January, 2017
Goodbye to a Good Guy, President

Goodbye to a Good Guy, President

Time passes quickly.

So much happens in our lives in what seems like a blink of the eye.

Eight fleeting years ago, Barack Obama became the President of the United States.

The world viewed his election as historic for many reasons, not the least of which was that he was an African American.

He had emerged from the shadows and within a short time he had captured the imagination of the country.

His campaign was built around the slogan “yes we can.”

Like a lot of people, I didn’t know much about him and initially I had resented that he had defeated Hillary Clinton.

But, I was impressed by the enthusiasm of my daughter Katherine who had his image on her iPhone and she and her friends connected to him like a rock star.

On the very day he was sworn into office, I was shocked to learn that the Congressional Republican leaders got together for lunch and pledged to make Obama a “one-term” president.

As a political observer, I am proud of his service to our country.

One of the ways I measure the greatness of a president is how he or she acts in time of tragedy.

Could that person be a consoler-in-chief?

Could the country leader heal the wounds of the people who were hurting and find the right words to comfort them?

Franklin Roosevelt was great at it.

Bill Clinton excelled in those moments and you truly knew that he felt your pain.

George W. Bush did it on a rock pile at the World Trade Center site.

Barack Obama proved time and time again that he had the ability to calm the shattered nerves of a nation.

Imagine having the responsibility to console the families of the children who were killed in a Connecticut classroom.

How many politicians can you name who could deliver the right message?

I can’t think of any beyond Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

What national political figure can you imagine singing “Amazing Grace” at a memorial for the people brutally slaughtered in a Carolina church?

Who is our next consoler-in-chief?

I have always been mystified by some fairly successful people who would tell me they “hated” President Obama.

What a terrible word?

Was it racial, I wondered?

Was it bitter partisanship?

Was it the product of philosophical differences?

Or was it the product of some imaginary slight?

I know quite a few people who develop their dislike of politicians for some grievance that they can’t articulate.

Some hard heads blame the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on Obama.

He didn’t start those wars and if anything he got stuck with them.

It is easy to second guess a president especially when you know nothing about military service.

Obama hates war but with the backing of his generals he did the best he could.

History will treat him a lot better than all the naysayers put together.

I am enjoying watching the Republican Congress squirm over how to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.

How do you protect 20 million people from losing health care, especially when many of them voted for your party?

It takes no courage to  vote to repeal Obamacare when you know that the Democratic president will veto it.

Now the Congress must face reality and it is painful.

David Gergen, a respected Republican figure who has served three presidents summed it up better than I can saying “Obama brought dignity and honor to the White House.”

The world will miss that quality as the new administration moves forward with its plans in the next four years.



Let’s Add Private Colleges to Cuomo’s Plan

Let’s Add Private Colleges to Cuomo’s Plan

This is the time of year when families across the country are struggling to find the right colleges for their soon-to-graduate sons and daughters. There’s some promising news on the horizon for some of those students, but not all. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed that students attending New York state’s public colleges, the SUNYs and CUNYs, be able to do so with free tuition, provided they meet certain family income thresholds.

This is great news for families who are barely getting by, but one other group should be included in any new scholarship program, and that is students attending New York’s private colleges. I’m not suggesting that taxpayers pay the full tuition for them, but rather that whatever scholarships are available to students be allowed to be used at any private or public college or university in the state. It is a longstanding policy in New York to treat all students equally when it comes to student aid.

Public colleges in New York City enjoy widespread backing because of the large number of city legislators who strongly support the City University system as the best hope for an affordable education. But New York students and taxpayers have long benefited from a strong system of public and private colleges, and the state has been an important partner in this regard. Private colleges have always had strong legislative support for students in need, and many students decide where to go based on how big a break they can get on tuition combined with special aid programs. With little fanfare, private colleges give major scholarship dollars to help students find a home.

How much do independent colleges and universities spend to make tuition affordable for their students? In 2014-15, they gave out $5.1 billion in financial aid, and the numbers are growing each year. High school graduates who are accepted at public colleges often combine their school grants with money from programs such as the Tuition Assistance Program. TAP is a wonderful program that is available to all students, no matter what college or university in the state they choose. It could be expanded to give all students a better shot at an affordable education.

It takes many sources of funding to get the average high school student up to the next level of educational. If the State Legislature passes a free-tuition program for SUNY and CUNY schools, it’s critical that legislators not leave behind students for whom private colleges provide the best academic, social and career fit.

Unless you’re the parent of a college-bound student, you may know little about private colleges. There are more than 100 private, nonprofit colleges and universities across the state. Downstate residents often think of the private educational sector as just Columbia and New York University. But from Long Island and Westchester to Buffalo, residents have a choice of scores of smaller campuses boasting many high-quality programs.

To give you an idea of the size of the private-college universe, there are nearly 500,000 students attending those schools. Upstate you’ll find that in most towns where there’s a college, it’s the only major employer. Without a college, those places would be ghost towns. These nonprofits generate nearly $80 billion in economic activity and employ more than 406,000 people.

Long Island’s private colleges, such as the New York Institute of Technology; Hofstra, Adelphi and Long Island universities; and Molloy and St. Joseph’s colleges, have a total enrollment of 44,500, employ 20,700 people and have an annual payroll of $1.1 billion. With the constant flow of jobs in and out of Long Island, private colleges become even more critical to the survival of our region. The recent closure of Dowling College has hurt the local area in many ways.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have volunteered my time and energy as a trustee at Hofstra for over 25 years, and I’m dedicated to seeing that New York’s students have the best opportunities, including our diverse and high-quality private colleges. As Cuomo proposes and the State Legislature debates a new budget, I urge them to consider a significantly expanded program of student aid that treats all New Yorkers of similar economic circumstances the same, giving them the best chance to pick the college or university that makes sense for their talents and aspirations.



