Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at Newly Rebuilt Rockaway Boardwalk

May 19, 2017

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Welcome, everyone. It is a beautiful day here in the Rockaways.

[Applause]

And it’s a wonderful day for the community because this boardwalk is about to open to everyone. There’s been a lot of concern out here in the Rockaways about whether this would be done and whether it would be done on time. And I got to tell you – we’re going to talk about this in a moment – but this is really to the credit of everyone here who’s been a part of this effort. This project has really been done very, very well and in a timely basis. But before I go into that, we are still reflecting on the tragedy yesterday in Times Square.

And a lot of you were there in the aftermath – aftermath when Commissioner O’Neill and I spoke about the situation. It’s very, very painful and I went and visited with the family that lost their daughter, a family from Michigan that came here to be a part of everything great about this city and then were met with tragedy.

My heart goes out to them and to all the families who had members injured yesterday. I went to Bellevue and, again, saw a number of the family members and also met with some of those who injured. And their spirit was amazing. The – it’s amazing when you go to a hospital and you meet with people who’ve just been through something absolutely horrific, and almost every one of them was just, you know, they kept saying, “I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m alive. I’m going to make it. I’m going to be okay.”

And it’s just amazing, resilient spirits. But we also know that nothing will bring back this good, young woman. And I’d just like to ask everyone, on behalf of the family of Alyssa Elsman, the 18-year-old girl – just like to have moment of silence in her memory.

And I want to, again, before I go into today’s issue, I want to also commend the first responders yesterday. You know this entire horrible episode unfolded in a matter of seconds, and our first responders immediately addressed the situation, apprehending the perpetrator and immediately tending to the wounded.

And I know that some of the people who were seriously, seriously wounded – the reason they’re still alive right now is because our first responders got there so quickly and did so much to help them.

I also want to note, we’re waiting for more facts. The NYPD is continuing to investigate. I spoke to Commissioner O’Neill this morning and one thing that’s abundantly clear now is that this very troubled individual, who committed this heinous act, had a long history of mental health problems. Those problems clearly did not get addressed over the years.

And I have to tell you this is something we have to come to grips with as a society. Obviously, my wife, Chirlane, has been working with so many people in this city to create a mental health system that will actually reach people consistently.

But we also have to note this very troubled young man ended up in our armed forces in the U.S. Navy. Somehow his issues were not addressed before, they weren’t addressed in his time in the Navy, and they weren’t addressed in the time after – and the results were tragic.

We’re never ever going to forgive such a heinous act but at the same time we have to recognize we have a problem underlying so much of what happens in this city, this country, and we still have to do a lot more to get at it. And we’re not going to rest until we find a way to get mental health support to those in need particularly those who are so trouble that it could lead to something like this.

Well, let me bring us back to now to this good news – gives us a little perspective on a day we’re still grappling with some troubling news, there’s also a lot of good things happening in the world.

And here in the Rockaways there’s a lot to be proud of. And I want to start with this amazing effort. This – look, everyone knows the Rockaways have had a very tough history. The Rockaways have been ignored in so many ways for decades by the City government and the powers that be. That was tough enough and then along came Sandy and made it some much worse.

I was here in the days after Sandy and it was just very hard to take in how bad the damage was. I was here when there were still buildings on fire, and you could see just the devastation and the boardwalk pushed in on the streets and so many homes that were destroyed. A place that already had gone through so much, you know, this to many I’m sure was a very devastating moment where they felt that things could only get worse.

I believed then that we all had an obligation to the Rockaways to take the painful moment and turn it into a motivation to get things right for once on behalf of the people of the Rockaways.

So, we’re standing here as part of boardwalk that’s very impressive. Just looking at it, you can see what an amazing effort it’s been. You can see how much it’s going to improve the quality of life for people in the Rockaways.

But at the same time, what’s amazing – first of all this is resiliency in action. This boardwalk is going to help protect everything you see around it. The school over there – thank you, principal – and all these homes. This boardwalk is not just a boardwalk, it’s now a barrier wall to protect the communities of the Rockaways. It was built to be resilient.

