February 10, 2014
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Streamed live on February 10, 2014, La Guardia Community College Performing Arts Center
Video available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AyzXv_eshE
Thank you, Katherine, for your kind words and for your service on our transition committee.
Your decades of service to improving public health - particularly in the realm of women's reproductive health and combatting the spread of HIV-AIDS - has been instrumental in helping those in need - both here in New York and around the world.
That advocacy on behalf of everyday people was a hallmark of your grandfather's tenure as mayor.
He understood a bedrock principle of New York greatness, when he said, quote: "Our city does not belong to any individual or set of individuals. It belongs to all the people."
LaGuardia Community College in many ways represents that vision.
It is a place where New Yorkers from all walks of life can find a path to a future...with a good job and a shot at a better life.
Every day, I sit behind the desk of Mayor LaGuardia, reminded of the courage we all must summon in our fight to make New York City work better for everyone.
Now, we have some extraordinary New Yorkers in the audience today who also share that vision, including one who has inspired me with her intelligence, her drive, and her compassion for more than twenty years - a young woman who has recently agreed to share her love for this city by leading the non-profit Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.
Thank you for being my guiding light, Chirlane - or, as you're apparently now sometimes known, #flonyc.
Thank you to my fellow elected officials in attendance: Public Advocate Letitia James, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito.
Thank you to the Members of Congress, the City Council, and the State Legislature who have joined us as well. And thank you to Mayor David Dinkins for being here.
You are all dedicated and able public servants, true allies in the cause of social and economic justice.
And thank you, most of all, to my fellow New Yorkers.
We are here to discuss the New York City that we live in today; to lay out our vision for where we will take it in the weeks and months to come; and to discuss something larger - the core values we share as New Yorkers pursuing progressive change.
This has already been quite a year.
In one month's time, our city has weathered three major snowstorms with typical grit and fortitude.
In fact, we've faced more snow last month than any new administration since January of 1978, when Mayor Ed Koch led this city.
Beyond the recent snowstorms, the first few weeks of 2014 have been quite busy.
We've played regional host to the Super Bowl, giving a strong economic boost to New York City at a critical time - a tremendous coordination between all city agencies to make sure these events came off without a hitch.
Through Vision Zero, we have begun putting into place ambitious new policies to END the tragic and unacceptable rash of pedestrian deaths on our city streets.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the bravery of the people who make up our city work force.
I want to particularly single out the men and women of the Sanitation Department, NYPD, FDNY, and EMS - who did so much to help us during the storms.
I know that these speeches have at times been used to attack the motives of our public employees.
Today, I want to recognize the hard work and commitment of those men and women - and to say how proud I am of them. The services you provide every single day in neighborhoods across New York have made us the safest and strongest big city in America, and you deserve our deep gratitude and respect.
Our public employees represent a thread that runs through this Administration - a belief that public service is a noble calling - that part of what makes New York special is helping our neighbors navigate life's challenges, big and small.
New York's drive and diversity are unparalleled in this country, and we have appointed a City Administration that proves it - putting our best women and men in charge of delivering city services with efficiency and integrity.
This is a team that knows how to execute its core responsibilities - while never losing sight of the fact that we're called to be part of a larger mission as well.
Because the truth is, the state of our city, as we find it today, is a Tale of Two Cities - with an inequality gap that fundamentally threatens our future.
It must not, and will not, be ignored by your city government.
A little more than five years ago, the Great Recession hit our city economy - and our neighborhoods - with a furious blow to New Yorkers rich and poor.
But more quickly than most predicted, our financial sector has come back.
Wall Street has not only rebounded above its pre-recession levels, but at present hovers near historic highs.
And in some of our neighborhoods, the streets are consistently safe and opportunity consistently flows.
That is a good thing. We celebrate that success.
Yet for millions in this city - New Yorkers living in all five boroughs - the economic rebound hasn't just been slow in coming. It seems a distant fantasy - with the ladder up to the good life stretching farther and farther out of reach.
