Mayor de Blasio
The mayor’s speech today at Cooper Union marking his 100 days in office.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you everyone for being here. I want to particularly thank Jennifer Jones Austin for her extraordinary introduction, but more importantly for her extraordinary work in helping us to build this administration and to make the changes we’re making in this city. We owe her a debt of gratitude for having played such an important leadership role in our transition. Let’s thank her.
And let’s thank Katherine Ponce de Leon for leading us so beautifully in the pledge of allegiance.
I thank all the elected officials, all the commissioners and city officials, all friends who are with us this today for joining us as we mark this occasion. But I especially have to thank my partner in all I do, the person who I think with and dream with and the person who has been with me every step of the way, the first lady of the City of New York, my wife Chirlane McCray.
We have a lot to celebrate. We have a lot to be thankful for, but our hearts are still very heavy today. Yesterday we lost a good man. We lost New York City Police Officer Dennis Guerra. And I want you to understand what this means in human terms – a married father of four, just 38 years old, a hero, a man who walked into danger to try and save others, and saw it as his duty and his responsibility. We lost someone who exemplified all that’s good about New York City, and my heart goes out to his family. We feel their loss with them. And I ask you to keep them in your prayers, and I also ask you to keep in your prayers Police Officer Rosa Rodriguez, who’s still in critical condition, still fighting for her life. Remember her and her family. She too is a hero. And she needs our prayers and support in this moment.
And they represent the most selfless and noble traditions of this city. And let us have a moment of silence for Office Guerra.
I want to take a moment to thank everyone at the Cooper Union, this extraordinary New York treasure. I want to thank President Bharucha for his leadership, and I want to thank the faculty, all the workers here at Cooper Union and all of the students who make this place one of the great institutions of this city.
It is a particular honor to be here because this stage is renowned for over a century and a half for being one of the places that New Yorkers come together to think, to talk, to dream. And it’s part of a – an institution that’s always had the highest academic standards but has always believed in inclusion. It’s believed that everyone deserves an opportunity for the extraordinary education afforded here.
You heard from the president, this is a stage where scientists and artists and presidents and mayors have spoken. And they’ve spoken to passionate souls and curious minds over the generations – people seeking truth and people trying to make sense of the times they live in and where we go from here.
So we find ourselves in a perfect setting to discuss all that our city is and all that we’re capable of when we’re at our very best.
One of the most distinguished individuals to ever grace this stage, Abraham Lincoln, said right here at Cooper Union, “Let us have faith that right makes might.”
And that is the spirit we bring to this endeavor.
When this Administration was sworn into office 100 days ago, there were certainly some who didn’t know what to make of us – not just of me, but of all of you, of all the people who helped to get us here.
So let me take a moment to tell you what we’re all about.
This administration is a product of movement politics.
But the movement we’re a part of doesn’t define the boundaries of its ranks through exclusivity.
Rather, it’s a movement of people who share a vision – people in every borough, of every background, and every income bracket, who believe in our city’s progressive traditions.
In the last 100 days, we’ve been inspired by the support of so many New Yorkers – working parents and retirees, schoolteachers and business leaders.
And what we all share is a vision of a progressive city: a city that is run with the highest standards of effectiveness and professionalism, a city that respects everyone’s dignity, a city that honors our proud tradition of inclusion and equality.
We welcome every New Yorker in this endeavor because we believe that we are at our best when everyone gets a shot at fulfilling their dreams.
Some people weren’t quite sure what to make of our progressive agenda to reduce inequality and restore opportunity. But now they’re starting to see.
Because politics of the sort that we believe in doesn’t measure success by poll numbers, but by action.
We believe in grassroots, people-powered government.
We judge – thank you.
We judge success on results – on making a difference in the lives of real people in every neighborhood, in all five boroughs.
Now the vision we are advancing isn’t new to our city – progressiveness, opportunity, inclusion, justice – these values are coded in New York’s DNA.
New York has always been the center of progressive America. This is the city where courageous workers were pioneers in the union movement; where the NAACP was formed and where the Stonewall protests launched the LGBT rights movement; the city of the Statue of Liberty, the ultimate symbol of open doors and unmatched opportunity for people from every corner of the globe.
We weren’t sent to City Hall to change New York’s character. You sent us here to restore New York’s proud legacy as the progressive city.
You sent us here to keep the sacred promise of our city that everyone has a place, that everyone gets a voice.
