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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Keynote Address at the Global Mayors Summit

September 18, 2017

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you so much, Patrick. I'd like to welcome you all to New York City. It is a thrill to have so many leaders here who represent values that we hold dear. I think this is a powerful time for us to be gathering, and I want to speak to the issues we face and the role we need to play, but, first, I want to say to my friend, Patrick – so, while every mayor understands the power of the electoral process – well, Patrick Gaspard and I met as two humble, young political workers in what was apparently a long-shot campaign of a candidate named David Dinkins, who aspired to be the first mayor of color, the first African-American mayor of New York City back in 1989. Patrick, in his work; me, in mine – we were not particularly known or accomplished. And so, when we got jobs on the campaign, we were sent to the farthest back reaches of the campaign office to the least elegant accommodations with the lowest salaries, but we met, and we bonded, and we recognized we were kindred souls, and I'm sure everyone can relate to it. The people you meet along the way who become so dear to you and such wonderful shoulder-to-shoulder soldiers in the battles we face.

So, I want to thank Patrick. I want to commend him for the great work he is doing and the leadership he is providing at the Open Society Foundations, which we all depend on to light the way on so many of these issues. Let's give Patrick a thanks for all he does.


And a special welcome – a welcome to all of my fellow mayors. To my American colleagues, I just want to take a moment to express my appreciation. I joined this peer group four years ago not knowing what to expect. I have been entirely moved by the experience, the good, good people I have met, the sincerity, the extraordinary work ethic, the amazing connection to the grassroots in their communities. I have met a new set of lifelong friends in my fellow mayors. And they're doing things – everyone around this table – but a particular thanks to the American mayors. They're doing things that were not supposed to be possible in each one of their cities, and someday that story will be told more. Obviously, our national political dialog focuses a little bit too much on Washington and a little bit too much on one person's Twitter feed, but, meanwhile, extraordinary things are happening on the ground in American cities, striking progressive things, inclusive things that, again, would have been unimaginable just a few years ago – and these are the authors of that great work.

So, I thank all of you. I thank my team that's here – my Deputy Mayor Richard Buery; my Commissioner for International Affairs, who works so closely with the U.N., Penny Abeywardena; and my Assistant Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs Bitta Mostofi – thanks to all of them for the good work they do on behalf of New Yorkers.

So, 8.5 million of us here – we all welcome you today. It is so good to have you in our presence. And this gathering, speaks to the changes that we have to keep making in our cities to move the world around us, and certainly to move our countries. Look, I think it's fair to say at this point in history, the concept of the nation-state is a bit strained. For too many of us, we see our national governments less able to respond to changing dynamics than ever before, or less willing to, on so many cases. Particularly on issues of migration, the default position is to let the cities handle it. And we know an essential truth – we handle these issues because it is our job, it's our moral responsibility because if there are human beings in our midst, they become part of our community. It may not be the ideal circumstance, but it's something we instantly feel responsibility for. And it is – I imagine some of you have felt this way too – it's galling to watch governments that are powerful that should be our guardians and our support, instead back away from responsibilities and leave it to us. But we're not blind to this trend. It's not only happening here in the United States, it's happening in so many other nations as well.

In that challenge, there's also an opportunity. Stating the obvious, it's an opportunity for all of us to reshape the thinking around migration and what immigrants mean in our society. And look, if I could say one thing today, it's that we have a chance to define a new normal – a good, new normal – in which inclusive societies are prized and recognized as the most productive, the most modern, the most filled with promise. That is not the assumption in much of the world. It's certainly not the assumption in many quarters here in my own country. But we're in the process of building that new normal, not through words but through deeds.

Look at this city – wherever you come from in the world, all you need to do is jump on our subway and you can go to a community that reflects the faith you come from, the nationality, or ethnicity you come from. I always say, a New York City subway train is a remarkable example to the world because all faiths, all ethnicities, all income levels, everything is mixed together. The person who's family has been in this country for 10 generations is next the person who got here a week ago. And a New York City subway train kind of represents a powerful idea of human unity. It's far from perfect, and we're often crammed together like sardines in a way that should not be a model for humanity, but it still works – it still works. There's a functional harmony that's striking, and it's a reminder that's what we need to aspire to all over the world and cities have the chance to build that reality and show it to everyone else as that new normal.

