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  • Joseph Dolman

Cuomo's question: Is it wrong to be rich?

Andrew Cuomo isn't finished heckling Bill de Blasio.

At a Midtown labor rally to raise the state's minimum wage for fast-food workers, the governor last week trashed the mayor's favorite phrase -- income inequality -- and reminded his audience of a crucial principle that for centuries has made New York a global destination for the insanely rich and the achingly poor alike.

"I don't use those words, income inequality, because we never said we're all going to have equal income," Cuomo told sign-waving members of the New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council. "It's not about income inequality. it's not about disliking rich people" ... it's about "‘fairness for all, opportunity for all, mobility for all."

Okay, so Cuomo recently began a New York Times oped piece using the term income inequality. Never mind. The point he made at the rally last week -- saying we shouldn't demonize the rich as we urge help for the poor -- is overdue.

With their talk about "economic justice," de Blasio and his fellow progressives are trying to turn the old Democratic language of upward mobility into a new politics of resentment.

Adequate housing, decent health care and an education system that really works are essential civic goals that New Yorkers have acknowledged since the mayoralty of Fiorello LaGuardia began in the 1930s. It's simplistic to the point of stupidity to blame our current shortcomings in these areas on Wall Street's profligacy or on the city's greedy one-percenters.

Here's the truth: The super-wealthy one percent of our population account for almost half of NYC's municipal income tax revenue each year. Their donations help sustain Central Park and Prospect Park and countless other civic gems that people of all incomes enjoy. They support museums and other cultural amenities that help draw around 54 million tourists to the city annually, boosting an economy that provides thousands of jobs to unskilled workers.

As de Blasio correctly points out, nearly 50 percent of NYC residents live at or near the poverty line, a problem the city must address more effectively -- not by providing "economic justice" but by making sure our basic services encourage upward mobility.

The city's foreign-born population is around 37 percent now, a figure that grew by 7 percent between 2000 and 2011 alone. Most of these newcomers are not billionaire Russian oligarchs pricing the locals out of their Manhattan perches. They are immigrants who settled in the city because they reckoned New York offered them a better shot at economic success than wherever they lived before.

Fast-food workers need better pay. Public housing must be rescued. The city's affordable housing stock for middle-class residents is due a dramatic expansion. Our public health care system begs for modernization. Public education demands an overhaul.

But the politics of resentment isn't going to solve these problems.

Hate the rich? I don't think most New Yorkers do. Much of the city's population came here specifically to get rich. De Blasio should make that task easier for them. He shouldn't be egging on prejudices and distrust among us.

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