No nos enviaron a la Alcaldía para cambiar el carácter de Nueva York; ustedes nos trajeron aquí para restaurar el orgulloso legado de Nueva York como la ciudad progresista.
Y para preservar la sagrada promesa de que en Nueva York hay lugar para todos y que todos tenemos voz.
Our inequality crisis – the Tale of Two Cities that we’ve been living for years and years threatens who we are, and it threatens what kind of city we will be.
Restoring a progressive New York, that is our vision and it’s what’s driven the steps we take, and it’s what drives the steps we will take ahead, together.
But I can tell you, in the first 100 days, we’ve already great strides. And I want to thank everyone in this room who’s been a part of it. You know I had an opportunity during the Inner Circle show that the media puts on each year – I had the opportunity to portray one of the great New Yorkers of TV history, Ralph Kramden, played by Jackie Gleason.
And if he were standing here – if Ralph Kramden were standing here, he would say at this moment how sweet it is.
In a progressive city, the government must perform at the highest level of effectiveness and professionalism. It’s how we keep faith with the people. It’s how we show them that we mean to honor their trust. And it sounds simple, but I assure you it’s not.
It begins with finding the finest, most talented individuals to serve others – no matter what sacrifice it means for them. People who give of themselves to this city – a lot of them are here – the leaders of our city agencies, people who work to make this place run and are working to make it better. Please give them a round of Applause to thank all of them.
Many people told me in the months before I became mayor that it would be hard to find good talent, let alone great talent. But get to know our deputy mayors and the heads of our agencies and all the people who are making this project, this plan come together, who have made these 100 days happen. And it will make you additionally proud to be a New Yorker.
Now if New Yorkers can’t be confident that their city will provide basic services, then all of the other things we’re doing – all of the rest of our vision for a progressive city will mean very little.
Keeping New Yorkers safe and providing the vital services that New Yorkers need was, is, and will always be job one.
We’ve never lost sight of this first job – no matter how many challenges we’ve faced.
Yes, we did not expect one of the snowiest winters in the city’s recorded history. The statistics actually go back literally to the time that Abraham Lincoln stood on this stage.
And we got the snowiest January and February ever. So learn by doing on the job. But I’ll tell you, our sanitation workers and all the city agencies involved did a remarkable job of keeping this city clear.
And then one morning, with no warning whatsoever, we had the tragedy in East Harlem. One moment life was normal, the next moment everything was in shambles for so many families. And our first responders performed extraordinarily. I want to thank them all, particularly our firefighters, who did so much to save people.
And the East Harlem community came together, one for another, protected each other, consoled each other, supported each other. And New Yorkers, from all over this city, closed ranks to help the people of East Harlem.
And then, as we came into office, we experienced a different kind of challenge and a different kind of tragedy – the growing epidemic of pedestrian deaths. And we saw before our eyes a problem growing every day, threatening the lives of our families and our children. And that’s why we put the Vision Zero plan in place right away, to immediately do better at protecting our people. And I’m proud to say, even though this plan has just begun, even though only the first steps have been taken, that in the first quarter of this year, we have – compared, I should say, to the first quarter of last year – the number of traffic deaths is down 26 percent
And when it comes to public safety in general, Commissioner Bratton and the men and women of the NYPD are doing extraordinary things every day, and they’re doing it while building a stronger relationship between the police and all of our communities. They’re keeping crime low while healing the relationship and bringing communities and police closer together. And that is something we should all be thankful for.
Again comparing the first quarter of this year to the first quarter of last year, murders are down 9.5 percent, shootings are down 3.4 percent, robberies are down 7.2 percent. And overall, crime is down. All of this done by the extraordinary men and women we depend on every day. And they have continued, but it’s really – it’s something that we have to take stock of at all times. They continue to keep us safe, and they’re working every day to build a deeper partnership between police and community.
And then we have to make sure that government balanced its books. And we have to be honest with the people of this city about the challenges that came with that. So we produced a preliminary budget that was fiscally responsible, transparent and progressive to keep this city on a solid footing so we could do all of the things we plan to do in the future.
And finally, to take stock of the day-to-day work of government, that foundation we have to lay each and every day so we can build towards a better city, I’d say nothing typifies the mundane work of government better than filling potholes.
You can tell the difference when the potholes has been filled and when it hasn’t been. Well, our Department of Transportation crews – let me give you something that’s really extraordinary. Last year the Department of Transportation crews, in the first quarter, filled 115,000 potholes. This year they have filled nearly 289,000 potholes.
