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Mayor Bloomberg Discusses the Values That Have Shaped New York City and Will Guide Its Future

December 5, 2013

The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered this morning at the Association for a Better New York's breakfast at the Brooklyn Marriott:

“Let me start out by correcting Mr. Rudin, one mistake he made. The truth of the matter is all of the things that he listed were done by those people who stood up and all of the other 290,000 City employees. That is really true.

“I was just lucky enough to be here and to work with them at a time of a turning point in our city. But they’re the ones that have made this City what it is, and most of the workforce of the City will continue on to the next administration and I couldn’t be more optimistic about this City going forward.

“Let me start by obviously saying thank you, and thanks to Bill for that kind introduction and all of his great work here at ABNY.

“Bill’s father – Lew, who I had the privilege of knowing – created ABNY as a sort of kitchen table for civic-minded New Yorkers. For 41 years, it has been bringing people together, always over food, to talk about life in our city – and the challenges that we face.

“The first time that I spoke at an ABNY breakfast was nearly 12 years ago, in February, 2002. That time we gathered just a few blocks from the World Trade Center site to discuss the challenges ahead.

“And later that year at another ABNY breakfast, I laid out our vision for rebuilding Lower Manhattan. That vision – of a neighborhood full of new residents, businesses, parks and schools, arts and culture has come to life in, I think it’s fair to say, spectacular fashion.

“Today, the downtown community has more residents and businesses than it did on September 10, 2001, and conventional wisdom certainly did not predict that. The rebirth of Lower Manhattan I think is emblematic of the work we’ve done to bring new life – and jobs – to neighborhoods across all five boroughs. And I think it’s fair to say nowhere are the results more visible than right here in Brooklyn.

“Over the past 12 years, Brooklyn has become the quintessential urban success story. Not only is Brooklyn dramatically safer than it was, but almost 40 percent of all the jobs that we’ve created since 2001 have been created here in Brooklyn.

“And the investments we’ve made to revitalize the waterfront and promote arts and culture have helped turn Brooklyn into an international symbol of urban vitality.

“A lot of people deserve credit for Brooklyn’s incredible renaissance – but there’s one person in particular who I would be at fault if I did not mention. He is here with us this morning, and I think we should give him a big round of applause: Mister Brooklyn himself, Marty Markowitz.

“And there’s somebody else here whose guidance I have sought out and received with much appreciation, former Mayor David Dinkins. David, thank you for everything.

“It’s been a privilege to serve with Marty over these past 12 years. But Marty, don’t go getting all verklempt on me. We still have 27 days to go – and a lot of work to do.

“So today, rather than looking back, I thought I would look forward. And not just over the next 27 days – but really over the next 27 years, and beyond.

“There is an event happening sometime over the next 27 days that – for me – puts the next 27 years in perspective. My daughter, Georgina, is going to welcome the latest member of the Bloomberg family into the world. It will be my first grandchild, a baby boy. And I am fully competent to change diapers, if anybody wants to know. As a matter of fact, George won’t like me for saying this, but I changed her diapers.

“Georgina is going to make a wonderful mother. And I’m looking forward to holding the baby in my arms – and looking into his eyes and saying to him: ‘This is your generation’s city now. It’s the greatest city in the world. Don’t screw it up.’

“Every day, some 337 babies are born across the five boroughs – that’s about one every four minutes. The future belongs to all of them. And I’ve never been more optimistic than I am today about the city they will grow up in.

“Today, crime is at record lows – with murder down by 49 percent since 2001. Private sector jobs are at record highs – nearly 4 million of them. Our welfare rolls are at near-record lows – 25 percent lower than they were back in 2001.

“Our air is cleaner than it’s been in more than 50 years – with pollution 23 percent lower than before we launched our sustainability plan in 2007. Our parks are bigger than ever: more than 800 new acres have been added since ‘01.

"Our schools are better than ever: High school graduation rates have gone up by 42 percent, and drop-out rates have been cut by 52 percent.

“Our city is more diverse than ever – with an all-time high population. In fact, for the first time in more than 60 years, more people are moving into the city than are moving out. And as a result of all this, our neighborhoods are stronger than ever.

