January 15, 2009The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg's State of the City Address as prepared for delivery at Brooklyn College in Flatbush
"Thank you, ‘Mayor’ McKenzie! Johns Hopkins is a great school, and they’d be lucky to have you! (And no doubt your academic achievements there would surpass other mayors who’ve attended.) And thank you, President Kimmich, for hosting us today at Brooklyn College. I understand that you will be retiring this summer - after 36 years here, and nine exemplary years as president. On behalf of the City, thank you for your great dedication and success.
"Speaker Quinn and members of the Council, Comptroller Thompson, Public Advocate Gotbaum, Borough Presidents, Mayors Koch and Dinkins, Herman Badillo, distinguished guests, and all those watching this speech - some on our new YouTube channel.
"Thank you for joining us at Whitman Hall, at the alma mater of great city leaders like Shirley Chisholm and Victor Gotbaum, and famous heartthrobs like Jimmy Smits and Marty Markowitz. Of course. Where else would Brooklyn’s biggest champion go to school? And where else could the State of the City feature their amazing brass ensemble, plus a wonderful choir from P.S. 206? We’ve got everything for you here today in Flatbush, with the possible exception of ‘Dem Bums,’ the Brooklyn Dodgers. But trust me, their spirit lives on.
"And where else but New York can you find so many inspiring stories of perseverance and triumph like we heard from those New Yorkers in our opening video?
"I’m privileged to be joined on stage today by some of the people behind those stories and by someone who has given us a monumental documentary on our story, Ric Burns. If you want to know why New York will never disappear, or can never be defeated - just take a look at them.
"Generations of New Yorkers: From Rowena & Raj, who began their life together in Lower Manhattan five years ago, back to Peter and Rosalie, who celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary in Brooklyn only yesterday. Thank you for being the heart and soul of what this city is, and always will be.
"The Pellicanes live just a few blocks from this beautiful campus which is itself part of the living legacy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Brooklyn College’s foundations were laid during the deepest depression our nation, and our city, has ever experienced and thank God for its thousands of graduates, who went on to build New York into the greatest city in the world.
"Until recently, the New Deal and the 1930s seemed like a distant memory - something we read about in history books. But last year, when the sub-prime mortgage write-down became a global financial meltdown, the bank panics returned and today, more people are worried about losing their jobs, their savings, and their homes than at any time since that Great Depression.
"Peter and Rosalie remember those times. So does Clarence Irving. And Georgia Scott. Most of us here weren’t around for those dark days 75 years ago, but we have seen our own, whether in the 1970s or after 9/11. Time and again, the future of our city has been in doubt. Time and again, we have faced moments of truth. And each time, we have pulled together as New Yorkers and come out stronger, together.
"Just think back seven years, when the experts were predicting it would take decades for our city to recover. Instead, we’ve broken nearly every record in the books:
"Crime: Down nearly 30 percent, thanks to our Finest.
"Fire deaths: The lowest seven-year total in history, thanks to our Bravest.
"High school graduation rates: Up 22 per cent, thanks to our Smartest.
"Tourism: Up more than 30 percent.
"Welfare rolls: Down to a 45-year low.
"Ambulance response times: The fastest on record.
"The city’s population: At an all-time high.
"And average life expectancy: Longer than ever and longer than the country’s for the first time since World War Two.
"Those achievements have touched New Yorkers in all five boroughs and made our city a national leader in nearly every area of public policy. But now, I think we all know, we are being tested again. We don’t know how bad the recession will be, but we know it will be bad enough. Plenty bad. There’s no question that the temporary State of our City is shaken. But I’m here today to tell you it’s not broken!
"Just look at the people on this stage and remember that the true State of our City is something much more: Strong. Fuerte. Resilient. Valiente. United. Unido. And ready to pull through this recession and bring our economy back. Juntos, como neoyorquinos - as New Yorkers, together.
"Traditionally, New York has lagged behind the nation in recovering from recessions. There are many reasons for that, but one of them is simple: Our governments in the past failed to perform their basic responsibilities well, whether that was providing an adequate social safety net, or managing the budget wisely, or fighting crime effectively, or investing in the future.
"When Ronald Reagan said that government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem - he was partly right. The fact is: When government falls down on the job, recessions get compounded, and recoveries get delayed. But when government does perform at a high level - when it does make the difficult, unpopular decisions that are necessary to protect the greater good - then recovery can be stronger than anyone expects.