That’s something to be proud of.
So the kind of governmental excellence I’m talking about is critical to restoring New York as the progressive city, but it is by no means enough.
In a progressive city, we’re honest, we recognize that growing inequality is the crisis of our times, and it contradicts everything we know is good about this city.
Throughout our history, New York has been the global center of opportunity and progress, commerce and culture. Our tiny geographic confines have produced countless leaders and innovators from finance to theater to education. This has been a place where drive, creativity and above all hard work have been rewarded. Work was always rewarded.
But now we have to fight to keep it that way. Because now, for so many people in New York – for so many good, hardworking people – even the basics have become a struggle. The things we think people should be able to wake up and depend on every day, the things we think should be a given – a decent place to live, the income to support a family, a better future for your children. In today’s New York people are struggling just to achieve those basics. And it’s our responsibility to lift them up, to help make sure that each and every New Yorker can have those guarantees again.
We have to remember that the best and the brightest are born in every neighborhood, in every zip code.
And what marks a just society is that it allows them all to reach their potential.
But we’re not there now. And if we can’t get there again, we risk losing so much of what makes New York New York.
So let’s talk about the things we need to do.
In a progressive city, there’s equal educational opportunity for every child. Every child.
When we embarked on our efforts, we said that the things we were going to do, the changes we were going to make wouldn’t just be in one neighborhood or another. It wouldn’t just be a pilot program. Our goal was to create something universal, because the problems were so deep. We couldn’t just help the few, we had to reach across the spectrum. We had to reach everyone. And I’ll tell you when we do that, when we make that kind of investment – when it’s something across the whole city, across the whole society, people can feel that it represents our values and our priorities. And you know who feels it the most? Our children. Our children know when they’re being invested in. They know when we think they really are our future, because we invest in them.
And so we acted on that vision. And in these last weeks, we secured the most state funding for pre-K in the history of New York State for the City of New York.
When I say we, I mean everyone in this room, because you made the difference. Now, starting this September, tens of thousands more New York children will have full-day pre-K – tens of thousands more.
And there are cynics out there trying to convince us sometimes that the things we see before our very eyes aren’t true. But let me remind them of the research, because the jury is back and the research is clear – pre-K is one of the best things we can do to launch kids on a successful educational career, and a successful life ahead.
Studies have shown time and again that children who get full-day, high quality pre-K – exactly the kind we will produce – that they’re better prepared to begin school than those that don’t have it. They have better vocabularies and math skills. They are less likely to become delinquent later in life. They are more likely to become employed consistently later in life.
Those are the studies, that’s the academic research. Let me tell you about something I saw just a few days ago. I was reading a noted work of literature, “The Very Hunger Caterpillar´–
[Laughter] – to a pre-K class. Luckily I had read it many, many times before to Dante and Chiara. I was ready for all the plot twists. I was reading it to a pre-K class at P.S. 239 in Ridgewood, Queens. One of the students hadn’t said much. A lot of them were very engaged, very active, but one 4-year-old boy in the back of the room finally got up the gumption, raised his hand, and he had a word he wanted to share with the rest of the class, one of the vocabulary words they had learned because of reading this book.
So this previously shy 4-year-old boy in Queens raises his hand and I called upon him. And he says, proudly, “Metamorphosis!”
If that’s what pre-K does, I want a lot more pre-K.
And on top of that, thousands of students will have access to after-school programs they never had before. Our goal is to make sure that every middle school student in this city has free, available after school so they’ll be safe, they’ll be learning –
And so their parents can go to work with a little less worry.
I recently visited an afterschool program at MS 331 in the Morris Heights neighborhood of the Bronx. There they go – Bronx is in the house.
I went with Chancellor Fariña and we were both entranced by what we saw.
It is a wonderful program – offered everything from homework help to arts and culture.
And we saw a group of middle school girls and they were doing a dance routine. And they were precise and they were focused and they were energetic and they were helping each other. They were critiquing each other. They were working to get better with every attempt. And I started talking to them and they talked about each other and how one had been shy until they got into the after-school program, how one didn’t participate in class until they got into the after-school program. One of them said she didn’t do her homework as much until she got into the after-school program.
These were children full of energy and life and purpose and hope, and they were safe. And they were getting better every day. And that is what after school is about.