“Of course, nothing is perfect – far from it. We still face great challenges – and we always will. But I think it’s fair to say that we have never been better positioned to meet those challenges.

“The children being born into our city today are arriving at a high point in our history – but I don’t think it’s at the peak. I don’t believe the peak is even in sight – and that’s the way it must always be.

“There are no limits to the heights that we can climb as a city. There is no cap on the progress we can make, no boundaries that can hold us in – unless we ignore the critical and constant risk facing our city.

“That risk is not some external threat that can set us back – whether it’s climate change or terrorism. Both are deadly serious issues that we must continue to address head-on. But the biggest risk we face, I think, is a quieter kind of threat, one that is sometimes harder to recognize, and convenient to ignore: it is the risk of failing to stay true to the values that made our city great, the values that make New York New York.

“These are not Democratic values or Republican values. They are not liberal or conservative values. They are the values that have defined our city’s history, and that must always guide our future.

“Our administration has worked to honor and extend those values every day for nearly 12 years now. And that, more than anything else I think, is the legacy I’m most proud of. It is the greatest legacy that I can leave for my children and grandchildren.

“So – you might be wondering – what are these New York City values? I think we all have a sense of them; we feel them in our hearts.

“We usually don’t talk about them – but we should, because they bring us together as a city, they inspire us to do right, and even when it’s unpopular or politically difficult they guide us. So this morning, I’d like to touch briefly on what I see as the core values that have guided our city’s history, and which I hope will forever guide our future.

“First, New York must always strive to be the most open city in the world. The Lady who stands in our harbor, holding aloft the lamp of liberty, is more than a symbol of American freedom. She is our city’s patron saint.

“And the words she cries, given to us by Emma Lazarus, form our city’s sacred prayer: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’

“Those words, I think, must always be etched in our hearts, and that lamp of liberty must always light our way forward. From our earliest days, we have been a city that welcomes people of all countries and creeds, all races and religions, all outlooks and orientations.

“Today, when people are sick or hurting and ask for assistance, we don’t ask them for their immigration papers. We help them.

“When two people love each other and want to commit their lives to one another, we don’t stand in their way because of their gender. We issue them a marriage license.

“When a faith community wants to build a house of worship in a particular neighborhood, we don’t tell them to look someplace else. We stand up for their religious freedom.

“We are one city – open to all, with equal rights for all. That has been our past – and it must always be our future.

“Our city, founded on freedom, was built on opportunity: the opportunity to find work and build a better life. That opportunity – and the chance to be rewarded for hard work – is a second core value of our city.

“Generations have come to New York with barely a penny in their pockets, but with their hearts full of hope and their hands ready to work. All of them have made our city better – and they are still coming, I’m glad to say, from every corner of the world.

“We must always be a city that offers opportunity to those who have hope, even if, especially if, they speak limited English, or have a limited education, or have limiting résumés.

“Some communities in the suburbs try to wall those people out. We welcome them in – because they hold in their hearts the Great American Dream.

“At the same time, we must always be a city that offers opportunity to those with the greatest skills, and the most audacious ideas, so that New York is always a city of innovation: a third core value.

“This is where Robert Fulton built the first commercially viable steamship, which transformed the global economy. Fulton’s Folly, they called it.

“It’s where Samuel Morse developed the telegraph that revolutionized the communications industry. It’s where an immigrant named Charles Pfizer opened a drugstore that spawned a massive pharmaceutical industry that has saved countless lives.

“It is where Alexander Graham Bell opened Bell Laboratories, which reshaped the way we live. And it’s where so many young tech entrepreneurs are now turning the latest wave of improbable ideas into reality.

“Albert Einstein reputedly once said: ‘If at first an idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it.’ We must always be a city where absurdity is a virtue.

“That’s why we launched the Applied Sciences competition several years ago. We cannot begin to imagine the technology that will define our lives 25 years from now. But we can begin to make sure that those ideas are developed here – and that’s what we’ve done.

“The Applied Sciences initiative has attracted world-class universities to our City: Cornell, The Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Toronto, and many others.