"We know this. After 9/11 - we did it, as New Yorkers, together. And now, we’ll do it again. We will get New York City through these hard times with the same approach that has always worked for us. Independent leadership based on facts and pragmatism - not politics and ideology. Innovative thinking that embraces new solutions to old problems - and an insistence on accountability, always.
"Because of these principles, we didn’t pretend the good times would never end like some governments did, including the federal government. We knew that - as sure as night follows day - the market would eventually turn downward. And we prepared for it. Since 2007, we’ve cut planned spending by more than $2 billion. We’ve reduced our debt costs by $3.2 billion. We’ve set aside $2.5 billion for retirees’ benefits. If we hadn’t taken those steps, instead of confronting a crisis today we’d be caught in a cataclysm. But even by preparing responsibly, we still face a fiscal reckoning that will involve some very painful budget choices, and I’ll lay those out when I present the preliminary budget for the next fiscal year on January 30th.
"Today, however, I want to focus on how we’ll work to stabilize the economy, pull it out of the national recession as fast as humanly possible, and lay the groundwork for future growth. Obviously, we can’t solve the country’s problems - and we can’t end the recession on our own. We don’t have the macro-economic tools of the Federal government.
"But every day, we see the effects of the recession on a human level: On the tired faces of people who have lost their homes, and in the hungry eyes of those who cannot afford to feed their families. Our job is to help all those who are struggling - help them improve their chances for a job, for keeping their homes, for making ends meet, and to do it all without new funding - because the City just doesn’t have the money. Instead, rather than spending new dollars, we have to redeploy resources and repurpose budgets - and we will.
"Today, I want to share the economic recovery strategy we’ve created to provide that help. Our strategy has three main parts -
"One: Spurring and supporting job growth in all five boroughs.
"Two: Strengthening the quality of life in every neighborhood so recession does not lead to disinvestment and abandonment, as it has in the past.
"And three: Stretching every dollar further - and holding agencies accountable for delivering results for the New Yorkers who need them now more than ever.
"In the year ahead, we’ll work with everyone in City, State, and Federal government, no matter what job they hold, and no matter what job they may be running for, to achieve these three goals. Whatever political disagreements we may have, they should never get in the way of getting results for you - the people we work for.
"Let’s start with the first leg of our strategy: how we’ll support job growth. In the five years leading up to the recession, we outperformed the nation by creating a quarter-million new jobs, almost all of them outside of financial services, in industries like tourism, retail, film and TV production, fashion, health care, education, bioscience, and others.
"Unfortunately, we haven’t been spared from recent job losses even in those industries - and given the direction of the national economy, many more are on the way. But dwelling on the bad news won’t make it any better.
"Today, I’ll outline a nine-point plan that will allow us to retain and create as many jobs as possible now and 400,000 jobs over the next six years, in all five boroughs.
"First, we’ll continue investing in new infrastructure. In past recessions, too often City governments stopped investing in infrastructure. We’re not making that mistake - no way.
"This fiscal year, we’re funding a record $10 billion-plus in capital projects, creating more than 25,000 construction-related jobs that pay good wages and strengthen the middle class. Projects like: Digging the Number 7 train extension to Hudson Yards; breaking ground on a new Police Academy in Queens and a new police precinct in Staten Island; building two new libraries on Staten Island, two more in Queens, and one here in Brooklyn; undertaking a major renovation of the Queens Museum of Art; returning McCarren Pool in Williamsburg to its former glory; and opening the first section of the world’s most innovative park, the High Line in Lower Manhattan.
"For the past year, we’ve been pushing Washington to focus the Federal stimulus on ‘ready to build’ infrastructure. In all fairness, they’ve finally come around - and thanks to all the work we’ve don over the past several years, we’re ready to build. We look forward to working with Congress and President-elect Obama - not just on the stimulus package, but on re-thinking the entire way we fund infrastructure projects in this country.
"For instance, while Congress funds bridges to nowhere, our airports are using antiquated air traffic control systems that are costing us billions in lost economic activity and threatening our status as a global financial center. Fixing this problem may not be good pork barrel politics, but it is a crucial Federal responsibility - and we’ll push them to live up to it this year.
"The second element of our jobs plan is to continue diversifying our economy and continue reducing our dependence on Wall Street. This year, we’ll modernize the Hunts Point produce terminal, which employs more than 6,000 people. In Queens, we’ll begin development at Willets Point. On Staten Island, by working with the Port Authority, we’ll expand the borough’s largest employer: the container terminal at Howland Hook. Here in Brooklyn, we’ll create space for a major new beer distribution terminal that will bring 600 new jobs to the Red Hook waterfront - and Brooklyn Lager to stores throughout the City.
