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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray Deliver Remarks at Women in Politics Mentoring and Networking Reception

March 23, 2016

First Lady Chirlane McCray: They said there were a lot of people out here – I had no idea. Look at this. This is amazing, wow, thank you Azi – and good evening, everyone. Welcome to Gracie Mansion.

To say that I'm happy to see all of you would be a huge understatement. I'm inspired, I'm energized and grateful to see so many righteous women in one room. I can almost feel the walls vibrating.

You are here tonight because you are a leader. Now some of you are leaders in full bloom with titles like Deputy Mayor, Commissioner, Borough President, Council Member, State Legislator, Executive Director, or maybe CEO. Some of you are leaders without a fancy title – but you are leaders nonetheless. Some of you are still growing into your powers, but your promise is already plain as day.

The purpose of this gathering is to help you strengthen existing connections and forge new ones. Together we can build a network of talented women and create a truly representative government, and – make no mistake about it – we've got our work cut out for us. The statistics are shameful. Down in Washington, women hold less than 20 percent of all congressional seats – less than 20 percent. 94 other countries are ahead of us on that count. And it is just not acceptable that women of color hold just 6.2 percent of all seats. I am sad to say the situation isn't much better in New York, as many of you know first hand. Only one quarter of the seats in our state legislature are held by women – and the numbers are only slightly better in our City Council where 27 seats – 27 percent of the seats are held by women.

Before Bill was sworn in, the Mayor's Office was also on the wrong side of the 50/50 dividing line. I'm very proud to report that we've made significant gains: 58 percent of this administration's senior leaders, including agency heads and cabinet members, are women. And I want to add – they are women of all ethnicities. That's a whopping 14 percent increase from the previous administration – and we're not finished.

[Laughter]

Over the last two years, many of the women in this room have helped us develop, launch, and administer new initiatives that are making an enormous difference in the lives of New York women – New York City women and their families. That just proves that when you give rockstar women the power and responsibility they deserve, they make the most of it. Now Bill is going to tell you more about some of those triumphs, but I can't resist bragging a little bit about our Commission on Gender Equity.

Under Azi's expert leadership, the Commission is putting the full force of city government behind the sustained effort to make sure every girl and every woman is treated equally and feels safe. If you want to learn more about the work that we are doing, keep an eye out for our website, which we will launch very soon. I know Azi is very eager to hear your ideas, so don't be shy about reaching out to her.

Let me also point out two more remarkable women who are eager to meet all of the emerging leaders in the house tonight. Erin Vilardi – are you here? Will you please raise your hand.

[Applause]

Erin, why don't you step up here just for a minute so everyone can see your face. Good, this is a very big room – Erin Vilardi.

Erin is the director and founder of VoteRunLead, which has provided leadership training and support to more than 15,000 women. If you would like to learn more about how they can help you achieve your dreams, say hello to Erin. Or be sure to grab some of their materials on your way out. Thank you, Erin.

[Applause]

I also want to introduce Kimberly Peeler-Allen from Higher Heights for America.

[Applause]

Alright, Kimberly. Higher Heights is a national organization headquartered in New York, looking to develop a black women's leadership pipeline on all levels and to strengthen civic engagement beyond election days. I know she is also eager to tell you about her work and has a lot of great materials for you to check out – so don't be shy. Thank you, Kimberly.

[Applause]

Before I pass the mic, I just want to take a step back and remind everyone that gatherings like this are not just a nice thing to do. They are an essential part of a movement that stretches all the way back – even before Seneca Falls. From the earliest days, women have recognized the power of coming together. We gathered in church basements and around kitchen tables. We organized small readings and big marches. And in the most desirable of all conditions, senior, more experienced women were able to pass along knowledge to the next generation. Now this room, and these tables – well there are tables in the other room – are fancier than the ones many of us remember, but our goal remains the same: true equality in every sphere. And we will not stop pushing until we achieve it.

It is now my pleasure to introduce a true feminist – a man who doesn't just talk about how much he values women. He shows it each and every day as a mayor, as a husband, as a friend, as a father, and as a partner. Everyone, please help me recognize and welcome, Bill de Blasio.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: I really was starting to get worried she forgot my name.

[Laughter]

I said, wow, I've got to do something to make more of an impression.

[Laughter]

Thank you, Chirlane. There are many wonderful things to say about Chirlane. And I was just looking at some photos sent from our daughter Chiara. And so, I want to start my praise for Chirlane, by saying that she brought up a young woman who is now a leader on her campus of two organizations, and this makes me so happy because, you know, we've all been part of good organizations over the years, but some organizations have really good names. So, Chiara says to us last year, I'm getting involved in these two groups, and I'm going to be a leader, and I'm going to be actively involved. And we said, what are they called? And she said, one is called TLC – and I thought, that's a well trodden road.