Good jobs that pay decent wages are all too scarce. Access to the best health care seems, to many, to be a privilege that cannot be earned. To countless New Yorkers, affordable housing is an oxymoron.
And a quality education - the most powerful tool we know for lifting one's life chances - has become a promise broken too many times to tally.
All the while, 46 percent of our city's residents live at or near the poverty line.
Our middle class isn't just squeezed; it's at risk of disappearing altogether.
That disparity...that inequality crisis...is the greatest risk to our New York promise.
In past decades, working people built our city, and for their hard work they were rewarded - not always with great wealth, but with a fundamental assurance...the knowledge that hard work could pull them from modest means into a growing middle class.
Today, that assurance is missing...that sense of economic justice is gone. And that is what we aim to address.
There are some who have taken issue with our commitment to this cause - who say that income inequality is just a fact of life, and that attempts to remedy it are simply sowing the seeds of class warfare.
But we know better. We understand that allowing the income gap to stretch further isn't simply a threat to those at the bottom - but to every New Yorker.
And we also know this: New Yorkers' personal commitment to tackling inequality knows no boundaries of geography or income.
Many wealthy New Yorkers are committed to healing those divisions - not out of mere altruism...not due to feelings of guilt, or pity. They know that a Gilded City isn't the New York they signed up for - even if they currently find themselves doing quite well.
They want all New Yorkers to succeed because it enriches all of our lives, including their own - with vibrant neighborhoods and quality schools and fairly-treated workers building a better and stronger city.
And make no mistake about the motives of those in our most hard-pressed communities.
They don't typically look to the rich with anger...they aren't consumed with jealousy or spite. They are simply in search of the city that they signed up for - one that rewards not just wealth, but work.
A city that honors the notion that a single mom taking the subway to her job as a housekeeper deserves to see her efforts rewarded, just as readily as the family who owns the home she cleans.
That the young man who stocks the shelves deserves the same respect and chance at a decent life as the executive who owns the store.
New York will only work when it works as ONE city. And here's why:
Despair does not dissipate. Those who are discouraged - even hopeless - about their future...cannot contribute their labor or energy or values to their neighborhoods, or to the neighborhoods that sit just a short subway ride away.
It's as simple as this: the American dream does not work without hope. The dream that New York has always been...does not function if people believe their chance at a better future is out of reach.
Mayor LaGuardia said, quote: "A mayor who cannot look fifty or seventy-five years ahead is not worthy of being in City Hall."
We must lay the foundation NOW for the strength and stability of New York's future...a future of greater equality and opportunity.
We demand a city that lifts the floor for those struggling day to day...that offers every New Yorker a fair shot...because that is the city that we ALL signed up for.
Mayor LaGuardia called for "government with a soul." He saw beyond the numbers in a budget...understood that those numbers represented real people who were just trying to live their lives, and asked only for a little help.
And that is what we resolve to do.
But before we talk about the measures we will take to reach this goal, it is important that we are honest with New Yorkers about our current fiscal situation.
We are in the midst of a budgetary challenge that is unprecedented. We are faced with a federal government in gridlock that's never been more severe. The state budget contains many unanswered questions. And we have over 150 municipal labor contracts that are unsettled.
When you take all of these factors into account, we are facing an uncharted path.
In the face of this situation, we will be honest with New Yorkers about their government.
We will navigate towards a future that is progressive and fiscally responsible.
It will not be easy.
But we will not turn away from the challenge.
Even with these impediments before us, we've begun the fight to lift the floor for all New Yorkers...to improve the life conditions of those who struggle with great determination -- not to get ahead -- but merely to keep their heads above water.
And we're fighting to give everyone a fair shot, so that city government doesn't set its priorities by the needs of those at the very top...while ignoring the struggle of those born under a less lucky star.
In the first month of this Administration, we have forged an agreement with this City Council that will provide a right to Paid Sick Leave to 500,000 additional New Yorkers.