“And together with the applied science initiatives launched by NYU, Columbia, and CUNY, we will double the number of engineering students and faculty members in our city, and hundreds of new companies and thousands of new jobs will be created.

“Just as we value creativity and daring among entrepreneurs and technologists, we also value it among artists – and artistic expression is another core value of New York. This is where generations of artists have found inspiration – from Walt Whitman to Andy Warhol to Ai Wei Wei.

“This is where Irving Berlin and George Gershwin re-wrote the American songbook. It’s where bebop became a jazz sensation, it’s where the Beat generation was born, where the folk revival started blowin’ in the wind, where salsa, disco, hip-hop, and punk all came to life.

“It’s where Miller and Mailer, Hopper and Haring, De Kooning and di Suvero all found inspiration, and it’s where Christo and Jeanne-Claude staged perhaps the most successful public art installation in history.

“For 12 years, we have worked to promote and strengthen arts and culture in our city. Not only does it feed our spirit, it feeds our economy, and because the arts are a magnet for talent and tourists from all over the world we remain an economic capital of the world. And economic capital is really defined by culture – attracting poets, painters, performers, and artists of every kind.

“Personal freedom, economic opportunity, technological innovation, artistic expression: for centuries, these four values defined our city – and for 12 years, they have guided our Administration. But they are not alone. A fifth core value is no less important: We invest in the future.

“Our predecessors in city government built Central Park when much of Manhattan was farmland and forest. They built subway lines to neighborhoods that didn’t yet exist. And they built water tunnels with enough capacity for the city to grow for generations.

“Then, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, City government stopped investing in its future. One of our core values was abandoned – and we paid a terrible price for it.

“Over the past 12 years, we have invested in the future a non-negotiable priority. We’re nearly ready to open a new subway extension – the first extension funded by the City in more than 50 years.

“We’ve also created entirely new public transit systems: the East River Ferry and Citi Bike and new taxis. And we’ve brought taxi service to areas outside of Manhattan, something the City had been trying to do since the Lindsay administration.

“We’ve created more than 800 acres of new parkland, much of it by reclaiming neglected areas of our waterfront. We’ve built and preserved enough affordable housing to house the entire city of Atlanta – and then some. We’ve improved our air and water quality – while also making our city more resilient to climate change.

“And when I think about the city my grandson will come to know as an adult, I think of all the projects that are still years or even decades away from completion: The 3rd water tunnel has more to go; Hudson Yards; Willets Point; the Applied Sciences campus on Roosevelt Island; Governors Island; the Kingsbridge Armory; Brooklyn Bridge Park; Fresh Kills Park; the Staten Island Wheel; Hunters Point South; the storm surge barriers proposed by our Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency – and the list could go on and on.

“I won’t be around to cut final ribbons on those projects – and that’s fine with me. What matters to me is knowing that those projects will benefit our children and grandchildren for decades to come.

“Investing in the future also means improving our public school system – something the City had also stopped doing. When our administration began, high school graduation rates had been stuck at 50 percent for 20 years. Think about that, 20 years and no improvement. It was inexcusably wrong.

“When City government can’t see beyond the special interests, or beyond the next election, children suffer. But when City government looks ahead – and invests in policies and programs that put students first – children succeed. And we have certainly seen that over the past 12 years.

“Today, not only are high school graduation rates more than 40 percent higher, but so are college readiness rates. And now, 22 of the state’s top 25 elementary and middle schools are in the five boroughs. Back in 2001, we didn’t have a single school in the top 25 statewide.

“We’ve also invested $25 billion to build and modernize school facilities, which has helped us add 126,000 more classroom seats, and give parents and students more top-quality school options.

“When it comes to education, infrastructure, and so much else, the children of our city – and the children yet to be born – must continue to be the most influential voices in the halls of our government.

“We’ve done our very best to act as their guardians – and protect them from those who would stand in front of them, or mortgage their future. And as a result, I think it’s fair to say, that their future has never been brighter.

“There are two more core values that have always defined New York City at its best. The first is our compassion.