There’s a lot to do in a progressive city. And in that kind of city, aggressive crime fighting and honoring the dignity of all New Yorkers, they aren’t mutually exclusive ideas. They are ideas that go hand-in-hand.
We’ve begun a new era in the relationship between the NYPD and the communities it serves.
And I want to give you one example of just how much has changed, just how much we have all traveled a path together in the last two years.
A few years ago, a young man named Nicolas Peart, a young man from Harlem, wrote an op-ed – a very powerful op-ed – in the New York Times that described that despite trying to do everything right – going to school, and pursuing his dreams and abiding by the law – he had already been stopped and frisked five times. And it had taken a toll on him. But instead of going into his shell, he decided to take action. Nicolas joined with others, filed a civil rights lawsuit. One of the lawsuits, I’m proud to say, we recently settled.
And here’s the reality. He’s a good young man. He’s the kind of young man we want building the future of this city. But he was being discounted. He was being treated as part of the problem. In fact, all along, he was part of the solution. And he responded to the injustice that he experienced with maturity, with intelligence, with tenacity. He worked through the system and he showed that the system could work. So, in a progressive city, we celebrate a young man that was once shunned, and now we can look to as an example to us all.
Just this week, I got to see more of the change happening, when I addressed a new class of NYPD cadets. And it was really an inspiration to see them. Young men and women of every background, from every corner of the city. They worked so hard to get to the academy. They believed in this city. They believed in public service. They want to help others. And now, they’re receiving a different kind of training – training that focuses on building partnerships, building faith and trust between police and community – for the good of all, and for the safety of all. And they embraced that vision. And they are part of New York’s bright future.
Now, in the progressive city, we make sure that people are safe in many ways. We make sure they’re safe from economic dislocation. We make sure that something as simple as an illness doesn’t mean lost wages or lost jobs. And that’s why, just in these last weeks, I signed legislation that increased and extended paid sick leave coverage for over half a million more New Yorkers.
We’re going to honor family. We’re going to honor work. We have to give people a chance to make it. We have to give them some stability. We have to be there for them when the chips are down. Paid sick leave is one of those simple but fundamental things we do to help people weather the storms of their lives, to help them be there for their children when their children are sick, and know that they won’t lose that crucial day’s pay, or two days’ pay, or a week’s pay, that so few New Yorkers can afford to lose.
And by the way, for years and years, despite the hard work of so many people in this city, we couldn’t even get a vote on this legislation. But now it is the law of New York City, and we are proud of that fact.
By the way, paid sick leave doesn’t just protect working people, it also helps to build great companies. More and more, I’m talking to business owners around this city who recognize and embrace the notion that a healthier work force is good for everyone, that a work force that’s respected and taken care of is good for everyone. They understand that that builds loyalty, that builds productivity, that builds longevity and jobs.
And I’ll tell you, we signed the legislation at an amazing company, Steve’s Ice Cream in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The owner of the company, David Stein, explained to all of us that he believed in creating a quality product. To do that, he needed quality workers. He needed committed workers. He needed workers who felt that the company was something special to them, and the work they did was special to them. So, he believes in paid sick leave because he wants his workers to know they’re invested in, too. And I can tell you. It was inspiring. And I felt it was only the right thing to do to do a taste test to affirm his philosophy, and it is true that the devotion of his workers has created a fabulous ice cream.
[Laughter & applause]
And in a progressive city, we do everything we can to make sure that people can afford to live in and stay in the neighborhoods they love. That’s part of what makes New York what it is. A mix of all of us. A place for everyone. So, we’ve begun on the road of fulfilling our commitment to creating 200,000 units of affordable housing that this city desperately needs.
Let me put that in human terms. That will be enough housing for between 400,000 and 500,000 New Yorkers. Now, at the same time, we’ll be creating jobs. And we’ll be focused on making sure those construction jobs as we create that housing, the maintenance jobs as we create that housing – that as many of them as possible will go to residents of the communities in which the housing is built. We have to create opportunity for them.
And as many, many people asked me out on the campaign trail last year, what does affordable mean? One of the questions I got most often from – you know, New Yorkers are shy and retiring. They rarely tell you what they’re really feeling. A lot of people wanted to know that. So, we believe in affordable housing that reaches through the whole income spectrum. Folks who make the least, up through folks we would consider working class, and middle class. We need everyone to have an opportunity.