"Around the City, we’ll continue investing in our cultural institutions that bring millions of tourists and support hundreds of thousands of jobs. And around the world, we’ll continue marketing our City as never before, so we can attract the biggest and best events like the NAACP’s 100th anniversary conference, which is coming to New York this summer - the City where it was founded. When our guests arrive, they'll be able to stop by a new high-tech visitor’s center that we'll open this year and which will allow them to find attractions and events in all five boroughs.
"The third element of our jobs plan is strengthening small businesses. Half of all New Yorkers in the private sector work in a small business, and believe me, I appreciate how difficult it is to start and run one. To help more small businesses weather this recession, we’ve budgeted to provide emergency loans so they can meet their payrolls and keep their doors open.
"To keep neighborhood Main Streets strong, we’ll launch even more Business Improvement Districts in places like Bushwick, and along Victory Boulevard on Staten Island. We’ll also help a group of small business owners who add so much to our economy - our artists - by working with nonprofit groups to create new studio spaces from Greenpoint to Governors Island. And to help small information technology firms get a foothold in the market, we’ll make it easier for them to apply for City contracts.
"Many small businesses will also benefit from the fourth part of our jobs plan: Broad-based, revenue-neutral tax reform that includes targeted tax relief. Clearly, we can’t do it without our leaders in Albany and so we’ll work with them - and with the Partnership for New York City - on a modernization and simplification of our business taxes. That hasn’t happened in more than 20 years.
"It’s time to align our tax laws with those in other states, close loopholes, and end unnecessary tax burdens that can stifle the creation of new jobs. For example, the Unincorporated Business Tax unfairly double-taxes thousands of businesses, and may discourage recently laid-off New Yorkers from starting to do freelance work or starting their own business - both of which can bolster our economy and help pull us through this recession. Both of these activities are subject to the tax - and yet both can bolster our economy and help pull us through this recession. In 2007, we won passage of a State law limiting the tax and now, we’ll work to end or reduce the tax for 17,000 small businesses - and save each of them up to $3,400. Let’s give their bottom lines a boost when they need it most.
"We’ll also work to change tax policies that discourage local job creation. We can’t take our competitive position for granted. That mistake was made in the 1970s, and we can’t afford to make it again.
"We are going to do everything possible to make it easier to do business with the City - and that’s the fifth piece of our jobs plan. This year, our Business Express web site will - for the first time - allow one-stop shopping for City permits making it easier and faster to start or expand a business. We’ll bring together all the City agencies that work with housing and commercial developers - and hold them accountable for avoiding delays. And for the first time, we’ll put illustrations of developers’ plans online and make it easier for community residents to review projects in their neighborhoods.
"We'll also reduce the costs and delays for small property owners seeking environmental reviews - without giving up one iota of environmental protection. The idea that environmental protection and economic growth are diametrically opposed is so 1990s.
"Growing our green industries is actually the sixth focus of our jobs plan. It’s become popular to talk about green jobs - but we’re actually creating them. This year, we’ll work with Speaker Quinn and the City Council to ‘green’ our Building Code and enact the nation’s first law to require existing private sector buildings to improve their energy efficiency. Those two steps will reduce our carbon footprint and create jobs for people with green skills. We’ll help more New Yorkers acquire those skills through by greening our job-training programs.
"The City will also create its own green jobs by investing $900 million over the next nine years to retrofit City schools, hospitals, and other buildings with new energy systems. That work will support 1,000 jobs in the construction industry, save taxpayers money, and help us meet our goal of reducing City government’s carbon footprint 30 percent by 2017.
"We’ll also begin encouraging more investment in wind power by identifying the best places to generate it. And through installations on City buildings, we’ll more than double our production of solar power.
"It’s all part of PlaNYC - our vision for a greener, greater New York. And it’s part of our effort to become the leading city in sustainability. If we achieve that, we’ll also become the global center for a host of green businesses that are focused on energy efficiency, recycling, smart transportation, and so many other areas that we could become the Silicon Valley of sustainability.
"Sustainable development is a good example of an industry where jobs will become available - if you have the right skills. And that’s the seventh part of our jobs plan: helping more New Yorkers acquire the skills prized by industries that are actually hiring now.
"In just a few short years, we’ve taken the City’s Workforce One Career Centers from placing 500 people in jobs per year to placing more than 17,000 per year. Now, some might expect a recession to reduce job placements - but we’re determined not to let that happen. So we’re increasing - yes, increasing - our job placement goal this year to 20,000 jobs. We’ll meet that goal by opening new Workforce centers and streamlining the patchwork of job training programs that various City agencies run. In a recession, we have an extra responsibility to do more job training, more effectively - and we will.
