Justice doesn’t ‘happen’: Cuomo’s Martin Luther King speech, 2013

Cuomo at Sharpton's MLK event in Harlem. (Azi Paybarah)
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At a Martin Luther King Day event at the Harlem headquarters of his National Action Network, Al Sharpton hailed Governor Andrew Cuomo's passage of stricter gun control laws in Albany as "a model for governors and states all over this country."

Cuomo appeared at Sharpton's annual event this morning for the first time as governor, and got a standing ovation from the mostly black audience.

"We passed new gun laws on Dr. King Day," Cuomo said.

"It was Auroa, Colorado. It was Newtown, Connecticut. It was Webster, New York," Cuomo said, his volume steadily rising. "It was one after another after another, all making the same point, the gun violence is taking too many young, innocent lives."

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The events, Cuomo said, showed "it is time to act and that is government's responsibility, to stand up and do something that protects the people in society and not tell it why it can't be done but figure out how to get it done."

At this point the crowd was standing and applauding.

Cuomo, whose coming-out event as a New York political candidate nearly 12 years ago positioned him alongside Martin Luther King III as the inheritor of a civil-rights tradition, talked at Sharpton's headquarters of having studied King's teachings for a King Day speech in the past.

"Dr. King's justice was a sense of racial justice, economic justice and social justice," Cuomo said. "It spoke to the compact among people. A sense of racial justice that would be offended even today because the truth is racial discrimination is still alive and well. It may not be as blatant, it may not be as obvious, but there is discrimination in employment, in lending and in housing, and we have to fight it every day."

Cuomo said one of King's lessons was that "This is an activist struggle. Justice doesn't happen. You have to make it happen."

That helped underscore one of Cuomo's greatest strengths as a governor: his ability to get legislation passed in Albany, often before other governors.

The speech comes amid a general shift in emphasis toward the liberal elements of the governor's agenda.

Over his first two years as governor, Cuomo positioned himself as a staunch pragmatist, often using his party and the progressive interests that support it as a foil, pushing a less generous pension plan for future public employees, shying away from Barack Obama when things were looking rough for the president and actively working against the Democrats seeking to take over the State Senate.

But earlier this month, Cuomo gave a fiery State of the State speech that put liberal issues front and center: raising the state's minimum wage, tightening gun control laws, passing wage protection and abortion rights bills for women.

In a Siena poll released earlier this week, Cuomo had a 71 percent approval rating among all voters. Among black voters, it was 83 percent.