“It was a New Yorker in the White House – Franklin Roosevelt – who developed the nation’s first social safety net, and he created it out of threads first stitched together by two of our city’s great leaders: Governor Al Smith and Senator Robert F. Wagner.

“Today, there is no city in America with a stronger social safety net than New York – and there is no city that has done more to fight poverty than we have. That’s one reason why New York has been the only major city in the nation not to experience an increase in poverty since the 2000 census.

“The average city saw a 36 percent increase in poverty. New York saw no increase in poverty whatsoever. Of course, flat is not good enough. But by bucking the trend, we’ve helped keep thousands of families out of poverty.

“One way we’ve fought poverty has been through our Young Men’s Initiative, which is the most comprehensive effort any city has made to help those who are most at-risk of getting off-track: black and Latino young men.

“And the work that we’ve done to reform juvenile justice policies is helping to give thousands of kids a fair shot at staying in school and staying out of trouble. All of these programs – and many more – are in keeping with the best traditions of New York City as a laboratory for compassionate and innovative social policy.

“Finally, and just as importantly, New York City is at its best when it values – and has the courage to defend – public health and safety. In the 19th century, New York was the first major city to create a Board of Health to battle disease. And in the early 20th century, we became the first major city to create a public health laboratory.

“Our administration has upheld that tradition – and extended it into the 21st century. From banning smoking and trans fats, to adopting calorie counts and battling obesity, no city in the world has done more to improve public health than we have – and the proof is in the fact that today New Yorkers are living longer and healthier lives.

“In fact, since 2001, life expectancy in our city has increased by nearly three years, far outpacing the national average.

“One reason for those gains has been our commitment to reducing violent crime – and fighting illegal guns. No city in the country has done more to crack down on illegal guns than we have – and one result is that murder has declined much more steeply here than anywhere else in the country.

“In the country as a whole, murder declined by 15 percent from 2001 to 2012. In New York City, it declined by 38 percent. And this year, we are on pace to shatter the record for the fewest number of murders in the city’s modern history.

“Not only are we outpacing the nation in reducing crime, we’re also outpacing the nation in reducing incarceration. Across the U.S., incarceration levels have increased by 5 percent since 2001. Here in our city, they have decreased by 32 percent, which means thousands more people are staying out of jail and in their communities.

“When I took office, not even my supporters thought that we would be able to improve on Mayor Giuliani’s impressive crime-fighting record.

“Let me tell you what the New York Post editorial board had to say after I was elected: ‘Will New York remain one of the safest large cities in the country? We’re not optimistic.’

“Well, I was optimistic then – and I remain optimistic now. Every mayor’s goal is to leave the city safer and stronger than he, or she, finds it. I certainly hope that the next administration – and every one following it – achieves that same goal, and they’re going to need your support to do it and the support of our 290,000 employees.

“The good news is our City’s workforce is better than ever. Our employee retention rate would be the envy of the any private sector firm. Simply put, New York City government is a great place to work.

“Our recruitment ability has never been better. Job applications in almost every city agency are at record levels. The quality of services delivered to our citizens in virtually every area has become known across the country and around the world.

“And our workforce is also competitively compensated with future raises to keep up with inflation already funded in our balanced proposed budget for the next 18 months.

“The values I’ve mentioned this morning are – I believe – values that run deep in our DNA as New Yorkers.

“At our best, we are a city that is defined by freedom, diversity, and equality. We are a city that ensures opportunity for all. We are a city that champions economic innovation and artistic expression.

“We are a city that invests in the future, that adopts compassionate and effective social policies, and that protects the health and safety of all New Yorkers in all communities.

“That is the New York that I know and love. That is the New York you know and love. And it’s the New York we have worked together to build for the past 12 years.

“In the decades ahead, mayors will come and go. There will be ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies. But if we always remember our values – if we honor them, and work to live up to them, and defend them against attack, if we all pull together and stand up for one another, we will remain what we are today: The greatest city in the world.

“That is my heartfelt hope. That is my wish for our future. And that is what I want, more than anything else, for my little grandson and all the generations to come.

“Thank you, and God bless our great city.”


Marc La Vorgna (212) 788-2958