"The eighth piece of our jobs plan centers on encouraging work. Three years ago, we created the Center for Economic Opportunity to find innovative new ways to fight poverty. And the best way, of course, is encouraging employment. But in a recession, it’s easy for job-seekers to get discouraged. So we’ll work to pass a Federal pilot program to make New York City a proving ground for expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit.
"Here’s our proposal. Very simple: more work, more cash - but if you have kids, you must pay your child support! We’ll also seek Federal funds for a pilot program offering after-school jobs to struggling students - if they stay in school.
"Over the years, government has learned an important lesson: stripping benefits away from people when they take a job discourages them from working. That’s just wrong. So our new ‘Jobs Plus’ initiative will train public housing residents for higher-paying jobs - without making them pay higher rents.
"As we improve the skills of our workforce, we won’t forget workers who - even if they’ve been laid off - possess talents and skills that are sought the world over: those in the financial services industry. And so the ninth and final piece of our jobs strategy is to do more to keep them right here and keep New York the strongest financial capital in the world.
"In every crisis there is opportunity and in every recession there is rebirth. Our Small Business Services agency and our Economic Development Corporation will work together to help laid-off workers connect to start-ups and small firms in other industries by launching new job-training programs.
"They’ll also partner with private foundations to create ‘entrepreneur boot camps’ for all those interested in starting their own companies. And when the aspiring entrepreneurs are ready to take the next step, we’ll help them find office space. Right now, many landlords face rising levels of vacancies. But a number of academic institutions see value in those vacancies, and are interested in creating incubator space for new start-ups. By connecting these two groups, we can fill vacant commercial space and help launch start-ups that may have come up with the next big thing.
"Of course when Wall Street rebounds, some of these workers may choose to go back - or they may have found a successful new career as an entrepreneur. But either way, we’ll keep them here in New York. That’s the goal.
"We’ll stimulate entrepreneurship in other ways, too. For instance, we’ll provide additional seed funding to high-tech start-ups. Right now, across the whole City, only $40 million in private money is being spent on this kind of ‘angel’ investing and yet there is a huge demand for it. So our Economic Development Corporation will find $3 million in its budget to attract new private angel investors. That will allow us to increase the pool of available financing by $10 million net - a 25 percent increase.
"We’ll also redeploy more than $30 million in Federal incentives to attract new financial services firms.
"Now, will this broad nine-point jobs plan be enough to cure all of our economic ills? Of course not. That will only come as the national economy eventually recovers.
"In fact, the best thing that we can do for Wall Street - and for every corner store in the City - is the second leg of our economic recovery strategy: Continue to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. And make no mistake - we will.
"It all begins with public safety - the bedrock of society that makes economic growth possible. Today, according to FBI statistics, we remain the safest big city in the country - an achievement we should never take for granted. Crime is at a more than 40-year low - nearly 30 percent lower than it was just seven years ago. And let me tell you what that percentage really means. It means that if crime levels from 2001 had remained constant, there would have been more than 78,000 individuals, families, and businesses robbed or burglarized. More than 78,000 vehicles would have been stolen. More than 35,000 New Yorkers would have been assaulted. More than 2,200 women would have endured the heinous crime of rape. And 634 New Yorkers would have been murdered. None of it happened, thank God - and thanks to the brave men and women of the NYPD.
"With innovative programs and tools like Operation Impact and the Real Time Crime Center, they have achieved what - seven years ago - no one believed possible. This year, we’re off to another great start: Crime is down 20 percent in the first two weeks of January compared to a year ago. To retain as many jobs as possible, we must continue building on these gains - and continue having zero tolerance for quality-of-life crimes.
"So let me make you this promise now: We won’t cede an inch to the squeegee men, turnstile jumpers, and graffiti vandals who breed a sense of disorder and lawlessness. Not on our watch. Beginning this month, we’ll step up our enforcement efforts against quality-of-life criminals, and we’ll start by identifying the 12 worst repeat quality-of life-offenders in each borough - ‘the Dirty Dozen.’
"Our Criminal Justice Coordinator, John Feinblatt, will work with the five district attorneys to make sure prosecutors and judges know about these ‘worst of the worst’ - and seek the maximum possible penalties. We’ll also propose a new State law increasing the penalties for these repeat offenders. Very simply: commit six or more quality-of-life crimes within a year, and your next one would be a felony - and the revolving door would slam shut.
