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Rediff.com  » News » I want to give everyone the same shot at the American Dream

I want to give everyone the same shot at the American Dream

November 01, 2006 16:39 IST
Eliot Spitzer is the Attorney General for New York state, best known for his legal crusades to bring the shenanigans of Corporate America to justice.

Now, the front-runner to win the November 7 race for New York governor, Spitzer outlines his vision for his state. Exclusive to rediff.com

New Yorkers are ready to bring back the greatness that New York once defined. People of every race, creed and background -- including my four grandparents -- faced great odds for the opportunity to live here.

At times, it appeared that the opportunity they sought would always remain beyond their reach. But New Yorkers never gave up working together towards a common good and a common purpose. Now, as the future of the state we love hangs in the balance, we must bring back the New York we dream of: the beacon of hope and opportunity that is the Empire State.

The state we're in

Right now, people are tired of watching their hard-earned, lifestyle slip away as their property taxes rise. They are frustrated when they see their health care costs skyrocket and their schools fail our children and their jobs disappear. They are impatient and frustrated with a government that spends their tax dollars without consequence or reason.

In this November 7 election, for the first time in a long time, New Yorkers will vote for their choice of what kind of government works for then, and what kind of New York they want to live in.

New York must not simply change parties or policies, but change the very culture of government. My running mate David Paterson and I offer leadership based on common sacrifice and pursuit of the common good. We will govern the state by the same simple rule that I lived by as your attorney general: We won't ask if a decision is popular or unpopular. We will not ask if it's hard or easy. We will just ask whether it's right or wrong. In the end, it's not a bad rule.

Looking forward, I hope to take the same values and standards that I hold myself to as your attorney general and bring it to Albany. For the last twelve years, Albany that has stood remarkably still as the economy has been transformed and the world has moved forward. Change in the culture and efficacy of Albany will not be easy or come quickly. But if Albany will not bring back opportunity or responsibility or accountability -- if Albany will not bring change to us -- then we will bring change to Albany.

Day one to-do list

In a Spitzer administration, change begins the moment we take office. On day one, David Patterson and I will begin giving New Yorkers a government that's open, accountable and ready to get taxes and spending under control. Day one will mark the beginning of the end for the vicious property tax cycle that is driving so many families and businesses away from this state. Day one is when we set out to make health care more affordable and cover every single child in the state of New York, and it's when we begin to fully fund education to ensure that the path to opportunity and prosperity begins in our schools.

And, above all, day one is when we will start to build a twenty first century New York that can be competitive in a twenty first century economy. It's when we start working to bring jobs back and make New York the best place to do business in America. It's when we start rebuilding our upstate economy, and revitalising downtown Syracuse and Buffalo and Albany and Rochester.

A journey to lead

New Yorkers are all in this together. Our journey will not be divided by upstate versus downstate, urban versus rural, business versus labour, Republican versus Democrat. All over New York, people are ready to make this journey together. To get there, I'm not just asking for your vote on Election Day, I'm asking for your passion, dedication, and your commitment to our common cause and shared future.

The great New Yorker E B White once said 'New York is to the nation what the white spire is to the village -- the visible symbol of aspiration and faith; the white plume saying the way is up!' People from across the country and all over the world for the past two hundred years have looked to our state as a shining example of what's best about America. Looking forward, we should not only expect -- but we deserve -- a government in this state that gives everyone the same shot at the American Dream.

Working hand in hand with the South Asian community

As New York State's attorney general I have worked hard to defend and empower the South Asian community. In particular, we made accountable those who had not respected this community's civil and health care rights. The work expands throughout my eight year tenure as attorney general and encompasses a broad range of areas, among them labor, consumer and immigration rights.

In one legal case that I particularly valued working on, my office halted practices at a Manhattan night club restaurant that had denied entrance to South Asians while allowing white patrons, in the restaurant's misguided effort, in violation of the patrons' civil rights, to achieve what it believed was a racial or ethnic 'balance.' The establishment paid fines and agreed to end these practices. I will not tolerate any discrimination based on race or or national origin in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, or any other place of public accommodation.

Another hallmark civil rights case I worked on defended the right of South Asians and other immigrants with limited English proficiency to obtain translation services at hospitals. My work and efforts ensured that they now receive necessary medical attention without delay. It is crucial for patients with limited English proficiency to explain their health care needs and receive the best care possible. I hope these agreements will serve as models for other health care providers who are confronted with the challenges of serving linguistically diverse communities.

My office has also pursued empowerment and enforcement actions in the area of labor.  We partnered with several community organizations to create awareness of, and increase enforcement of, the $6,00-per-hour minimum wage. The initiative generated greater awareness among New York State's workforce about the new minimum wage. This initiative also provided low-wage workers with a procedure to notify my office of cases where employers have not increased their workers' minimum wage.

An enforcement action in from the my office's Labor Bureau provided overtime pay and back-wages to dozens of Central Park pretzel vendors with wages, including overtime, to which they are entitled by law. The employer agreed to pay $450,000 to employees for labor law violations. The employees, mostly immigrants from Bangladesh, worked long shifts without receiving overtime pay and, in some cases, without receiving the minimum wage.

Pretzel vendors provide a tradition in and around our city parks. They often work from sunrise well into the night and are entitled to a lawful wage and to overtime pay should they work more than 40 hours per week. Shortly after learning of the our investigation, the company changed its payment practices, offering workers the required basic hourly rate and overtime at 1½ times the hourly rate, as required by law.

My office's Consumer Frauds bureau has also contributed to our work benefiting the South Asian community, particularly on issues related to immigration fraud. We filed action against an individual who fraudulently portrayed herself as an immigration lawyer and victimized hundreds of people seeking to become United States citizens. There were many Pakistanis among the more than 1,000 victims that came forward.

This defendant boosted the hopes of those least able to afford legal representation. What resulted were falsehoods and shoddy representation. This individual turned the dream of American residency and citizenship into nightmares for those who hired her.

She was sentenced to a term of 9 1/3 to 28 years in prison and ordered to pay $108,840 in restitution. This is a specific, yet important, example of how my office, during my eight years as attorney general, has acted with vigor to prosecuted those who prey upon those who are looking to improve their lives.

As attorney general, I asked if a decision is right or wrong. It's the right, responsible, and just rule to live by to serve the people of New York and the South Asian community in particular.

Eliot Spitzer is the Democratic candidate for New York Governor.

Eliot Spitzer