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In a town this size, there's no place to hide
Everywhere you go, you meet someone you know...
In a smokey bar, in the backseat of your car
In your own little house, someone's sure to find you out
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(Kieran Kane)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Astorino slams Cuomo's War on the Suburbs


October 2, 2014

Andrew Cuomo says Hillary Clinton’s town is racially discriminatory. It’s not. It’s just expensive.
His comments made yesterday the most important day in the campaign.
Andrew Cuomo revealed who he is, what he stands for and where his allegiance lies.
Given the chance to stand up for our local communities, Andrew Cuomo put himself all in with HUD and its war on America’s suburbs.
In a short and rare unscripted moment before the press, New York’s governor did three remarkable things.
He showed his blind allegiance to an overreaching federal government.
Demonstrated his disdain for the communities he was elected to protect.
And put his ambition ahead of the truth.
I am not sure which one shocks me more, but let’s look at all three.
Blind allegiance to HUD.
When asked if agreed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s assessment that New Castle, the town where he and Hillary Clinton live, was discriminatory, his incredible response was: “I have no reason to disagree with the federal findings.”
This is the Governor of New York, whose Constitution embodies the principle of home rule. And yet he couldn’t even give his hometown the benefit of the doubt.
The response showed complete disdain for local communities. Did he ever take time to think that there might be another side to the story? Did he ever ask to see those “federal findings?”
Apparently not.
Because there are none.
One of the things that is so frustrating in dealing with HUD is that it doesn’t issue its own findings. The governor should know that – he ran HUD.
HUD’s approach is for others to do all the work and then the agency criticizes their findings endlessly, hoping they will eventually capitulate from exhaustion, legal threats or the withholding of federal funds.
To try to satisfy HUD, the county has submitted eight separate versions of a document called an Analysis of Impediments, or AI. No other county or municipality across the United States has done as many AI’s or been as thorough in its research as Westchester. These documents examined all 853 zoning districts in Westchester County and run into hundreds if not thousands of pages.
(Here they are right here.)
Eight different times, they reached the same conclusion: there was no evidence of exclusionary zoning in Westchester.
And eight times HUD rejected the county’s AI’s. Each time because the county refused to bend to HUD’s pressure to find exclusionary zoning where none existed.
HUD has made it abundantly clear that it will only accept an AI that concludes Westchester’s zoning is exclusionary.
But don’t take the county’s word for it.
Last week HUD also rejected the zoning report by the Monitor it has hired to oversee the settlement. HUD wrote, and I quote from agency’s September 24th letter:  “All statements purported to absolve individual communities from having practices that can potentially exclude blacks and Hispanics should be deleted from the Monitor’s Analysis.”
HUD also faulted the monitor for using the most up to date information saying, and again I quote from the letter: “Data regarding demographic changes between the 2000 and 2010 census can be removed.” In other words, HUD does not want to know what has happened in Westchester during the last decade.
But this is the group the governor “no reason to disagree with.”
Instead of blindly agreeing with HUD, the governor should be supporting his local communities.
Where’s the governor’s outrage that HUD has taken millions away from some of our neediest communities. The county is in court fighting to get the money back.
The legal battle over the money has been going on for years and never once has the governor, despite repeated requests, offered to help the county.
Not only is the governor rooting for HUD. He also has a problem with the truth.
The most troubling thing he did yesterday was to continue to smear Westchester County, his home, saying it is violating the fair housing act.
Now I can see the response already. It is not me saying it. It is the federal government. But that’s not true either.
In 2009, my predecessor Andy Spano reached a settlement with Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice over an allegation that the county under Spano and Larry Schwartz – Spano’s deputy at the time and now Cuomo’s senior advisor – had failed to adequately consider race as an impediment to fair housing.
The settlement was a way to avoid costly and protracted litigation and address the issues that had been raised to the satisfaction of all the parties.
But there was never a finding of fact against the county or an admission of guilt. And Larry Schwartz will tell you that.
So to smear Westchester County by saying the county is in violation of fair housing act, when he knows it is not true, is an insult to everyone in Westchester of every race and ethnicity.
Cuomo opened his campaign by attacking me as a racist. The commercials he ran with Jim Crow references were beyond the pale.
The governor portrays himself as a progressive. But there is nothing progressive about race baiting. Racism will never be eradicated if those in leadership positions put their ambition above the truth and cynically deal the race card for political gain.
Westchester is a welcoming place to all who seek to live and work here. Discrimination will not be tolerated in Westchester, and I have said repeatedly, and say it again today, allegations of discrimination will be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law while I am county executive.
But we also need to have an honest discussion of what racism is and is not. Zoning and discrimination are not the same thing. Zoning restricts what can be built, not who lives there.
I opposed the settlement 2009 because I was afraid it would open the door for the federal government to overpower the decision making authority of local communities.
As it turns out my fears have been realized.
But the day I took office on January 1, 2010 – which was the day I inherited the settlement – I made the point as clearly and as forcefully as I could that as County Executive I would fulfill my responsibilities to make sure Westchester met its obligations under the settlement.
The county’s record of compliance has been outstanding. We are ahead of schedule in meeting the benchmarks for building 750 units of affordable housing by the end of 2016 in 31 Westchester municipalities, which were selected because they are mostly white. Think about that – a government project that is ahead of schedule.
Ironically, the only agency, besides HUD that has put up roadblocks to us building the affordable housing is the Hudson Valley Regional Board of Review, which is part of the New York Department of State and reports into the Governor.
We are also becoming increasingly diverse. The minority populations of the 31 settlement municipalities increased by 56 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census.
That compares to a 25 percent increase for Westchester as a whole, which is ranked as the fourth most diverse county in terms of African Americans and Hispanics, behind only Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx and tied with Manhattan.
Of course none of that is good enough for HUD.
HUD will not be satisfied until it finds a way to take away zoning decisions from local elected officials. Why? Because its national ambitions depend on it.
HUD was hoping Westchester would be its “grand experiment” for rolling out its new rules for ‘Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.’ Use statistics to find the county guilty of exclusionary zoning – and then let HUD’s bureaucrats take it from there. The only problem is that Westchester and New Castle are not guilty of anything.
So the choice is defend the innocence of our communities or throw in with HUD to let its bureaucrats make decisions about the future of our local communities.
Governor Cuomo thinks New York should be run from Washington.
I think New York should be run for and by the people of our state.
Zoning may seem obscure. But it provides the framework for how cities, towns, villages, and neighborhoods are developed, our families are safeguarded and our environment preserved.
The stakes are high and now we know how Governor Cuomo cast his vote.
Against the people of New York.
Local zoning will never be outsourced to HUD if I am the next governor.
To anyone who has invested their life in their home and struggled to make a mortgage payment, please know I have got your back.
I live in the next town over. Truth is I can’t afford to live in New Castle, next to the Cuomo’s and Clinton’s. But that is ok.
I love my quarter acre in Mount Pleasant, a town where I grew up, served on the school board and town board. My first job wasn’t Secretary of HUD.
But on the small stage of government, I learned that when you get into office, you have to understand the limits of power. You can’t be all things to all people. You have to be willing to make tough calls, And you have to say ‘no’ to people – even when they are bigger and stronger than you – if you think you are right.
This situation with HUD is simply saying to our government – you have gone too far. Your intentions may even be good. But a bad idea is a bad idea and someone has to be the voice of the people to say so.  I have spoken out for the people. Governor Cuomo has taken side of the bureaucrats who make findings.
That’s the choice.