"We’ll also target the three precincts with the highest murder rates by seeking a public-private partnership that can fund cameras on street corners and problem places. Cameras, as you know, are proven to deter crime and help catch criminals. And for those who say this is a civil liberties issue, you’re absolutely right: it’s about the liberty of innocent civilians to live in peace. And we won’t rest until that’s true for every single New Yorker.
"We’ll do more to drive down crime even further at public housing sites by using GPS technology to enforce court orders prohibiting gang members from setting foot on public housing property. To build on the gains we’ve made reducing domestic violence, we’ll open a new Family Justice Center in the Bronx - like the ones we created in Brooklyn and Queens, which have become national models. And we’ll develop a computer database enabling the NYPD to step up home interventions - and save more lives.
"Saving more lives is why we’ve taken on an issue that the skeptics say is a national problem that cities can’t affect: illegal guns. Well, let me tell you: they couldn’t be more wrong -and we’re proving it.
"By winning passage in Albany of the toughest law in the country against illegal possession of a loaded gun, more criminals are spending at least a year in prison. By suing the out-of-state gun dealers we caught breaking the law, we’ve reduced the flow of guns entering our city from those states. And those dealers are now under court-appointed monitors to shape up, or pay up.
"Last year, our bi-partisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns won another major victory: a ‘Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership’ with the nation’s largest seller of firearms: Wal-Mart. It establishes ten basic practices that will reduce the likelihood that guns will be sold to illegal traffickers. This year, we’ll work with Speaker Quinn and the Council to require the city’s own gun dealers to follow similar practices. And I’ll a sign an Executive Order directing all City agencies to submit mental health records to the Justice Department’s background check system on gun sales - so the next Virginia Tech massacre doesn’t happen here.
"We’ll also ask the State Legislature to require all guns sold in New York to include micro-stamping technology, which helps police connect crime scenes to guns, and to require gun dealers to conduct background checks on everyone they hire. Would you let a convicted drug dealer work in a drug store? Not a chance. It’s just common sense.
"The NYPD has driven down crime to historic lows even as it has devoted 1,000 of its best officers to counter-terrorism efforts. We’ve worked to give them the best possible tools. For instance, we’ve instituted a state-of the-art system that monitors the city’s air quality for the first signs of anthrax or other dangerous agents. We’ve created a special inspection team to monitor the city’s underwater tunnels. And last year, the NYPD opened a state-of-the-art counter-terrorism coordination center, staffed jointly by the police and corporate security leaders. That’s part of our Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, which will make us the best protected financial capital in the world.
"During 2009, we’re not going to become complacent. The world is still too dangerous. We’ll continue our efforts to deploy license plate readers at all the bridges and tunnels coming into Lower Manhattan. And we’ll continue testing new software that can analyze feeds from thousands of cameras and pick up any suspicious movements - like someone who puts down a bag and then walks away.
"We’ll also increase the number of officers trained and equipped with heavy weapons, and who can respond to simultaneous, multiple attacks - like the tragic attack on Mumbai. We felt the anguish of all those affected, but we also know that whether in Mumbai or London, Madrid or New York, a free people’s commitment to liberty - personal, political, religious - is irreversible. And we want to make it indestructible.
"Our men and women in blue are helping to do that here in New York - and some of them are serving overseas, too. As you may have read, one of our Finest - Deon Taylor - was killed in Afghanistan last October. His younger brother, Damarr, is also a member of the NYPD, and he’s here with us today. Damarr: your brother made the ultimate sacrifice and for that, we’ll forever be in his debt, and your family’s. On behalf of the entire city, thank you.
"In the year ahead, we’ll do more to prepare for, and respond to, emergencies of any kind, whether man-made or natural disasters. This year, by taking ‘Notify NYC’ citywide, anyone in the city will be able to receive phone and email messages with important information. We’ll also handle 911 calls more efficiently than ever. This year, we’ll open a new Fire and Police Dispatch Center that is part of the biggest overhaul of 911 since it was created in the 1970s.
"Safe streets are so important to our everyday lives and our economy. But they’re not the only thing needed to build strong communities that are attractive to the middle class and those working to enter it. That also requires building affordable housing, preserving the character of neighborhoods, and opening parks and playgrounds. This year, we’ll do more of each.
"We’ve already passed the halfway point in the country’s largest affordable housing plan: 165,000 units for 500,000 New Yorkers by 2014. And I just want to tip my cap to the guy who really deserves most of the credit for this: Shaun Donovan. It’s a testament to the success of our New Housing Marketplace Plan that President-elect Obama has tapped Shaun to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Shaun - good luck. And don’t worry. You’ll be hearing from us.
