Full text of Astorino’s speech to GOP Convention Thursday in Rye Brook, NY
Thank you, Chairman Cox. Thank you, Chairman Colety. Thank you, New York Republicans from all across this state for putting your faith in me today. Thank you, Sheriff Chris Moss! You honor me as a running mate.
And, of course, thank you to my beautiful wife, Sheila, and our three children, Sean, Kiley, and Ashlin. I love them with all my heart.
Sheila and I met when I hosted a sportstalk show for WFAS Radio here in Westchester. She was waitressing at a place down the road from the station called ‘Pete’s Saloon’ while studying for her Master’s Degree in Special Education. I’d go to Pete’s before my shift for its cheeseburgers. But after Sheila started working there, it wasn’t the cheeseburgers I was after anymore — if you know what I mean.
Sheila’s been my partner in life ever since, every step of the way. She’s always encouraged me. But I have to say, when talk started about me running for governor, I wasn’t sure Sheila would go for it.
But then talk started about a new kitchen, too. Sheila’s wanted us to get one for years. And I thought, wait a second. I see where this is going…
But you know what we found out? This is unbelievable. You actually need building permits to make home improvements. Did anyone here know that? And get this; it’s even crazier: your property taxes can go up when the renovations are done. Who knew?!
Even so, the dream kitchen is still in the cards, as well as the dream of helping to save this state.
And so, today. I say to all of you here. And to all those across this state struggling to get by: I proudly, emphatically, unconditionally, and enthusiastically accept your nomination for governor of the State of New York, because this once great state needs to be great again, and I will not rest until we’re back on track toward getting there.
I’m going to ask each of you to take a step back for a moment and to look at the big picture before us. Perspective is badly needed when we talk about what’s happened to New York.
Because it is nothing less than a disgrace, a crime–of historic magnitude. If Henry Hudson and Giovanni da Verrazzano pulled into New York harbor today, they’d turn their ships around and head south. Because what they’d see is the word “closed”: Closed for business; closed for innovation; closed for honest, responsible government.
Our leaders have squandered a land blessed by its creator, and that’s unforgivable. You and I need to fix it because there’s no one else coming along.
What Hudson and Verrazano and Samuel de Champlain saw when they got here — what the Iroquois, Seneca and Oneida Nations already knew — was a place of bounty. Their hearts must have pounded when they saw its possibilities — the soil to till, the lakes to fish, and the rivers and ocean to transport goods. This state, this land mass, has everything, all the attributes for enrichment.
For three and a half centuries people saw New York through those settlers eyes. And they prospered. New York became the economic engine that drove the country that drove the world. How have we forgotten that?
This is where our families first stepped foot on American soil — off ships in New York Harbor, off trains from the South, and later off airplanes. They came to begin anew, to stake their claim in the American dream of leaving their children and their children’s children better off than their forebearers.
God help them; what have our politicians done? They’ve nearly ruined a once great state. They’ve murdered innovation and chased away the dreamers.
The statistics scream incompetence: New York is now 50th in so many categories. How is that possible? This was the state that wouldn’t accept being second to anyone or anything, and here we are…50th!
Here we are ranked by the American Legislative Exchange Council as having the worst economic outlook in America. Not 25th. Not 45th. Dead. Last. 50th. The worst economic outlook. The Empire State…
New York has the highest property taxes in America, 50th out of 50.
It has the highest overall tax burden, 50th out of 50.
It was just rated the worst place to retire in America, 50th out of 50.
We have the highest electric rates, yet we won’t touch the clean natural gas underneath our feet — natural gas that’s enriching 30 other states.
New York loses more families than any other state, 50th out of 50. We’re on pace to lose more than 400,000 New Yorkers in just four years under Andrew Cuomo.
And we’re ranked by the University of Illinois, thanks mainly to our Democrat friends in Albany, as having the most corrupt state government in America — 50th out of 50. Now we find out that the commission that was supposed to investigate corruption has been corrupted itself.
President Obama stood on the banks of the Hudson River a few miles from here yesterday. He said that America now ranks 19th in the world in infrastructure development. The President said 19th is unacceptable for this country. I wholeheartedly agree. Nineteenth is unacceptable. And we’re 50th under Andrew Cuomo in all these categories.
But here’s the statistic that hurts most. It came out just this month: Forty one percent of New Yorkers now say they would leave this state if they could. Four out of 10 neighbors want to follow the three million former New Yorkers who’ve moved away in the past 20 years. How did this happen? When did living here become like a prison sentence?
‘I retire in three years; then I’m out of here.’ ‘Once the kids finish school, we’re headed south.’ Who hasn’t heard that a hundred times? It is…a sign of our times.