And so we’ve looked, from the beginning, for every chance to do more, to say to the real estate industry: We’ll work with you, but the public must get its fair share. We looked at the Domino Sugar plan in Brooklyn. We said, we think we can get more. And so, as a result of tough but fair negotiations, there will now be 110,000 square feet more of affordable housing in that project.
All together, over 700 units of permanent affordable housing – 32 percent of the total units in that project – will be affordable.
We looked at the Hudson Yards Development – a very important part of the future of this city. We said we have to make sure it creates more opportunity for people. 1600 jobs in that development were not slated to pay living-wage wages. But we felt it was important for working people to get enough money to actually feed a family, to actually take care of themselves. And now, based on tough but fair negotiations, those 1,600 jobs will pay a living wage.
In East New York, we recently broke ground just a few days ago on an amazing affordable housing development called Livonia Commons. It’s a multi-stage project that will create 278 units of affordable housing. And to the great credit to everyone involved, there was a commitment to hiring locally, to working with community organizations in East New York, to make sure the people who often haven’t gotten opportunity would finally get it, creating the housing that their own community would benefit from. That is the direction that we will take our plans in the future. That is the direction we believe in for creating a more fair city.
So, you’ve heard me talk about some of the steps we’ve taken and why we’ve taken them. Now I’d like to just take a moment, for you to hear from some New Yorkers who have seen this vision of a progressive city at work, and it will tell you what it means for their lives.
Some of these eloquent New Yorkers are here today. Let’s thank them. Kassim Hinds. Bishop Eric Garnes. Juan Carlos Rivera. And Elizabeth Caquias. And their stories are just a few powerful examples of what real change means. And there’s much more to come.
We’ve made our beginning these last 100 days. And Plato wrote, “The beginning is the most important part of any work for that is the time at which the character is being formed.” And so that statement epitomizes our feelings about these 100 days. The themes, the ideas that we focused on – of government effectiveness, equality, and inclusion are the same ones that will guide all of our work in the months and years ahead, taking on some of the biggest challenges we face.
Let’s talk for a moment about education. Our goals, our beliefs, our mission is to reach every child. It begins with investments like full-day pre-K for all and after-school programs for every middle school student. Those are structural changes. Those are foundations we lay for much bigger changes. And, again, they’re universal in nature, because we’re not going to fix something that’s broken with half measures and small steps.
A few weeks ago I spoke at Riverside Church. I laid out a vision for improving neighborhood schools across the city. And one of the most fundamental things I said is we’re not going to allow, any longer, the notion of a school that can’t be fixed or a neighborhood school that parents don’t feel comfortable sending their kids to. That has to be a thing of New York City’s past.
So big changes, like pre-K and after school, not only uplift the children and families who benefit immediately – it starts to uplift our whole school system. Year after year, generation after generation, each year we’re going to see better-prepared, better-supported students with more time in the classroom. And that will lift all boats.
But there’s so much more to do. We have to focus on parents because too often in recent years, parents were treated as bystanders.
Let me say as a New York City public school parent myself, we are not bystanders – we are stakeholders.
And systematically embracing the role of parents in their own children’s education, strategically engaging them, making it easier for them to be part of uplifting their own children, making it easier for them to be part of making their school better – that’s what we set out to do.
And we know that the best way to build on what we’ve already started is to continue to bring in the highest quality teachers. It’s not enough to just recruit them. It’s not enough to sign them up for a year. We have to keep them. And in this area, sadly, the City of New York’s been going backwards in recent years. In 2008, only 15 percent of mid-career teachers resigned. By 2013, five years later, that number had tripled to 43 percent. Devoted, capable teachers leaving the profession or leaving the work of our schools for other school systems – we have to turn that around. We have to attract the best and the brightest, continue to train them and make them better, hold them to high standards, and keep them so our school system can move forward.
And, as every parent knows, wherever we can, whenever we can, particularly at the younger grades, we have to start the work of reducing class size, because that’s so fundamental to improving educational quality.
So we want to focus on the things that are intrinsic – early childhood education, extending the school day through afterschool, involving parents more deeply in the education of their children, recruiting and keeping the best teachers, reducing the size of classes. These are fundamentals. They haven’t always gotten the attention they deserve – they certainly didn’t get the investment they deserve. But this is how you make change.
We’re going to make sure that fewer and fewer children are in trailers because you can’t learn the way in a trailer you can in a classroom.
But I’ll tell you what we won’t do. We won’t continue a misguided policy – a policy that has frustrated parents so deeply, that has taken us on the wrong path, that’s warped our assumptions about what real education is. We’re going to in every way we can, move away from high-stakes testing.