[Laughter]

What does it stand for? And it stands for Together for Ladies of Color.

[Applause]

Isn't that cool? Alright. And then the second organization was to focus on the empowerment and liberation of women. But they didn't just go with a garden variety title – they named it Feminists for Justice. So, she's one of the leaders of Feminists for Justice, ironically at her jesuit college in California.

[Laughter]

So, you know, the jesuits got a little more than they bargained for.

[Laughter]

So, that is one of a thousand things to say about Chirlane – that she brought up a young woman who is in Feminists for Justice. And Chirlane was a feminist for justice from a very beginning, going back to her high school, and going back to Wellesley, and then everything she ever did since. And the day I met her – September 9th, 1991 – I remember it like it was yesterday –

[Laughter]

– She walked up, and I thought, wow, who's the new feminist for justice?

[Laughter]

Because it was kind of obvious that's who she was. But – what's your sign?

[Laughter]

I tried to really – you know, slick line.

[Laughter]

But the rest is history, and I think people all over this city feel that they have a First Lady who is looking out for them, and uplifting them, and shining a light on the good, and fighting the bad. Let's thank Chirlane McCray.

[Applause]

So, this is a really wonderful evening. I love the notion of so many accomplished, and powerful, and purposeful women coming to Gracie Mansion with your mentees and showing the next generation the amazing talent that has developed over the years and what it is leading to for our City, and, in fact, for our society as a whole. And there is a special power in nurturing and supporting the next generation. And in our family, we're very overtly aware of the many afflictions of language that we're all brought up with. We are sensitive and we talk about them in our family. And so, Chirlane and I, during the campaign, had to figure out ways to, kind of, politely correct people. We went to many places where people were trying to be very kind and considerate, but they would the phrase – with Chirlane, and me – and I was the candidate for mayor, and Chirlane's my wife – and they'd say, behind every great man stands a great woman. And we said – now, I make a point to do it proactively in a lot of places – I go, we don't allow that phrase in our household.

[Laughter]

It could either way the way – great man, great woman, it doesn't matter, it's all good. And we say beside every great man stands a great women – a great woman, a great man. And I would say, in terms of the leaders in this room and your mentees, beside every great woman stands a great woman tonight.

[Applause]

Now, I get to call the roll here of the leaders in our administration. You heard that in this administration, the majority is actually in the majority in terms of leadership positions.

[Laughter]

We had a novel thought – we thought, what if you looked at the demographics, figure out who's the majority, and gave them most of the jobs.

[Laughter]

So, we're proud of that. I'm going to call the role of some of the great leaders in the administration who are here. If I miss – let me know, great leaders.

First of all – our fantastic new Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Herminia Palacio.

[Applause]

There you are – she's towering above the crowd. Our Commissioner for the Administration for Children's Services, Gladys Carrion –

[Applause]

The exceedingly pregnant Commissioner for the Mayor's Office –

[Laughter]

– Mayor's Office for International Affairs – is there a doctor in the house –

[Laughter]

– Commissioner Penny Abeywardena.

[Applause]

Our Commissioner for the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Anne Roest –

[Applause]

The Commissioner for the Department of Records and Information Services – did I get it right?

[Laughter]

The department has a female name – it's DORIS – Commissioner Pauline Toole.

[Applause]

The Commissioner for the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence, Cecile Noel.

[Applause]

The acting Commissioner for the Department of Consumer Affairs, Alba Pico –

[Applause]

The Commissioner for the Board of Standards and Appeals, Margery Perlmutter –

[Applause]

This is a sexy title – Chief Medical Examiner – it's like NCIS and Law and Order, and all that – Barbara Sampson.

[Applause]

This is a righteous title – the Chair of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, Carmelyn Malalis.

[Applause]

Chair of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, Meera Joshi –

[Applause]

Okay, okay – here's a lesson for you all – if you want the majority to be represented as the majority in positions of power, then the person who runs the personnel operations should also come from that majority. Director of the Mayor's Office of Appointments, Rachel Lauter –

[Applause]

It is amazing – since Rachel has had that role, she has not been able to find a single qualified male applicant for any – I said, Rachel, I'm feeling like there's going to be some kind of lawsuit or something. She's like, I'm really, really trying, it's just, you know, they're really nice people, they're just not qualified.

[Laughter]

So, it just keeps happening.

[Laughter]

Our Chief Technology Officer, Minerva Tantoco –

[Applause]

Director of the Mayor's Office of Operations, Mindy Tarlow –

[Applause]

Director for Food Policy, Barbara Turk –

[Applause]

And we already know and love her – Azi Khalili, Executive Director of the Commission on Gender Equity.