"This year, in Coney Island, Willets Point, and Hunters Point South, we’ll lay the groundwork for thousands of new jobs and affordable homes - all well-served by mass transit. At the same time, we’ll designate a new landmark district in Ridgewood - and we’ll landmark more districts outside of Manhattan than any other Administration. And here in Flatbush, we’ll re-zone the area not only to create more affordable housing but also to protect its distinct Victorian charm. Brooklyn may have lost the Dodgers, but we’ll make sure its neighborhoods never lose their character.
"As we build for the future and protect the past, we’ll also do more to help those facing an immediate crisis - the traumatic prospect of losing their homes. During the 70s, one abandoned house could set off a disastrous domino effect in the community. We’re not going to let that happen again. Last fall, we announced a $24 million fund, paid for with Federal dollars, to buy, renovate, and resell recently foreclosed homes.
"Now, as I announced yesterday with out-going HUD Secretary Steve Preston, by working with our private and nonprofit partners, we're increasing the fund to $62 million - with more on the way if necessary. And we’ll propose State legislation that will make it more difficult to commit mortgage fraud and also improve the chances of restitution to victims. The housing crisis is bad enough without thieves scamming innocent homeowners.
"We’ll also protect a precious asset that belongs to all New Yorkers: Our park system. Over the past seven years, we’ve created more than 300 new acres of parkland across all five boroughs. Since we announced PlaNYC in 2007, we’ve opened nearly 70 school playgrounds to neighborhood kids - and this year, we’ll open nearly 70 more. We’ve also planted 166,000 trees, as part of PlaNYC’s Million Trees project. This year, together with the New York Restoration Project, we’ll plant over 100,000 more. We’ll also open a new waterfront park on the Bronx River and a beautifully renovated and expanded Queens Theater in the Park.
"Protecting our quality of life also means creating something that too many New Yorkers went without for too long: top-quality public schools. The State Legislature’s wise decision in 2002 to abolish the old Board of Education allowed us to raise standards and hold everyone accountable for meeting them. We went from endless excuses for failure to high expectations for achievement. And the numbers speak for themselves.
"We’ve cut $350 million from the bureaucracy and directed it where it belongs: the classrooms. We’ve created bonuses for high-performing teachers and principals. We’ve closed dozens of failing schools and opened 354 new ones - including 63 charter schools. We’ve created 66,000 new classroom seats. We’ve added 25 minutes to the school day - the equivalent of about 25 more school days a year. We’ve cut school crime by 34 percent. And we’ve ended the politically convenient but disastrous policy of social promotion.
"None of that would have happened without mayoral control. But because it did happen, math and reading test scores are up by double digits in many grades. Graduation rates are at an all-time high. And on this 80th anniversary of Dr. King’s birth and on the eve of the inauguration of our first African-American president, we can all be proud that African American and Latino students are leading the way in the rate of improvement.
"If ever there was a case of, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ - this is it. For the sake of our children: we can’t go back to the old days - and we won’t go back. In the months ahead, we look forward to discussing the progress we’ve made with our leaders in Albany - and listening to their concerns. And I believe they’ll once again do the right thing - and re-authorize mayoral control.
"In the meantime, we’ll keep charging ahead. Enrolling more children in pre-kindergarten classes than ever before - 55,000 girls and boys. Erasing pockets of overcrowding with more than 50 new schools, and seats for nearly 15,000 students. And opening four new schools that will begin to revolutionize career technical education in engineering, information technology, sustainability, and other fields, so that our children are ready to lead the 21st century economy.
"One of our most ambitious school initiatives this year will involve our most important partners: parents. Six years ago, we asked parents to help us turn the schools around. And we’ve given them some key tools to do it, by grading schools, hiring parent coordinators, and conducting the largest survey of parents any city has ever undertaken. This year, we’ll also provide an on-line tool that lets parents track their child’s learning progress through the year. Never before have parents had so many different ways of communicating with teachers, learning what is going on in the classroom, and working with their child’s school to help their kids succeed.
"But even with those resources, we know parents still can struggle to get basic information and find answers. It is harder than it should be - and we can do better. That’s why this coming school year, we will harness s the power of 311 to better serve parents through a new initiative we’re calling ‘P311’ - for Parent 311.
"Parents will be able to call 311, identify themselves as a parent or guardian, and get answers - the right ones - without getting the run-around. It will make communication between schools and parents clearer and more consistent and it will help parents more easily find information on anything and everything to do with their children’s schools. Parents: We can’t do it without you. But together - our kids can do anything they dream.