New York isn’t losing because its people are failing. No one works harder than New Yorkers, and with with world-class universities, we have one of the best educated workforces anywhere.
It’s not a lack of resources: The Hudson didn’t dry up. Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are still there. We have the same resources that made us a business magnet for three and a half centuries. We have all the infrastructure a great state needs to grow — roads, rivers, railways, and airports.
So what happened? Why is the Empire State shrinking? Why is New York losing to every state in this country?
I’ll tell you what happened — government happened. Bad government. Bad government leadership. Sure it was often well meaning, but it was always stifling. New York government couldn’t help but stick its nose into everything — to tax everything, regulate everything, control everything. It layered on regulations like coats of paint on a ship. Even the finest vessel afloat will succumb to the sea when it’s weighed down enough.
In so many categories, New York spends more than any other state, with disappointing outcomes. We spend the most on schools, yet consistently rank in the bottom half of results. We spend the most on Medicaid — more than Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania combined — but health care delivery is subpar at best.
New York government grew so wide, so fast, and so broad that it had to tax its people into the ground to support itself. And when Albany couldn’t tax us any more, it began making local governments do it for them. Eighty-five cents of every dollar we collect here in Westchester now goes to unfunded Albany mandates. In Chemung County, where my running mate serves as Sheriff, 100% of County taxes go to Medicaid costs, and local services pay the price.
Governor Cuomo’s Albany is preying on counties, municipalities, and school districts. Across the state, these districts are buckling under the weight of his mandates. Ask Syracuse. Ask Rockland. Ask Nassau. Ask Yonkers and Erie. And you know what? Mr. Cuomo has does nothing about it, other than blame local governments for his inaction.
Something else happened in New York government, too. Self interest happened. We elected leaders year after year who served themselves first and us second. They’ve handed the keys to the state to special interest groups because those groups can help re-elect them. That’s not political leadership, it’s political malpractice.
When there was no money left in the till to hand them, they pushed the red ink into the future, making promises that may never be kept — just as long as they could get through the next election cycle, and the next and the next and the next…
It’s why I support term limits for state legislators and their leaders. Yes, as governor of New York, I will term limit myself out, just like I did as County Executive of Westchester.
The problems in New York State may seem great. When you’re 50th in everything they’re surely daunting.
But they aren’t complicated. Because all we’re missing in New York — and this is key — is political leadership. We need leaders who are willing to put their necks on the line to fix the problems…political leaders willing to LOSE re-election to save the state.
A lot of people ask me how I won re-election in deep-blue Westchester by 13 points. You know how I won? By being willing to lose my seat. That’s how I governed. I trusted the voters of Westchester — Democrats, Republicans, and independents — to stand by me when I made the tough calls.
‘You can’t ask unions to pay for some of their healthcare,’ I was told, ‘they’ll get you at the polls.’ I did it anyway, after doing it myself to set an example.
‘You can’t make budget cuts. You’ll have demonstrators outside your office.’ So be it. I shrank my staff first to set an example, and then reduced the overall size of government by 4%. My own staff I reduced by 19%.
They said ‘You can’t take a stand against federal government overreach into local zoning. They’ll sue you in court — and slander you in TV ads’, like Governor Cuomo is doing to me now. You know what? Go ahead. We’ll meet the federal bureaucrats in court, and we’ll face down Governor Cuomo in the court of public opinion. I will not let faceless bureaucrats in Washington make decisions for our communities — not in Westchester, not in Nassau, not anywhere in the State of New York.
I announced this month my fifth straight year of freezing or cutting the property tax levy in Westchester. Not capping the increase — actually lowering costs. That doesn’t happen by mistake. It takes work and steady vision.
To give you you some perspective on my approach vs. Andrew Cuomo’s, consider this: If Governor Cuomo had adhered to the same level of restraint that we did in Westchester over the past four years, the cumulative savings to New York’s taxpayers would be a staggering $46.5 billion. You can start a lot of small businesses with that. You can create a lot of jobs. You can lower taxes.
Westchester spends less today than it did five years ago. Yes, our budget is smaller now than when I took office. We’ve saved Westchester taxpayers more than $100 million by consolidating services and departments, cutting waste, and reducing overhead.
As a result of our fiscal prudence, Westchester has the highest credit rating in New York State today — higher than the state’s. It has created 30,000 new private sector jobs over four years, and it has one of the lowest unemployment rates in New York. I’m proud of that.
But here’s what I’m prouder of still: We’ve saved taxpayers millions while actually strengthening the social safety net. My administration cares about the least fortunate, and in areas like child care for the working poor, we are more generous today than even New York City, and we’ve expanded available slots for families in need.
