to it with reactions to other national tragedies. The response to Hurricane Katrina, he said, came within 10 days. “It’s been 73 days, and we’re still counting,” he lamented. This was something he insisted that the government not “play politics” with.
There were a lot of upstate-downstate financial differences that came as no surprise, but it was revealing to see how bad things have been in the upper regions of the state, where even the governmental growth of 8 percent has exceeded the region’s growth of 5 percent. By comparison, New York City’s growth rate was 16 percent.
Jobs and education were vital areas of discussion for the governor, and he elaborated on several plans to improve conditions in both sectors. In particular, his proposal for further teacher evaluations and early education for our youngsters vibrated like electricity among the listeners.
“Public trust and renewing the dream,” he said, which was reminiscent of his last State of the State address, as he cited a number of obstacles that no longer existed in terms of getting bills through the Legislature.
There were moments of humor and levity when he discussed his plan to have an Adirondack Challenge featuring elected officials on water rafts, with depictions on the screen of state Sen. Jeff Klein and state Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos holding paddles that Cuomo insisted operate the same way. Bloomberg was pictured alone in his raft, while Cuomo was seen with an engine attached to his. He envisioned the challenge as a way to boost tourism upstate.
Toward the end of his speech, the often-dull monotone was enlivened as he announced that while the state was indeed rising, there was still much “work to do.”
“It’s rising because New Yorkers are united like never before,” he bellowed, the crescendo of applause matching his newfound enthusiasm. “In our darkest moments, we shine the brightest. Yes, we’re rising, and we’re going to make the state safer.”