Mark Levine -- Inauguration Remarks January 26th, 2014

Thank you so much, it means the world to me that all of you are here today. And I am truly grateful for all you have done over the years to make this day possible. Les quiero agradecer desde lo más profundo de mis corazón por todo el apoyo que me han dado a través de los años. My goodness, what an honor to be sworn in by Judge Scheindlin, a jurist of towering intellect and true faith in the constitution. Thank you so much for being here. And thank you Mr. Attorney General. You have set the gold standard for what it means to be a progressive elected official, and I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve taught me and shared with me over the years. Thanks so much to the Riverside Church. It’s impossible not to be inspired here by the memories of all the giants--from King to Clinton to Mandela--who have walked through these doors. Most importantly, I want to thank my wonderful family--Ivelisse, Alejandro and Daniel--who I love deeply, and who have given so much of themselves to support me as I’ve pursued this dream. And I am so thrilled that my mom, Adele, and my sister, Jennifer, are here as well, both of whom have been--and continue to be--pillars of strength in my life. We are all profoundly feeling the absence of my father, who died a year ago this week, but whose influence I still feel every day. Everything I have done--from becoming a teacher to founding a credit union to starting a Democratic club to running for office--I have done because of my parents’ influence and inspiration. Of course I want to thank my colleagues in government who are here: * Sen. Chuck Schumer

* Public Advocate Tish James * Comptroller Scott Stringer * Co-chair of the NY State Democratic Party, Chair of the New York Council Democratic Party, Assembly member Keith Wright * Borough President Gale Brewer * State Senator Adriano Espaillat * Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell, Linda Rosenthal, and Gabriela Rosa * My colleagues in the City Council And I have to acknowledge that I have the world’s most amazing staff, who have worked tirelessly to make today a success: Aya Keefe, Amy Slattery, Eleni Bourinaris-Suarez, Sabine Franklin, and Fidel Malena. Thanks to our fabulous MC, NY Whittaker. Ustedes no sabían que ella tiene una mamá boricua, verdad? Thanks to my brother-in-arms, Alex Luis Castex-Porter, and to my hard-working treasurer Janet McDowell, and of course to Juan Rosa and the whole inauguration committee. Y gracias a mi hermano Claudio Orrego, una de las estrellas de la política latinoamericana. Claudio tú siempre has sido inspiración y ejemplo para mi, y te quiero mucho. As some of you may remember, it was one of my colleagues in the city council, Ydanis, who last year unveiled a street co-naming in Washington Heights in honor of a figure from deep in New York City’s past whom few of us had ever heard of: Juan Rodriguez. Juan Rodriguez was a free man of mixed African and European heritage, raised in the culturally diverse town of Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola. He served as the translator aboard a Dutch ship that arrived to the Island of Manhattan in 1613. With the onset of winter that year the ship and all its crew left, but Rodriguez stayed behind to establish a permanent trading post. Making him the first non-native resident of this island--our first-ever immigrant. O sea en otras palabras, el primer inmigrante en la larga historia de la ciudad de Nueva York fue un Quisqueyano. Pa’ que lo sepan! Within a decade of Juan Rodriguez’s arrival, the Dutch had built permanent structures on the southern tip of the island, and eventually a fully blown Dutch town, New Amsterdam, took root there. The town soon became a freewheeling port city, with people coming and going and settling here from all over the world. Some came seeking fortune, some came fleeing oppression, and some came in chains.


