My awakening occurred in December 1993. I was asked if I could arrange for then-Governor of New York Mario Cuomo to officiate at the opening of a mental health housing program developed by Fountain House, the social-vocational clubhouse on the westside of Manhattan. I was asked because I had been successful in getting New York City Mayor David Dinkins to officially open a similar housing project in 1991.
No New York State Governor had visited Fountain House since Governor Hugh Carey dedicated the main clubhouse building nearly twenty years before.
Arrangements were made for Governor Cuomo to tour the new housing facility and had come for a far more important reason. He had been convinced that Fountain House would be the perfect community-based mental health site for him to sign the New York State Community Mental Health Reinvestment Act. This law had taken years of thoughtful and careful crafting by a bipartisan coalition of public officials. Its purpose was to reinvest monies saved by the closing and downsizing of New York State psychiatric centers (state hospitals) into community-based programs.
My awakening happened when the Governor addressed the standing room only audience of Fountain House members, staff, and friends. The Governor said, "While this act is an illustration of a good and compassionate government at work, it is not good politics."
Candidly, the Governor said he knew his decision to enact this landmark mental health legislation was the right thing to do, but he knew it would win him no large block of votes, and it would probably cost him votes from other opposing constituencies.
When Cuomo told his audience at Fountain House that they were in fact not a constituency of consequence, I heard his stunning admonition loud and clear. I vowed then and there never again to allow any public official to ever say similar things about mental health consumers in my presence and be absolutely correct in making the statement.
This was my awakening, and the prelude to establishing the Voter Empowerment here in New York and across the country.