Now look, this city, right now – it's been a long struggle to achieve some of the progress we've made. Not so long ago, this was a very unsafe city. The last 25 years we've worked hard – we're now the safest big city in America. Not so long ago, our economy was struggling and too many people were being left out. We have come a real distance – we have more jobs than we've ever had before, more prosperity than we've had. We also have, as you heard Patrick reference, the largest number of immigrants in this city in almost 100 years. When my grandparents came from Southern Italy, from small villages amazingly far away culturally and humanly from the experience of New York City – they came over 100 years ago – that was the last time New York City had such a big immigrant population. And so, my simple message – and I certainly talk to people around the country about this – is, our progress has not been in spite of immigrants, it's been because of immigrants. It's been a value added. We have gained from the energy and the entrepreneurship and the creativity brought to us by immigrants. It's allowed our entire economy to grow. It's allowed our city to get stronger. It's certainly been a contributing factor in getting safer. There's too much of our national discourse right now that suggest immigrants equal two things – one, more crime and the loss of jobs for people already here. In this city, we've found the opposite. Our immigrant populations have helped us get safer and actually created a larger economy that everyone could have a piece of.

We have to show these examples more powerfully than ever in light of the rise of nativist forces and voices of division. We have to show we have a model that actually works for people. It's not just morally powerful. It's not just something that makes us feel good, it actually works better and it is the future. Look, I don't have any doubt in my mind the future economically is in places that believe in inclusion. The future economically is in places that want to connect with the larger world around them and understand that having people from all parts of the world adds to that. When we think about it a little more deeply, we could also say that inclusion is not only a pathway to economic strength, it also provides a pathway to greater security. What we felt here, what we experienced here was people feeling a buy-in in their own city and their society. You know, it's a simple notion – when people feel like stakeholders, when they see there is economic opportunity, when they feel respected, when their faith, when their culture actually gets recognition – it is not treated as second class. When you feel you're part of something and you belong, you participate fully and you feel a sense of ownership, and you want to protect the thing you're a part of. And we all know there's still too many parts of the world in each of our nations where the opposite happens – where folks ends up in our cities for whatever set of reasons, whatever challenges, and then are ostracized, are given a message they don't belong, they can't belong, and it leaves them hopeless, and it does not encourage ownership, it does not encourage a sense of opportunity – in fact, it's destabilizing. Any population of people who are told regularly that they don't have a role, they don't have a place at the table can't be part of greater safety and greater security. When you have a place at the table, protecting that table for everyone becomes a mutual priority.

So, we in this city – and I'll say it plainly, we're a city that understand plenty about the painful realities of the world, the threat of terror – we lived it on 9/11, we've lived with the threat ever since. We have a special interest in encouraging a city for everyone because we believe in it, because we see it works, but we also know it sends a message to folks who might be on that boundary of alienation – that they can have a real, and meaningful, and positive life here. Folks who are told they are welcome are much less likely to be alienated, much less likely to stray towards negative and divisive voices. So, I think we have to see this work on inclusion as having powerful and tangible impacts on so many levels.

Now, you heard before some of the things we're doing, and I know a lot of you believe in the same approaches. By the way, we all – we all take each other's good ideas. I always say, mayors never steal from each other, we just borrow. We learn good things and we apply the lessons. Patrick mentioned our IDNYC program – over a million people now are participating in it, and it's been so positive not just because people have been able to access services and opportunities they wouldn't have been able to otherwise, but because it says you belong. Folks, there's half-a-million New Yorkers who are undocumented in terms of our national government's standards, but for a lot of them that IDNYC says you belong right here, you're part of this, you're respected here. And that idea actually originated in other American cities. It originated in Oakland, California and New Haven, Connecticut. We gently borrowed it and built upon it, and I just spoke to one of our dear colleagues, Anne Hidalgo, of Paris, who gently borrowed it from New York City, and is adding other features to say to that very diverse population of Paris, that everyone belongs equally.

