- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2000

Andrew Cuomo made a surprising and cynical move in New York that may tell us a lot about how Hillary Clin-
ton's campaign for the Senate could unfold. Mr. Cuomo, secretary of housing and urban development, seized control of New York City's federal homeless funds, taking them away from Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton's likely opponent in next year's Senate race.
Until this move, Mr. Cuomo, son of Mario and married to a Kennedy, had been considered a mainstream and moderate candidate of the future, for governor or senator. Now the moderate image is gone. In what The Washington Post called "an unprecedented move," he has politicized HUD by taking $60 million in homeless funds away from the city and the mayor who have probably done the most to deal with the chaos and disorder of addicts, alcoholics and former mental patients living on the streets and in public places.
Mr. Cuomo made little effort to disguise what he was doing. He made the announcement at a forum attended only by Democrats. He put in a good word for Hillary's campaign as he did it. And in taking the money from the mayor, he said, "We cannot allow federal funds to be politicized." This had to be a jokey comment aimed at reporters who understood that it meant the opposite: that the power of the federal government was being put behind the Hillary campaign in New York, and Mr. Cuomo didn't feel he even had to hide that fact.
The political advantage for Mr. Cuomo is obvious enough. He brings himself closer to two jobs he is rumored to want: chief of staff in a Gore administration and Democratic Senate candidate if Hillary drops out. Whether or not anybody believes Mr. Cuomo was acting nonpolitically, $60 million is a lot of patronage to hand out to job-starved New York troops in an election year.
Mr. Cuomo's excuse for intervening was that a federal judge had overruled Mayor Giuliani's tactic to avoid funding a rabidly anti-Giuliani radical group that deals with the homeless. The judge ruled the mayor had violated the group's free speech by punishing it for criticizing him.
But Mr. Giuliani has good reasons for not wanting to fund the radical group, Housing Works. The group lost or stole $500,000 in city funds. In addition, the group is devoted to obnoxious guerrilla tactics left over from the early '90s. It invades offices, blocks bridges and tunnels, and breaks up press conferences and social events. After the Housing Works loonies crashed into her office with a TV crew, screaming that she was an "AIDS criminal," former Deputy Mayor Fran Reiter made a sensible comment. If Housing Works wants to be involved in policy-making, she said, it might want to try some civilized behavior.
Though it scurries to court on First Amendment grounds when it is in trouble, Housing Works clearly has little use for normal politics and legal niceties. It uses intimidation, harassment and threats to get what it wants. It would very likely consider almost any tactic to bring Mr. Giuliani down. In the New York area, the federal judiciary tends to be very liberal, so it's no surprise that the judge in this case converted the Housing Works case into a First Amendment issue. But the basic question has nothing to so with free speech. It's this: Should a group that routinely breaks the law and debases our politics be rewarded with a government grant?
Here's another question: Should a mayor be required to fund a group determined to undermine his policies on the homeless? Mr. Giuliani insists that able-bodied homeless people should help themselves. He wants residents of city shelters who can work in exchange for benefits to do so. Housing Works is just the most extreme of the homeless advocates who see vagrants and street addicts as victims of society who are entitled to remain on the streets.
These advocates, now joined by Hillary Clinton, defend the poverty politics of the past and talk of reform as "criminalizing homelessness." As City Journal writer Heather Mac Donald wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "The advocates and Mrs. Clinton need the homeless on the streets locked in their addictions and madness to serve as symbols of society's heartlessness and the need for greater welfare spending."
Andrew Cuomo's move in New York aligns him with the die-hard groups resisting reform. It may be an indicator that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats think they can win by moving left and reviving the discredited poverty politics that seemed to be behind us.

John Leo is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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