Because it stands to reason that in evaluating a child or any one of us, there’s so much more to it than just a single standardized test. We’re going to look at all the measures, all the things that make up the work of our young people. And I’m very, very proud to say that yesterday, our Department of Education, led by our extraordinary chancellor, Carmen Fariña, took an historic step, formally reducing the reliance on standardized testing for grades three through eight – a great beginning on making a reform that we desperately need.
So as I said at Riverside Church, we will do this work. We will do it together. We will do it at the grassroots. We will do it in an inclusive way. Because we need all our children to succeed. It doesn’t matter if they go a traditional public school, a charter school, a religious school – they all will shape the future of New York. And we will work with all of them to get it right.
Let me talk to you quickly about a few other areas where we have to do things differently. You know, almost half a million New Yorkers live in public housing – almost half a million people who are only asking for fairness. For a long time it seemed mayoral administrations didn’t entirely embrace their responsibilities to the Housing Authority. There was a lot of talk about mayoral control of education – rightfully so. There wasn’t a lot of talk about mayoral responsibility for the Housing Authority. Well those half million people deserve that sense of responsibility and accountability at City Hall.
So we’ve said from the beginning we’re going to do things differently and it begins with repairing people’s homes. It begins with treating them with the dignity and respect to actually make their apartments good and clean and usable for them again. So, we provided the resources that NYCHA had been starved of for so long. Let me give you a little example. Last year, on complex repairs needed in apartments, major plumbing problems, and other things that took very skilled labor, a typical resident waited, on average, 250 days for a repair. Now, this year at the same time, they wait 50 days.
But when it comes to basic repairs, the everyday things that matter a lot in people’s lives – last year, a typical NYCHA resident, on average, waited 150 days for even the most basic repairs. This year, they wait five days.
And I want to thank the leadership at NYCHA and all the hardworking people there for saying we can do better and we will do better. And they’ve proven it’s possible.
We can do even more. Because there’s so much that we can achieve in NYCHA for the good of all. And I’ve talked about the amazing opportunity we have doing energy retrofitting in all of our NYCHA buildings. It will take time, there’s no doubt. But it will make our environment cleaner. It will ultimately pay for itself. And, in the process, we will provide jobs for the people who live in those developments. Now I mentioned, almost half a million New Yorkers live in public housing.
Let me give you another category of almost half a million people. Almost half a million of our fellow New Yorkers are undocumented. But they’re still our fellow New Yorkers.
So this year, this year will provide a new municipal ID so they can live a better life here in our city.
If you can’t sign a lease, if you can’t get a bank account, if you can’t do the basics, if you can’t even prove who you are, it doesn’t feel like you truly belong. It doesn’t feel like you’re respected and embraced. But these half million New Yorkers are building this city alongside all of us every single day, and we will do better by them.
Now let’s talk about yet another area affecting hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. And it begins in Brooklyn, but it’s something we’re feeling all over the city. So many people who are wondering whether there will be healthcare available for them in their community. And they’re wondering it for a good reason – because they’ve watched over the last dozen years over a dozen hospitals close before their very eyes – institutions they thought were sacred and permanent, suddenly gone. Healthcare was farther away, it was less accessible. But people need health care everywhere. They need it equally. They need it fairly. In a growing city, in fact, we need more ability to provide healthcare. So we said we could do it differently. We said could use the tools of government to protect community healthcare facilities – to update them, modernize them, make the finances work differently and better, but still always protect healthcare at the local level, because that’s where people need it – in their neighborhoods.
And look at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn today. Just last week, a deal was reached to keep healthcare on that site, to keep that community served the way it deserved.
And that is just the beginning. As we start with our vision for a Brooklyn Health Authority, and we will build it out across the five boroughs, actually using the tools of city and state government together, working with community residents, listening to their needs, finding a way to make it work, but starting from the assumption that if healthcare is not provided somewhere you can reach it, then healthcare is simply not available to you. And that will not happen in our progressive city.
Finally, a group of so many thousands of our fellow New Yorkers, who’ve experienced something very hard to describe or express, because they experienced the worst natural disaster in the history of this city when Sandy struck. And for so many people that meant literally everything was gone. Their entire home was gone. For so many people, their livelihood was gone.