I like to say you need three body parts to be a good leader. You need a head to do the smart things and a heart to show compassion. But probably more than either of those, you need a spine to stand firmly against the nonsense that seeps into government. I’ve tried to lead with all three in Westchester — head, heart, and spine — and I’ll do the same in Albany, together with my Lt. Governor Chris Moss.
Sure we have challenges. But here’s the good news: history doesn’t stop. New York’s fate is no more set at 50th than it was when we led the nation. We can turn this state around if we have the courage to do it. New York can rise again, just as it fell. It’s all in the decisions we make over the next four years.
No one can look you in the eye and say we’re going to go from 50th to number one overnight, but there’s no reason we can’t become the most economically competitive state in the northeast again? Can anyone think of a reason why not? I can’t.
Because beneath the suffocating, wet blanket of state government, we’re still New Yorkers. We’re the risk takers and the job makers — remember that? Give us a chance to breath again and we’ll thrive.
Risk takers that still want to come here from all over the world. Son aquellos que se arriesgan quienes llegan aquí cada día desde lugares como Mexico, y Perú, y Ecuador, y Colombia, en busca de una vida mejor para sus hijos, tal como hicieron antes cada una de las oleadas de nuevos Americanos.
Dénnos a su gente cansada, a sus pobres, es la promesa de la dama del Puerto, y nosotros les daremos la libertad económica para que sus hijos puedan ser cualquier cosa que ellos deseen.
Give us your tired and your poor, the lady in the harbor promises, and we’ll give you the economic freedom to make your children whatever they want to be.
I give you my word today. As governor of New York State I will put us back on the track to greatness. With Sheriff Moss at my side, I’ll cut taxes and regulations; I’ll bring billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs back to New York through natural gas exploration; I’ll lower the cost of doing business so job creators stay or return. And Sheriff Moss and I will get rid of unconstitutional political gimmicks like the so-called “Safe Act” that makes no one safer, while turning law abiding citizens into criminals.
But to succeed in this country — to succeed in New York — it all begins in the classroom, and as governor I’ll get rid of Cuomo’s Common Core that is robbing our children of their natural love of learning. I’ll replace Common Core with higher standards set at the local level with the involvement of parents and teachers. I can tell you as a parent, Cuomo’s Common Core is hurting, not helping, our kids.
And to those who have been waiting for an Education Investment Tax Credit in this state… I want you to know that when I make a promise to you, I’ll keep it. We will have an Education Investment Tax Credit in 2015.
I’ve been asking families all across New York a question. As a state, do you think New York is winning or do you think New York is losing?
It’s a simple question, and I don’t ask it to depress people. I ask it because I know that New Yorkers are winners to the core. I know they’ll respond when they realize how far their state has fallen.
Party registration is irrelevant. Before we are Republicans, Democrats, and independents, we are teachers and farmers and factory workers and office employees. We are moms and dads and sons and daughters. We are New Yorkers: that special breed of American who act when called to action.
So here’s my call to action to New Yorkers today. Here is my challenge: Step in. Engage. Take a stand with me and Sheriff Moss. Join us in this fight to save New York. Wade deeper and farther into New York politics this year than you’ve ever waded before and then stay there. Because if you don’t, you’ll be gone in a few years, too, like so many others.
Sheila and I are staying and we’re fighting for this state’s life. It’s why I’m on this stage today. We, and Chris and his wife Dana, refuse to accept that the Empire State is losing — that New York now lies at the bottom of the heap in this country. We don’t want to be telling our children and grandchildren about what New York once was, and I’m sure you don’t either. But that’s what’s going to happen if we don’t act now in an urgent and serious way.
This state will come back if we make the right choices. If we let its people thrive again, without the interference of Albany’s special interests.
Fiftieth is for losers, not for us: This is New York, where the Vanderbilts built railroads, where Seymour Knox built Five and Dimes, and where Colin Powell reached for the stars. It’s the New York of George Gershwin, and Isaac Stern, y Tito Puente and Simon and Garfunkel. This is where Willis Reed came off the bench to beat the Lakers; where the Bills stormed back from 26. This is where the Orange nixed the Jayhawks; the Yankees piled up 27 World Championships, Jackie Robinson stole home and Broadway Joe guaranteed a trophy.
Fiftieth? We scoff at that.
I ask every New Yorker within the sound of my voice today: Will you pick up this mantle with us?
Will you join us in this modern cause to make New York the greatest comeback story. We have what it takes to do it. We. Have. You.
My faith is is in you. Chris Moss’s faith is in you. Place yours in us this November and we’ll get there together.
I am telling you we can do this. I’m promising we can do this. Together. You and I. We can make the Empire State great again.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the people of the State of New York.