I was born in New York City. I can remember riding double-decker buses on top for a nickel, and when the Third Avenue subway through Yorkville was an elevated train.
I had my first real job in New York (Wall Street), I worked in my first political campaign in New York, Ed Koch’s first (unsuccessful) run for Mayor. I went to Medical School in New York, I have been on the ballot in New York. I met my wife in New York.
I now live in Vermont, and I have been here for 31 years. Twelve of those years I served as Governor, but my more vehement political opponents always called me a New Yorker when they were particularly frustrated with some of my deeds.
When I was a medical student at Albert Einstein I worked in the public hospital system in the Bronx. Seeing a nine year old a with gun shot wounds in the Emergency Room sharpened my sense of social justice. Long lines of people waiting in the ER because they had no where else they could go for medical help formed my core belief that our healthcare system needs real reform, not a re-shuffling of the status quo for political reasons. Going on Ambulance calls in the South Bronx made me respect the efforts of the poor and of immigrants. We would weave in and out of the pillars supporting the El with sirens blaring and climb the dingy dangerous stairs of a tenement house to find families in distress in neat, well-kept (although frayed) apartments.
I learned the code of the streets, being stopped in bad neighborhoods by toughs demanding money, only to have one of them step from the shadows and defend me.
Tom Manton of Queens, who was the leader of the last political machine in America outside Chicago, showed me the secret to his success. He was inclusive of every new group of people who moved into his borough, the melting pot of melting pots in America. It wasn’t enough to have (by invitation) African Americans, Hispanics, Jews, and Asian Americans. He had two or three kinds of everything: Orthodox, Hasidic and Reform Jews; Caribbeans, Brazilians and Americans; Dominican, Colombian and Puerto Ricans; Muslims, Catholics, Protestants and Buddhists; Korean, Indian and Chinese Americans. Everyone was heard, but in the end, they pulled together as one team. His example informed my belief that the Democratic Party had to end the hangover of interest group politics left over from the sixties and seventies, and that showing up everywhere and talking to people everywhere is a sign of respect.
Frank Sinatra had it right. It’s a heck of a town.
Howard Dean was formerly the Chairman of the Democratic Party. The former Governor is also the author of Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform.
This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.