New Yorkers like the woman I heard from right here in Queens. Kathy Delahoz made a good living, earning $50,000 a year at her job as a computer technician for a company with 11 employees.
After suffering a car accident, she refused medical treatment and instead went back to work the next day because she was afraid of losing a day's pay - or even losing her job.
After her doctor urged her to take a day off to recuperate, she agreed - explaining the situation to her supervisors. A short time later, she was forwarded a text that read simply: "Just tell her the job is not for her."
Under the expanded Paid Sick Leave legislation, New Yorkers like Kathy won't lose pay just because they put their health, or the health of their kids, first.
Esmeralda Valencia, a restaurant owner from Brooklyn knows why that's important.
That's why even before the new law passed, she offered paid sick leave to her employees - because she knows that a healthy workforce is a more productive workforce.
But expanding Paid Sick Leave is just one part of our effort to lift the floor for our city's middle class and working poor.
This month, we will extend the reach of living wage standards - ending a City lawsuit that stood in the way of expanding that important legislation...and issuing an executive order to set the expansion in motion.
And we will work with the City Council to increase the number of living wage jobs offered by employers that the City subsidizes - reaching tens of thousands of additional New Yorkers.
We want to ensure that New Yorkers aren't relegated to the ranks of the poor when putting in a full week's work.
Next week, we will ask Albany to give New York City the power to raise the minimum wage in all five boroughs. In the process, we will send a powerful signal to the people of New York - that we honor work...and that we are committed to making work pay.
We will lift the floor for New Yorkers crushed by skyrocketing rents...by requiring developers to build affordable homes for everyday people rather than simply multi-million dollar condos for the most fortunate among us.
Let me be clear. We want to work with the real estate industry to build. We MUST build more to achieve our vision. But the people's interests will be accounted for in every real estate deal made with the City.
In total, we pledge to preserve or construct nearly 200,000 units of affordable housing - enough to house between 400,000 and 500,000 New Yorkers -- to help working people by literally putting a roof over their heads.
On Friday and Saturday, we announced a top-flight team of housing and planning experts, and their first charge is to create and implement a plan to reach this goal - which will be released by May 1st.
And while we lift the floor, we will also offer New Yorkers a fair shot.
We have already taken bold new steps to reform the overuse of stop-and-frisk.
We announced a settlement in the case of Floyd vs. the City of New York - an acknowledgment of the wrongs spurred by a broken policing policy...and a message to New Yorkers of every background that we will respect equal protection under the law.
We continue working to build a bond of trust between law enforcement and the neighborhoods they serve...to ensure that New Yorkers see their safety AND their rights protected. And to protect our police officers, who want and need community partners as they work so hard to root out crime.
And it's because of the hard work of our police officers - working with community partners - that shootings are down 17 percent from where they were at this point in 2013.
Protecting the safety of all New Yorkers includes protecting the health of all New Yorkers.
For months, I joined with deeply concerned neighborhood residents to stop the closures of our community hospitals in Brooklyn. Many days, it seemed like we might not prevail. But we did.
We made it clear that we will no longer accept a reckless pattern of closing hospitals without regard to the people who need the medical services they provide.
Instead of watching hospitals shuttered and simply sold off to the highest bidder, we will continue the battles we've won over the last several months - requiring alternatives that put the health of our people ahead of profits.
And on that, we will not retreat.
We will protect the almost half-million undocumented New Yorkers, whose voices too often go unheard. We will reach out to all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status -- issuing municipal ID cards available to all New Yorkers this year -- so that no daughter or son of our city goes without bank accounts, leases, library cards...simply because they lack identification.
To all of my fellow New Yorkers who are undocumented, I say: New York City is your home too, and we will not force ANY of our residents to live their lives in the shadows.
La ciudad de Nueva York es el hogar de todos los que vivimos aqui. No dejaremos que ninguno de nuestros residentes viva en las sombras.
We'll offer a fair shot to the workforce of tomorrow...changing a mindset that focuses on tax breaks for big corporations rather than making it easier for our people to earn the skills they need to land jobs at those companies.