[Applause]

Did I miss anyone? Who'd I miss?

[Commotion]

Wait – no, no, you know what? You're in the text. Wait, wait, there's a trick here – there's a trick. Some of them get mentioned up ahead in what's coming up. I shouldn't have said did I miss anyone – it's all part of a plan.

[Laughter]

Imagine I did not miss anyone because – it's about to happen.

[Laughter]

Okay. Now – but wait, there's more – elected officials. We have fabulous leaders here with us tonight – I'm going to mention some. Others I'm not mentioning because they come up, up ahead, okay?

[Laughter]

First of all, our new, wonderful Bronx District Attorney, Darcel Clark –

[Applause]

Where are you District Attorney? First African-American woman District Attorney in New York State.

[Cheers]

From the New York State Assembly – Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte –

[Applause]

Assemblymember Becky Seawright; Assemblymember Joanne Simon; Assemblymember Ellen Jaffe; Assemblymember Pamela Harris.

[Applause]

From the City Council – Councilmember Laurie Cumbo; Councilmember Vanessa Gibson; Councilmember Rosie Mendez; Councilmember Inez Barron.

[Applause]

Okay. Here we go – now, we are proud in this administration that we do big things, and we do bold things, and we challenging things. I had a journalist from a newspaper earlier today ask me why we did things the way we did them. And I said, we believe that you have to do really challenging goals. You have to do stretch goals all the time, because it's the only way to motivate any government to go as far it should go. And so, we like bold – and it can be a pain sometimes, because you've set that stretch goal and you're accountable for it, but that's what we do, okay?

So, in that vein, I'm going to name some of the amazing things that are happening, and you will see the famous phrase come into effect. You know the phrase, success has many mothers? Or was it many fathers? But we're going to say many mothers – or mothers and fathers. We can include everyone. Here we go –

If you want to know why 2015 was the safest year since 1910 for pedestrians, and cyclists, and motorists, then you need to know about Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg –

[Cheers]

– and TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi.

[Cheers]

If you want to know why New York City decided to do something that no other city has done and take on mental health straight on with a plan that will change the way we support people with mental health challenges all over this city – not running from the problem, going right at the problem – then you need to turn to our First Lady Chirlane McCray.

[Cheers]

And to Dr. Mary Bassett – where are you Dr. Mary Bassett? There she is –

[Applause]

When President Obama said it was time to end the scourge of chronic veterans homelessness in this country – people who had served us, coming home, and then ending up homeless, and we had to end that – the person who actually did the work and lead the charge was our Commissioner for Veterans Services, General Loree Sutton.

[Applause]

And is it easy to change our climate back to what it should be and reduce our emissions by 80 percent by 2050? No, it's not easy. But that does not stop our Director of Sustainability, Nilda Mesa.

[Applause]

Some people said that IDNYC would only reach 100,000 people the first year. I'm not going to name who said that because it would be so embarrassing to her – even though I'm about to say her name, I'm not going to say who thought that. But I will say she ultimately got IDNYC into the hands of already over 750,000 New Yorkers – Nisha Agarwal.

[Applause]

Let me explain the magnitude problem here – if you said to Nisha, hey, I have to make a repair on my house, how much would it cost? And she said it'll only cost you $100, but it really cost you $750, you'd be very upset. Now, this is kind of the reverse – she said it would only be 100,000 people, and she ended up with 750,000 people, so I can't really be upset, and she actually made it work. So, Nisha, it's alright.

[Applause]

And finally, very contemporary – this is such topical news, it's only 24 hours old – if you said how could we create the most progressive, most visionary affordable housing plan in the whole country, and require real estate developers to create affordable housing – do something that no big city in America has ever done before – who would be bold enough, creative enough, energetic enough, hardworking enough, dogged enough to do that? Maybe not a male –

[Laughter]

So it would have to be Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen; our Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been; and the great strategist herself, Emma Wolfe –

[Cheers]

– who, if she's here, she's too short to be seen. Is Emma here? Is Emma here, or is she fighting some other good battle somewhere?

Unknown: She was at the rally.

Mayor: She was at the rally, okay. We at least know that much.

So, it is really a joyous time to see such talented people achieve so much. It's a – now, I'll just speak for one second before I bring up the other speakers to the mentees. Mentees, raise your hands please so I can see you.

[Applause]

Alright. So, mentees, you came to right place, because this is such an extraordinary room of leaders. And you've heard, just in these last few minutes, what they've achieved for this city. And, by the way, most of them are like a year or two on the job – they're hardly even warmed up yet. Wait until they get really into it, okay?