The last boardwalk was literally thrown by the waves into the streets of the Rockaways. This boardwalk’s not going anywhere. This boardwalk is planted firmly and it will withstand whatever Mother Nature throws at it.

That’s amazing on itself.

But also we made a commitment to get this boardwalk up and ready on time. We said it would be for Memorial Day weekend of 2017, and a week from tomorrow this boardwalk will be open for the people of the Rockaways. The whole distance.

[Applause]

Now that’s five-and-a-half miles, is that right, Commissioner?

Five-and-a-half miles. But here’s the amazing part – and everyone here I’m going to acknowledge them but let me just make this statement – everyone up here, they did something you don’t see often enough in government. They achieved this project on time and under budget.

[Applause]

And that money – Commissioner, how much did you end up saving?

Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, Department of Parks and Recreation: $120 million.

Mayor: $120 million, the taxpayers thank you.

Commissioner Silver: With EDC.

[Applause]

Mayor: EDC, taxpayers thank you.

$120 million that’s now going to be used for other important resilience projects, here, in the Rockaways. That’s an amazing contribution to continuing to make these communities safe.

[Applause]

So, first, I’ll give credit to all the great people at EDC. President James Patchett, thank you.

[Applause]

The incredibly effective Parks Department led by the high-fashion Parks Commissioner. He’s wearing Parks-wear. This is now going to be the fashion rage. If you’re a New Yorker, get your Parks-wear – beautifully fitted, smooth, elegant –

Commissioner Silver: Buy it at the arsenal.

Mayor: Buy it at the arsenal. Commissioner Mitch Silver, and to all your team, thank you.

[Applause]

This is, again, part of what is – I’m looking at Dan Zarrilli – $20 billion worth of resiliency projects that have been undertaken in New York City over the last few years. It will continue for years to come. $20 billion of resiliency activity.

Let’s thank Dan Zarrilli, our Chief Resiliency Officer.

[Applause]

And then from the community – from the community board, they’ve been key partners in figuring out how we’re going to do all of this. The Community Board has been a really strong voice helping us figure out how to do this boardwalk the right way – Johnathan Gaska, District Manager of Community Board 14, thank you.

[Applause]

And to everyone who is here, thank you for being a part of this.

Look, I mentioned how much the Rockaways have been through but I also want to commend the people of the Rockaways. These are resilient people, strong people in the Rockaways who have dealt with adversity with tremendous grace and fortitude. And we needed to do something worthy of the Rockaways by putting this boardwalk in and getting it right.

Now, look, that’s one part of what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to invest in the schools in the Rockaways more and more, creating affordable housing in the Rockaways, a lot of support for economic developments in the Rockaways – all these pieces are needed. Very proud to say also, one of the biggest problems in the Rockaways for years was lack of access to the rest of the city.

We’ve taken a major step in the right direction with NYC Ferry – opened on May 1st.

[Applause]

Again, big credit to EDC – ahead of schedule, NYC Ferry. Well done.

Since May 1st, 19,000 people have read – rode, I should say – 19,000 people have rode the Rockaways ferry. Incredible response and that’s helping to improve the lives of people in the Rockaways every day and helping them to get around to the things they need – to economic opportunity, educational opportunity, everything they need.

So, before I turn to our Public Advocate. I want to thank her as well for her support, and she’s been pushing us to get this done in the right way. But I want to say this to the people of the Rockaways – we know you’re in it for the long haul here in this neighborhood, we’re in it for the long haul with you. We’re going to make sure the Rockaways get the support they need.

And here is five-and-a-half miles of evidence that the City of New York stands with the people of the Rockaways. With that, I turn to our Public Advocate Letitia James.

[Applause]

And finally, I want everyone to join me in a special welcome. The, literally, brand new precinct commander of the 1-0-1 Precinct, Captain Tavalero. Welcome.

[Applause]

Which day did you start?

NYPD Captain Vincent Tavalero: I’m sorry –

Mayor: What day did you start?

Captain Tavalero: I started on Monday.

Mayor: You started on Monday. Couldn’t be newer than that. Welcome to the Rockaways.

Thank you, everyone.

[Applause]

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