A Look Back at Albany

A Look Back at Albany

In the weeks and months ahead an enormous amount of attention will be paid to the transition of the White House to a new president. But little if any of the spotlight shines on Albany, New York, the home of our state capitol where its rich history has disappeared and been replaced by the demands of the voters for a more streamlined process.

Let’s start with some of the traditions of the past. By law, the state legislature must start the new year on the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday of the month. That’s not my language, it’s in the state constitution. Opening day was once an exciting event for both the general public and the members. The words of great and not so great governors provided some memorable and not so memorable moments.

The late Nelson Rockefeller brought his renowned charm and international aura into the flower-bedecked chamber. His personal cadre of advisors included Henry Kissinger, Richard Parsons and many other celebrities of the future. There are a few who still recall Governor Hugh Carey, in the wake of New York City’s near bankruptcy, warning the members that “the days of wine and roses are over.”

On one occasion, Governor Mario Cuomo, whose relationship with the legislature was often contentious, interrupted his formal remarks and referred to the assembled members as a “bunch of monkeys.” New York’s interim governor David Paterson, who rose to power overnight, due to Governor Eliot Spitzer’s sudden resignation, struggled mightily to look and sound like many of his predecessors.

Those memorable days are now over and probably never to repeated until some future governor chooses to once again begin the start of a legislative year in the same place where Governors Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt charted the state’s future. In the first departure from custom, Governor Andrew Cuomo combined his budget announcement with a formal event in the very cold and unattractive Albany convention center. This year the governor will venture to four different parts of the state to present his plans for 2017. The words will be important but the glamour of the past will be gone.

The legislative process in Albany has also changed dramatically. Back in the early 1960s, members thought that having microphones at each desk was revolutionary. There was one catch to that reform, as the Speaker could turn your microphone off if you were on his bad list. This was followed by the installation of an electronic board showing how each member was voting.

Fast forward to 2017. There are no longer piles of bills on a member’s desk. Instead there is an iPad where, if you have good eyesight, you can read the legislation that is being debated. Members cannot cast a vote and disappear as the system prevents that from happening. As far as historic debates, there are few if any on the floor of either house.

To the credit of the current leadership in today’s Albany, laws are made and the needs of the public are recognized. Unlike Congress, there are on-time budgets and agreements on difficult issues. But somehow the charm and the nostalgia of the past have disappeared, never to appear again in that fabled city. Maybe that’s the way it should be, or maybe not.



The Burdens Facing President Trump

The Burdens Facing President Trump

On Jan. 5, 1966 I walked into a tiny Albany office in the state capitol, ready to take on the responsibility of being an elected member of the state Assembly.

Having had six years of experience in local government I felt that I could take on the responsibility of representing the 175,000 people who lived on the South Shore of Long Island, but I had my share of uneasiness.

I knew that state legislators made laws as I had seen many of them during my local service.

But there was no handbook or one-month preparatory class for newly elected officials.

Shortly after my arrival in Albany I was summoned to the Assembly chamber to take part in the seat selection process.

I didn’t expect to be seated in the first few rows of the chamber as they were reserved for the more senior members.

And as luck would have it, I was assigned a seat in the last row.

I confess that during those early days, I was in awe seeing state government, not as an outside observer, but as a member of a body that had the power to change people’s lives, hopefully for the better.

During that period of time Albany had its celebrities such as Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, surrounded by advisors such as Henry Kissinger.

These are a few observations illustrating the experience of a political neophyte.

I am contrasting this short history of my earliest days in politics, with the President-elect Donald J. Trump and what thoughts may or may not be going through his mind.

Mr. Trump is the son of a wealthy father. He always had the best of everything from military school to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

I was a first-generation office holder whose father toiled as a milkman and a grocery store owner.

Trump has had a charmed existence never wanting for anything and always able to get out of his business headaches either through bankruptcy or the use of other peoples’ money.

But no matter who you are in life, becoming an elected official, especially President of the United States and the voice of 300 million people, has to be a mind blowing experience.

Over the years we have known Donald Trump to be brash businessman, a great marketer and the creator of a successful brand.

But I am hopeful that on the first day that he walks into the fabled Oval Office, he takes a very deep breath and is in awe of what it’s like to be this country’s leader.

Running a real estate empire, building golf courses and condominiums, is not considered basic training to be a president.

In the private sector you can snap your fingers and everyone stands at attention. You can hire and fire with no real consequences as the world is not watching you.

The two-plus months leading up to the inauguration have been a circus sideshow.

Tweets on a cell phone attract attention and get some people nervous and upset.

But when you speak from the nation’s capital, words have a lot more meaning and the wrong words can lead to a national crisis.

You can brush aside the controversy of hacking by Russian President Putin, but once in office you can’t ignore a Russian invasion of a NATO ally.

Mr. Putin is not Mr. Rogers, and sooner or later he will turn your neighborhood upside down.

As a state legislator the only people who follow you around are your loyal staffers.

As President of the United States, you are followed by a soldier a suitcase that can start a nuclear war, with more consequences than a silly tweet.

The voters who supported Donald Trump may have chosen him because they viewed him as a person who didn’t believe in being politically correct.

But once you sit in the seat of power you have to be a lot more politically correct and a lot more measured in your words.

In the weeks and months ahead, the caring people of this country are hoping that the new president takes on the job with the seriousness that it deserves.

That he conducts himself in a manner  to be worthy of sitting in the Oval office.  And that someday some youngster says that a President Trump inspired him or her to seek high office.

That’s the burden a new president must bear and we all pray he will do it well for our sake.