We know the soaring cost of CUNY makes higher education harder and harder for everyday New Yorkers to afford.
And we understand that higher education is the path to a better life...the great equalizer...the key to lifting oneself into the middle class.
To that end, we will focus on the training and skills that individuals need to meet the demands generated by large and small employers of our city.
And we'll not only fight to shift resources from corporate subsidies to tuition assistance, we'll work to connect higher education to the jobs that the 21st Century workforce requires.
CUNY has always been the engine that drove New York's economy, making sure that our great industries had the workforce they needed to thrive.
Today, new industries are driving an economic future with jobs we could not have envisioned just a few years ago.
And CUNY is going to help us fill those jobs with New Yorkers who are educated and ready to work.
We will forgo big giveaways to a select few companies and instead pursue a city economic strategy that grows whole sectors of small businesses in emerging industries - from technology, to green jobs, to food exports, to advanced manufacturing - companies that can generate good jobs at decent wages in all five boroughs.
We will create an Entrepreneurship Fund for low-income New Yorkers and a Fashion Manufacturing Fund -- which will leverage private capital to ensure small business growth and fashion manufacturing across all five boroughs.
As we celebrate Fashion Week, we plan to grow this industry to the benefit of New Yorkers from all walks of life.
And we'll create jobs for young people who are growing up in this city... who have always called this home.
First, we will advance a dedicated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math program at CUNY...to start preparing more graduates of our public high schools for jobs in the city's tech industry.
To that end, our aim is that within eight years, the majority of skilled technology-related jobs in New York City are being filled by those educated in New York City schools. We will look to the innovation economy not just to grow companies, but also to put New Yorkers to work.
Second, as our health sector continues to rapidly grow, we will prepare more of our unemployed, and our young people, for middle-skill, middle-class jobs...by scaling-up innovative programs like the Bronx's Health Education and Research Occupations High School that connects New Yorkers to CUNY and to relevant work experience at Montefiore Hospital.
Third, for people without a college degree, we will reinvent our maze of overlapping and often-ineffective job training programs -- and invest in industry-linked apprenticeship programs that directly connect New Yorkers to jobs in emerging industries such as green building innovation, information technology, and telecommunications.
Fourth, we will connect city high schools to colleges, apprenticeship programs, or industries that correspond to the skills our students must learn. We will reverse the trend of importing engineers, nurses, and other skilled workers to fill New York City jobs -- and start in-sourcing good jobs for those who live here now, and are desperate for work.
While we continue to invest in and expand our new businesses, we won't lose sight of the industries that have made us the center of commerce and culture. We will pursue a five-borough economic agenda that integrates new industries with the traditional drivers of job growth in our city.
Finally, we will not forget our obligations to the people of this city still recovering from the aftereffects of super-storm Sandy.
We are resolved to make the efforts underway function more effectively and efficiently.
In the aftermath of the storm, I personally made it my mission to see the devastation in those neighborhoods myself. The people I met in Staten Island, and the Rockaways, and Coney Island, and Lower Manhattan suffered unimaginable dislocation of their lives.
I made a promise that if elected Mayor, I would make this recovery a focus of my administration.
In the coming weeks, we'll make good on the pledge with a comprehensive review and updated plan to help those for whom the effects of Sandy are still an everyday reality.
And above all, we WILL give a fair shot to those who deserve it most - our children - ALL of them.
We will offer every child, from every borough of this city, truly universal, full-day Pre-K.
We will provide quality extended learning programs for every middle-schooler.
And for this, we won't wait. We have a detailed plan to put this program into effect THIS September.
And we will do this by asking those who make more than a half-million dollars a year to pay a little more in taxes.
For those making between $500,000 and a million dollars a year, that means an average of about 970 bucks. But to the young minds that we help shape...the pre-teen lives that we keep safe...the generation of working New Yorkers that we put on a path to success...it will be priceless.