[Laughter]

And so, you have the best to learn from and to inspire you. And, mentees, we are depending on you to take the baton. So, I hope this is a night that you will look back on. And remember, you were told to take the baton, because we need you. We need a whole other generation of great, dynamic leaders representing the majority to keep us all moving forward as a society.

So, thank you to all. And now, I have to pleasure of introducing some wonderful people. The first is so wonderful because I remember when she was running for the State Assembly and there – you know those dismissive voices? Chirlane and I are very used to them – we heard a lot of them in 2012 and 2013, telling us we were on a fool's errand. Well, this woman was told that what she was trying to do wouldn't work because she was only 26-years-old at the time, and people said – here's a classic, get ready – it wasn't her turn. Now, if you ever accept that phrase, you're already on the wrong track. So, she didn't believe that. She believed that the people of her district in Queens would benefit from her focused, intense, energetic, substantive approach to this work. And she's doing an extraordinary job in Albany – the Assembly member from the 25th district in Queens, Nily Rozic.

[...]

Mayor: I know what you're thinking – there couldn't possibly be more wonderful, powerful women in this administration who are here tonight, but you'd be wrong. Okay first of all, Chief Jaffe – where are you? Where's Chief Jaffe?

Unknown: She left.

Mayor: I'm going to announce her anyway. Great leader of the NYPD, Chief of Community Affairs Joanne Jaffe, so if you don't know her, you need to meet her, but you're not going to meet her tonight. Okay. Andy Zuniga, put up your hand. Director of our Washington Office for the City of New York, thank you. Roxanne John, come out, Chief of Staff to the First Lady, Roxanne John. And someone who's not in the administration but deserves a lot of credit for what she has done as a trailblazer – I see now, she was there, is Liz Holtzman still here?

Liz Holtzman, step forward. Liz Holtzman.

[Applause]

There you go. So, here's someone – go back and watch what happened during Watergate, and Liz Holtzman was one of the heroes. So that's a trailblazer. Thank you.

[Applause]

And speaking of trailblazers, Chirlane and I, every step along the way in what we've tried to do, we have been uplifted and supported and guided and chastised – in a good way – and given that kind of talk you get from someone who has already been there, and understands how to get things done. And she has done so much for us, so much for all of New York City, so much for the Caribbean community of this city, so much for Brooklyn – now she's doing so much as our appointee to the CUNY Board for the City of New York. It is my honor to bring forward Dr. Una Clarke.

[...]

Mayor: Powerful, impressive women keep surging into the room. From the team that brought you universal pre-K, Chief of Staff to Deputy Mayor Buery, Alexis Confer. Where are you Alexis?

[Applause]

The Executive Director of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, Mina Malik.

[Applause]

And you know, we have all these wonderful events, and there's a team that puts them on, and their fearless leader has to step forward – [inaudible] Carla – Carla, step forward. Where's Carla? There she is. Carla Matero, Director of the Mayor's Office of Special Events, well done.

[Applause]

Alright now, two more great people. We all have our mentors in life and then we all have our consciences, you know, conscience is a wonderful thing, and it guides us and it helps us. Sometimes you don't want to hear your conscience talking, but I am blessed to have a conscience that will make sure I hear – whether I like it or not. Ladies and gentlemen, the Borough President of Manhattan, Gale Brewer.

[...]

Mayor: Okay, what we – we have one more speaker coming up – but what we've learned from that very powerful talk is: you have to buy the New York Times. If you read it online, you are like, cheating. Okay, it's like you obviously don't care – but if you buy it, okay, then you're really going to amount to something. Thank you for that insight.

Okay, I want to welcome – first of all acknowledge and thank and welcome – literally, the woman who organizes everything I do all day, and makes the railroad run, our Director of Scheduling, Prisca Salazar-Rodriguez. Thank you.

[Applause]

And just before I came in here, my Press Secretary Karen Hinton was here, but I don't know if she actually got to this room. So, my Press Secretary Karen Hinton, wherever you are, we support you.

[Applause]

Okay, last but not least – so, what's important to recognize is if you want to change things, of course hire change agents and hire people with the value and the fortitude – the values and the fortitude to make change, but you have to be strategic and choose the right person for the right role for the right mission. And you have to have the law on your side, because the law is something to be navigated. And so, I had to choose a counsel who would share my values and take on some of the very thorniest issues: how to create an administration that looks like New York City, how to make sure that we were extending opportunity through all city agencies, make sure we were giving minority and women-owned businesses maximum opportunity, make sure we were extending information to all communities – especially broadband access. All these things got to the heart of fighting against inequality, so I realized it was key to have someone who would take the law and bend it toward justice. My Counsel, Maya Wiley.

[Applause]

[...]

Thank you everybody, good night.

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