The announcement came at a December 1, town hall-style meeting at the First A.M.E. Zion Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant organized by Assemblywoman Annette M. Robinson.
Hundreds of Brooklyn residents packed into the church for the event, billed by the governor’s office as a conversation with community residents.
Though the Brooklyn-born governor received a warm welcome- Councilman Al Vann called Paterson the prodigal son of Brooklyn- no one planned to let him off too easy. Concerned primarily with budget issues, including affordable housing and cuts to educational programs, Councilwoman Letitia James spoke for the crowd when she called the meeting a “day of reckoning.”
James asked the governor not to “balance the budget on the backs of Brooklyn.”
Paterson came prepared. He reassured officials and residents that although times are tough, New York is in fact in a better position than it might otherwise be.
“Right now, the deficit that states [around the country] have run up is twice the amount of money that we’re receiving in stimulus money,” Paterson said. “So as people criticize the stimulus program, what they don’t understand is that without it the problem would be twice as bad.”
He said he remains positive about the future, so as long as New York continues to make tough decisions rather than resorting to the extreme cuts other states have been made.
Some 26 states have cut all early childhood education and pre-K programs, he said. Nine have started releasing prisoners early because they can’t afford to continue holding them. “New York is trying to come out of the recession and move into the recovery phase,” he said. These decisions “are going to be painful, but they will keep us out of crisis.”
“I am not trying to minimize the gravity of what we’re doing,” he continued. “This is a very difficult time for me because the actions that we take run counterintuitive for everything I’ve stood for, and everything I’ve done.”
While questions from the audience ranged over a variety of topics, many were focused on the lack of affordable housing plaguing Brooklyn neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy.
Paterson was sympathetic, but offered no quick fix.
He noted that his administration has spent $300 million on affordable housing programs. However, “in this last budget period, which was the worst budget period the state has ever faced, we were not able to add to it,” Paterson said. “We don’t have the money.”
Nonetheless he said affordable housing remains a priority.
Paterson ended the meeting with several audience questions unanswered. Rowdy complaints filled the church as the governor prepared for a return trip to Albany and challenging reelection campaign.
“Those of you who want to ask your question,” said Paterson, “I guess you’ll have to invite me back.”