Something like that goes a long way. Having our security forces, our police not ask documentation status, but say to everyone – you can come forward, it doesn't matter where you're from. You can come forward and you can be trusted. Don't hold back information that might protect you or others for fear it could hurt your family, because we will never do that to you. We've shown that actually over decades in this city and that's been another reason we've become safer. Having all of those services we provide – health and education – available to all. It's an article of faith in this city that you're not going to be kept from the education your child deserves or the healthcare you need because of where you came from. And again, that builds a sense of ownership. Everyone has a stake in protecting what we've all built together. And something as essential as people knowing that if, God forbid, they may be faced with deportation, that their city will be there for them with those legal supports to give them a chance to make sure they have every opportunity for a fair process, and if they have an opportunity to stay, that they have the legal help to achieve that. That speaks volumes.

Now, look, I think sometimes as mayors, as cities we get very, very frustrated for good reason when we know there's a better way and an edict comes from above and we don't have a choice in the matter or we see a missed opportunity to do good because a government above us won't act. But I remind you, we have more power sometimes than we take account for, and, together, we have the ability to change the assumptions to build that new normal. I was very moved when cities all over the country, including this one, in response to an action of our national government that many, many people found discordant with our values – the "travel ban," the executive order from the President. The response here and all over the country – it was visceral, it was immediate, and it was grassroots people headed to their airports – they protested. Lawyers went an offered their services. Cab drivers went on strike to say, if these individuals are not allowed in then no one should be allowed in. It jolted a situation that was unfair. It was people taking democracy into their own hands and it changes the trajectory on these issues. We have to recognize life is lived at the grassroots. So, when the grassroots speak, particularly in unison, we actually are the ones who can overwhelm our national governments when they are wrong with the voice of the many.

That's what we all need to do in every part of the world. Here in this country, we have a real immediate opportunity – and I know my fellow mayors from the United States feels this, and I ask you all to lean into this challenge – we – so many of us were disappointed to hear that 800,000 young Americans, also known as the DREAMers, were pointed toward the door by recent actions of our president. We have a chance in our Congress to right that wrong, pass a DREAM Act, and change the whole trajectory of the migration debate in this country. And we have six months to do it, and we have more and more energy on the ground for that fairness. This is one of those signature moments. It's amazing, if you look at the public opinion polling – and every mayor understands in their hear what they believe and how people think, but public opinion polling has a little bit of a role to play too – well, maybe less since November 8 of last year, but some role to play. But the public opinion polling in this country is really powerful on this point – the vast majority of Americans do not want to, in any way, penalize young people who came here through no choice of their own. They actually would like to see a DREAM Act to give those young people a chance to contribute to this country. We all now need to do the hard work on the ground, talking to our Senators and our Congress members to make that a reality. That's going to be one of those turnaround points not only for the United States, it's going to send a message all over the world.

If we can take that step, maybe we can start ourselves on the pathway to comprehensive immigration reform. And if this country can do it, it help in all of the efforts around the world to find a more rational approach to these issues.

So, I'll conclude with this – we have to – remember, there's a beautiful phrase I grew up with in the 60s and 70s – it was so simple and it makes more sense than ever. It was, think globally and act locally. When we used to hear that phrase – think globally and act locally – I think a lot of us, at least in this country, had some sense that our national government would do most of the thinking globally for us. But, you know what, now we have to recognize again all over the world that we – we are the authors of so much of the history. We have to think globally and act locally because we have that pivot point where history literally reverses our cities and we get to make the reset. We get to show a different way. If it happens in all the cities represented here, if that – not only that spirit of inclusion, but that material reality of inclusion becomes the norm, if people of all different communities feel that they are owners of their cities along with some who have been there a lot longer than them – we create a new international momentum for an inclusive society. Parliaments and Congresses debate policies and laws – we actually touch people's lives. We get to do the more essential thing.

So, I think you, all of you, for the extraordinary work you're doing in your cities every day. And all I ask is that we have faith in our ability not only to make a difference but to reset the entire debate through our actions. If we feel that urgency, if we understand the central role that's been thrusted upon us, I have no doubt we can create a new normal where an inclusive society becomes the only thing that makes sense to more and more people.

Thank you for all you do and welcome to New York City.

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