And let’s be clear – they’ve been waiting a long time. This wait hasn’t given them a lot of faith that government was on their side or help was on the way. And we’ve said we simply won’t stand idly by. So we made a commitment. I said we’re going to take $100 million in federal funding that was going elsewhere and we’re going to put it into rebuilding people’s homes so they can restore their lives again.
We’ve added new leadership. We’ve added new staffing. We’ve said very clearly, up and down the line of city government, this has to get done. And we’ve made a commitment – a very public commitment – that everyone, everyone whose home was destroyed will have their home rebuilt. We owe that to them and we will achieve it.
So let me just talk about the vision we bring forward, by way of closing. Because we have to think about all the things that we need to do and we have to think about what animates to keep this work moving forward. Sometimes you have to break it down to the basics – why do we do this work? Why are we so involved in our communities? Why do we engage the political process?
Someone who spoke so powerfully for a different and better country said it in a way I am really moved by – Robert F. Kennedy. He said, “Everything that makes our lives worthwhile – family, work, education, a place to raise one’s children and a place to rest one’s head – all this depends on the decisions of government. Therefore, our essential humanity can be protected and preserved only where government must answer – not just to the wealthy, not just to those of a particular religion or a particular race, but to all its people.”
That simple concept – that we must answer, we must respond, that it’s our obligation to see clearly what people are experiencing and to do something to make their lives better. That’s what we believe in. And we believe in the kind of politics that empowers people.
We saw it last year. Last year’s election sent a clear message – the people of this city wanted a city government that would work for every single neighborhood. And we said we would give them that. And in these 100 days, we’ve advanced that vision – the idea that our prosperity can be shared broadly, the idea that everyone needs opportunity again, or else the city simply can’t work the way it was meant to.
It will not surprise you that we’ve experienced some resistance from some powerful interests. There are some people who have a stake in the status quo and don’t want to see these changes. It’s expected that you experience opposition when you try to make changes of this nature – it’s nothing surprising, it’s nothing new. Our responsibility is to look that in the face and continue our work and deepen our work.
Because the real power – the real power resides with the people.
Grassroots politics, neighborhood politics, tells us that the people are almost always ahead of their leaders. I’ll give you the examples – parents have been pushing for expanded pre-K and after-school programs for decades. Finally their voices have been heard. Working people have been calling for paid sick leave for years in this city and, finally, their voices have been heard. New Yorkers across the spectrum – but particularly parents of color – protested the abuses of Stop and Frisk. They gathered – people from all over the city gathered on Father’s Day 2012 – that silent march down Fifth Avenue – saying we can’t going on like this, we have to heal this wound – and finally their voices have been heard.
That’s what we believe in – the grassroots, the people’s voice. That’s what animates us. That’s what gives me hope. That’s what gives me strength. That’s what gives me and all of us a renewed sense of purpose each day.
This stage was known to welcome people who challenged the status quo, who challenged that which was unjust. And one American who epitomized that notion was James Russell Lowell – 19th century poet and a fierce abolitionist, who once wrote, “Fate loves the fearless.”
Seizing the big opportunities for change requires heart and guts. But New Yorkers, given that opportunity for change, they see that they can achieve like no other people. And thanks to all of you, we’ve made this progress over these 100 days, because we thought about it from the level of our people and our neighborhoods and what it would mean.
Because of the progress we’ve made, that 4-year-old boy from Ridgewood, Queens, learning scientific concepts in pre-K, might someday be a life-saving surgeon in one of our neighborhood hospitals. Because of the progress we’ve made, that middle school girl from Morris Heights, carefully practicing her dance routines with her friends, might someday enthrall and inspire audiences at Lincoln Center, or in a community theater. Because of that progress we’ve made, a young woman from St. George will one day change the lives of our grandchildren as a great teacher . Put those children on the path to success and we’ll realize that the small investment we’ve made now built our future profoundly.
That is what a progressive city looks like.
And you’ve shown the world that in the face of crisis of every kind – and even in the face of that most challenging, most complex crisis of inequality, that we will act. And to continue this mission, we need your help. Now, more than ever, we need your help. We need you to go out in your communities and make sure families sign up for pre-K and after school. We need you to keep leading the way, keep showing the leaders the path, holding your elected officials accountable. We need you to keep this momentum of these last 100 days growing all the time.
We have so much more to do, but we know from what we’ve accomplished already that it can and will be done. If you keep up your energy, your focus, your drive, I have no doubt that together we will build, once again, a progressive city here, in our beloved New York. Thank you. And God bless you.