New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has begun 2019 and his third term with an inaugural address on Ellis Island, promising the most progressive agenda in state history.
The Democrat spoke Tuesday evening on the New York side of the island.
Ellis Island was the nation’s busiest immigration station for decades, welcoming millions of immigrants from around the world.
Cuomo called it an “enduring symbol” of America’s core values of hope and opportunity.
The speech’s location is likely to encourage speculation that Cuomo may run for president, though the 61-year-old has said he has ruled out the idea.
Cuomo won re-election last fall, and, as he promised in a speech a few weeks ago outlining his agenda for 2019, said he would push for progressive legislation, such as legalizing recreational marijuana, codifying Roe v. Wade, and voting reform.
But mostly, Cuomo stuck with his message which he used on the campaign trail. "The rights and dignity of everyday people are being trampled by the most powerful amongst us,” Cuomo said. “We see powerful corporations who think they are above the law. We see profiteers and politicians risking the hard earned security of working people in the pursuit of greater wealth and power. And too often we feel powerless to respond. But today my friends...we take that power back."
Noticeably absent at the speech were the state’s other top two Democrats who would have significant say over any progressive legislation: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and incoming State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Cuomo’s team downplayed their absence, but a spokesperson for Heastie took a shot at the governor during his speech:
Letitia James, the state attorney general and the first black woman to hold statewide office in New York history, spoke before Cuomo and vowed that those who feel powerless are taking power back this year.
James, who campaigned on a platform of being a legal check on President Donald Trump, didn’t mention Trump by name but referenced her intent to close the so-called pardon loophole. Some have called for a new law to allow the state attorney general to prosecute those who've committed crimes in New York state, even if they've received a presidential pardon for federal charges.
James, who often campaigned as an advocate for struggling New Yorkers, also promised to protect LGBTQ rights, the reproductive rights of women, and said she will pursue criminal justice reform.
Her predecessor, 74-year-old Barbara Underwood, was appointed in May when Eric Schneiderman resigned amid allegations he physically and emotionally abused women. Schneiderman later apologized to his accusers; a special prosecutor declined to bring criminal charges.
Underwood did not seek election and is returning to her former position as the state’s solicitor general.
James, a longtime New York City politician, says she’ll host a series of informal meet and greets across the state. She defeated Republican lawyer Keith Wofford in November.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.