"Safe streets, strong neighborhoods, quality schools - they’re all critical to our recovery. But just as families are scaling back and stretching dollars further, government must do the same. And we will - while at the same time strengthening our social safety net. That’s the third and final leg of our recovery strategy - and we have a strong record to build on.
"Over the past seven years, we’ve enhanced the productivity of government and written innovation and accountability into the DNA of City agencies. We’ve completely transformed the way we collect and use data to manage agency performance - from 311, to SCOUT vehicles that scour the city looking for problems to fix, to the Mayor’s Management Report, to our new Citywide Performance Reporting system, to the largest customer service survey any city has ever conducted.
"In the months ahead, we’ll continue stretching taxpayer dollars further by being more efficient and effective in how we repair potholes and street defects; by consolidating City government’s 55 data centers; by cutting the City’s non-emergency car fleet by 10 percent; by pushing the state to allow us to intensify our crackdown on Medicaid fraud; and by appointing a review panel to strip away rules and regulations that unnecessarily burden City agencies, consumers, and businesses.
"One layer of bureaucracy that should definitely be put out to pasture, incidentally, is the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. This year, we’ll continue pushing the Port Authority to keep the Freedom Tower, memorial, and the rest of the site on schedule - but we don’t need the LMDC to do it. The LMDC should be folded into our Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center so that work at the site can progress more smoothly and taxpayers can save money.
"To drive down the cost of public construction, we’ll implement reforms to increase competition for contracts. Even bigger savings would result if the State Legislature adopts Governor Paterson’s proposal to reform - or better yet, repeal - the antiquated Wicks Law. The special interests want to keep it - but you’re paying for it. It adds to the cost of public construction, while also reducing opportunities for minority-and-women-owned businesses to win sub-contracts.
"In this economy, it’s time we stop paying more for less. And in this city of opportunity, it’s time we stop allowing old regulations to shut out new entrepreneurs.
"It’s also become painfully clear that the time has come to bring our municipal pension system in line with reality. And the reality is: People are living longer and longer, yet we’re still offering full retirement benefits after only 20 years of service - something even the most generous private sector companies don’t do. It’s costing taxpayers a fortune, and they’re not getting any services or benefits from it.
"The reforms that Governor Paterson and I have proposed would save taxpayers $7.4 billion over the next 20 years. Governor Carey and legislative leaders stepped up and adopted pension reforms during the crisis of the 1970s. This time, it’s our turn. Let’s fix the problem before it’s too late.
"We’re looking for savings everywhere. To reduce our fuel expenses and clean our air, we’ll improve the fuel efficiency of City vehicles and experiment with hybrid-powered police cars and garbage trucks. We’ll also receive ten free electric vehicles from BMW, which we’ll use as part of our SCOUT fleet and as part of a study on the potential for electric cars in New York City.
"We’ll also experiment with a common sense idea that will help New Yorkers stretch their own dollars further: the option of taking multiple-fare taxi and livery rides from, for example, airports and other locations. Riders will save money and drivers will make money. It’s a win-win - what’s not to like?
"As we find new savings and efficiencies, we also recognize that in these tough times, the demand for services is going to increase. We will not walk away from our commitment to helping those most in need - but even here, we can do more with less, and we will.
"For instance, we’ll do right by homeless families - and save taxpayers money - by helping them leave shelters more quickly. Right now, the average stay is one year. That’s not healthy for children or parents, and it’s not good for taxpayers. By re-structuring financial incentives for shelter operators, more families will return to their home communities more quickly - and that’s good news for everyone.
"The nonprofit sector is a vital part of our economy, and just like City government, many organizations face the problem of rising demand and diminishing resources. We’re going to help by developing a strategic plan that will allow us to provide them with technical assistance on how to do more with less - that will improve their access to loans and that will make it easier for them to do business with the City.
"We’ll also make it easier for New Yorkers in need to access benefits. Over the past seven years, we’ve created on-line applications for many services and benefits. This year we’ll do it for seniors seeking rent exemptions. And through a funding stream from Verizon, we’ll make the internet even more accessible, placing more free computers in libraries, senior centers, and public housing community rooms.
"As we fortify our safety net, we’ll also do more to prevent the illnesses that can be especially disastrous in hard economic times. I’ve always believed that helping people live longer, healthier lives is a primary responsibility of government. That’s why we’ve invested so strongly in our public hospitals and why our public health agenda has been the most sweeping - and the most successful - in the country.