Now, I know this last part has been the subject of some debate in recent weeks. And I know that people of good conscience can have different plans for how to achieve better outcomes for our kids.
So let me take just a moment to make MY case for why our plan is the way to make that promise to our young people a reality.
There are some who say that Albany shouldn't approve our plan because the STATE government simply cannot raise ANY taxes right now.
But that is NOT the debate. We're not asking Albany to raise the state income tax by a penny to pay for universal Pre-K and after-school programs here in New York City.
We're simply asking Albany to allow New York City to tax itself - its wealthiest residents...those making a half-million or more a year.
Raising taxes on the rich makes our commitment to our kids more than just words. It makes that commitment REAL. It makes that commitment FAIR. And it offers a promise to our kids that they can COUNT ON.
If there ARE extra resources in the state budget, we must remember that the State Court of Appeals ruled - in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision several years ago -- that the children of this city deserve billions more in educational resources, and now is the time to provide it.
When it comes to Pre-K and after-school, we have a detailed plan, and it's on the table - one that's real; that's fair; that's reasonable.
So let's dedicate the funding we need to do what New York City must - and let's tap the wealthiest New Yorkers to do so.
This is about the children of New York, and just how strong of a commitment we are willing to make to THEIR futures...and OUR OWN.
And that is a commitment I hear every day -- not just from middle class, working class, and low-income New Yorkers - but from good people from EVERY income bracket - people who know that for New York to move forward, we must ask those who have achieved great success to give a little back...to ensure that stories like theirs are possible for the next generation.
As I said in my inaugural address, we do not do this to punish success. We do it to create more success stories.
Study after study shows that children who access Pre-K programs are more likely to stay on a path to a productive life.
Middle-schoolers who access after-school programs are less likely to fall victim to gangs and street violence...more likely to graduate and go on to college or the world of work...to have hope for lifting themselves out of a cycle of poverty and into a world of possibility.
Consider the story of Rocio Espada, a single mother of four - two teenagers, and two little ones - from Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Instead of taking her four-year-old to full-day Pre-K - a program that she says would give her child a better start on life - she's forced to rely on her mother and her friend to watch after her child while she goes to work.
Her teenagers leave school at the end of day with keys to their apartment in their hands - headed home, Rocio hopes, and not falling victim to the negativity of the streets. Pre-K and after-school programs give mothers like Rocio more than just peace of mind that her kids are safe. They give her the promise that her kids are on the right path - and staying there.
Mayor LaGuardia was nicknamed the "Little Flower." And he spoke for, and fought for, families all across New York City who would have otherwise gone without a voice.
What we wish for New York City is to nurture our own Little Flowers - children from every borough and background - to let them grow to their fullest potential.
That is what we want for New York City.
To lift the floor.
To offer every New Yorker a fair shot.
Fighting to end the Tale of Two Cities - not just because it's moral and just...but because it makes ALL of our lives richer.
We cannot wait for Washington to act. We will not let the gridlock there - or the limits of Albany - to serve as an excuse for New York City to roll over and ignore our mission.
New Yorkers don't look at government as federal and state and local. They look at it - at all of us - as their elected representatives...the people they are counting on to make a difference in their lives.
And we here in New York City government have many tools at our disposal to make good on that promise...on that responsibility...and we will use them.
We find ourselves at a fork in the road. We can look down the path that we've been on for far too long. We can see it as the easier trail to traverse, and fool ourselves into thinking it's our only option.
Or we can take the OTHER road...the path to closing the inequality gap...that very New York option of taking on big challenges and getting results.
That's what Mayor LaGuardia did - making the New Deal come alive in New York City...and ensuring that New York responded to the urgent challenge of his time.
That's what so many women and men of great vision and compassion...of strong values and quiet struggle...of fierce determination and relentless action...have done throughout New York's history.
That's the path I choose today. I ask my fellow citywide elected officials, members of this City Council and the State Legislature - and all New Yorkers - to join me.
We've one got one chance to get this right. Let's seize it.
Thank you, and God bless the people of New York.