"In 2004, we set four-year targets for reducing our biggest public health problems. And in a number of areas we’ve met or surpassed our goals - from dramatically reducing smoking to increasing the number of New Yorkers who have a regular doctor. Many of these doctors also now have access to electronic health records, which can literally save lives, especially in poor communities. In Washington, they’re talking about electronic health records. In New York, we’re doing it!
"Today, I’m announcing ambitious new targets for our public health agenda.
"Since 2002, we’ve cut AIDS-related deaths by more than a third. Over the next four years, we’ll cut those deaths another 20 percent. We’ll reduce the number of New Yorkers who die young from preventable heart disease - our leading cause of death - by 20 percent. And by making good nutrition and healthy lifestyles the norm - we’ll begin to reverse the obesity epidemic that’s robbing too many children of their futures.
"Those futures - even with the latest economic news - are brighter than ever. The three-pronged recovery strategy I’ve just outlined will help us build that future - if we work together. No city understands the value of cooperation - and the power of civic unity - more than New York. And that brings me to the final component to our recovery strategy - one that touches all the others, and that every New Yorker can participate in: public service.
"Over the past seven years, we’ve worked to engage more New Yorkers in giving back, through the Mayor’s Volunteer Center and the Mayor’s Fund - which has raised $157 million for some of our most innovative initiatives, like the Leadership Academy for school principals and the Center for Economic Opportunity. Public-private partnerships have been essential to our success. And now, as the City tightens its belt further, we’ll need the help of public-spirited citizens and businesses more than ever.
"That’s why today I’m directing First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris to report back in 60 days with a blueprint for engaging more New Yorkers in public service. She’ll bring together leaders in the nonprofit, philanthropic, and private sectors to develop a bold and ambitious plan to maximize our greatest asset: The love that all of us have for this city, and our willingness to put it to work.
"President-elect Obama has said that he will challenge the nation to embrace a new era of public service - and New York City will lead the way. Public service is a gift that most of us have experienced; for me, it began in the Boy Scouts. And in these tough times, it’s up to us to share that gift even more generously with our friends and neighbors.
"The plan I’ve outlined today won’t solve all our problems and it can’t shield us from the national recession. But by managing our budget wisely and by developing innovative new initiatives that do more with less, we can implement our nine-point jobs plan, which will help stabilize the city’s economy and create the potential for new growth.
"We can strengthen our quality of life - by driving down crime even further, building more affordable housing, helping more families keep their homes, and continuing to create top-quality public schools. And we can protect the most vulnerable by delivering services more efficiently than ever and helping the nonprofit sector to do the same.
"An economic recession has never stopped New Yorkers from being bold and ambitious. If it had, we wouldn’t have built Central Park, or the Empire State Building or Brooklyn College. Over the history of our city - no matter how severe the blow we’ve been dealt, no matter how uncertain the future -- we have always found the strength and optimism to rise to new heights, as New Yorkers, together.
"No one better exemplifies that than the man who is responsible for building the college where we sit today: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. We all know how in his first speech as President, FDR reminded us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. But you may not know that on the last full day of his life, he wrote this: ‘The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.’
"Those are the words of a true New Yorker. A New Yorker like the several long-time residents onstage I introduced you to earlier. But as I close, I want you to meet two others. Two more recent arrivals. Two people who make you realize that - no matter how hard the year gets, no matter how down we may feel - we can all remember that we really are lucky to be here, in New York City - the greatest City in the world.
"Let me introduce you to Yan Fei and Chen Fei. Today, they’re joined by their father and cousin. Five years ago, they moved to Sunset Park with their parents from a small town in the north of China. From a village of three thousand - to a borough of nearly three million. The family came, like millions before, to have a good life. To have a far better future than they could imagine anywhere else.
"It wasn’t easy at first. No English and no friends. But it’s better now. It feels more like home. Chen is studying to become an accountant here at Brooklyn College. And Yan hopes to return to school to become a nurse or acupuncturist. Until then, she works seven days a week at a senior center and a nursing home. And just last week, I’m proud to tell you, she became an American citizen.
"These New Yorkers - together - are why I am so confident about our future. They’ve come here - and despite all the obstacles, they simply refuse to give up on their dreams. That resilience, that perseverance, that stubborn optimism, is something everyone in this room recognizes.
"We are New Yorkers - together. We have always rallied from every setback - together. We have always emerged even stronger than before - together. And now as one city, with one common destiny, we’ll do it again.
"By never fearing. Never quitting. Never accepting failure. And always believing that our best days, and the best days for this great city, are still to come. Thank you. God bless you all and God bless New York City."