Bustling, multicultural New Amsterdam rapidly expanded, and immigration and growth only accelerated with the onset of English control, through American independence, and through the consolidation of the five boroughs into one sprawling mega-city. Through good times and bad, people continued to arrive here in relentless waves from around the globe, ultimately making New York home to every conceivable race, class, religion, and ethnic group. This astonishing diversity is part of who we are. It's in our DNA. That's been true since the moment Juan Rodriguez arrived here, and he probably wouldn’t be shocked by the incredible mix of people in New York today. The fact that we have crammed 1.6 million people onto this island...well that might surprise him. And frankly it shocks the average modern day visitor from Nebraska, too. But we have chosen an urban life, and we know it makes us different. Unlike many other parts of the country, we actually like to walk here. We like to ride trains through dark tunnels. We think driving to the gym is an oxymoron. Nos encanta comer pastelitos de los vendedores ambulantes. We like our streets to be bustling and our museums to be crowded and when we go to the park we want to be able to watch people not just squirrels. And as New Yorkers we believe none of what we have is ever good enough. And so we demand--rightly--that there be greater investment in our subways and buses and we are smart enough to know we need new revenue streams to make that possible. We insist that new development conform to the scale and character of our neighborhoods. We want more green markets and more community gardens so that everyone has access to the freshest and healthiest food. We demand that respect for our environment infuse all aspects of city life, from the way we design our buildings to how we power our boilers to what we recycle to how we design our taxis. And we know that it isn’t enough to simply make urban life more livable for some of us. Because far too often in our history, low-income communities and communities of color have not shared fully in the things that make our city great: whether well-maintained parks or access to fresh food or even air free from the fumes of bus depots and sewage treatment plants. The truth is that our spectacular diversity has also been a tremendous challenge. And from policing to housing policy to education we haven’t always responded to that challenge with fairness and equity. But over the years we have still managed to survive together and even thrive together--and that is no accident. Time and again when we have made progress toward fairness and unity in this city it is because we have put in place policies to ensure that every New Yorker has a fair shot. We have succeeded--together--when In the face of racial inequality we banned discrimination in housing and the workplace. We have succeeded together when in the face of staggering extremes of wealth and poverty we


guaranteed that even the poorest children get a free education, and a hot lunch, and regular vaccines. We have succeeded together when in the face of appalling conditions in sweatshops we mandated worker safety and a minimum wage, a five-day workweek, and the right to organize. We have succeeded together when in the face of anti-immigrant bigotry we ensured that New Yorkers could access city services in half a dozen languages or more. Claro está que el español es uno de ellos--ahora aún no hemos añadido el cibaoeño, pero ya mismo, ya mismo. We have succeeded together when in the face of persistent homophobia we guaranteed everyone the right to marry the person they love. And we have succeeded together because in the face of explosive growth in police tactics disproportionately impacting young African-American and Latino men, a brave and wise judge reminded us that we have a constitution in this country. I am truly honored to have just been sworn in by judge Shira Scheindlin, and I promise to uphold that same constitution. In part as a result of these successes more people want to move here than ever--even a few from Nebraska. That’s especially true here in the 7th council district, which, admittedly, is pretty wonderful. But rising demand for housing all over this city has led to soaring rents and an alarming pace of displacement. And thanks to massive loopholes in our rent laws, we are now facing the prospect of our community--and all of Manhattan--becoming a place where only the wealthy can afford to live, which would be the end of the diversity, which has been our treasure since the days of New Amsterdam. This is just one way in which our successes are today facing unprecedented threats. Indeed our defining value--that this is a city where everyone, from all walks of life, can make it--is a value, which has been undermined for far too many of our fellow New Yorkers. Relentless growth in low-wage jobs has left millions of New Yorkers earning too little to provide a decent living for their families, which is why I am proud to have marched with striking fast food workers. In what we might be called “a tale of two school systems”, less than a third of public school students are graduating college-ready, while a whopping two-thirds are entering adulthood unprepared to compete in the global economy--a reality I have confronted directly as a teacher and now as a public school parent. And a record spike in homelessness has filled our shelters with an average of 22,000 children every night--including Dasani Coates, who the world now knows is such a brave and powerful young woman.


New Yorkers have seen and understood these threats to our core values. And they have responded by electing a slate of citywide leaders with a profound commitment to social and economic justice. Progressive champions like Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate James and Comptroller Stringer. And I am thrilled that my colleagues and I in the City Council have elected another progressive champion--a woman who will be the first Latino in a citywide leadership position since Juan Rodriguez--our new speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito! Este es un liderazgo--la vocera, junto con el alcalde, la defensor del pueblo, y el controlador-que es sumamente comprometido con los valores progresistas, a la búsqueda de la justicia social y económico. And now those of us in office have the obligation to live up to the lofty expectations of the people who elected us, by putting in place a new wave of policies, which will help fulfill the New York promise that everyone have a fair shot to make it here. This is the goal I have dedicated my career to. And it’s the core mission of the Democratic club I founded: Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan. Obama club members make some noise! But now the time for talk is over. Now is the time for action. We must take advantage of the full power of our zoning laws to ensure that new development in our city includes not just luxury apartments but homes for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers as well. We must fight for fair pay and paid sick leave and health benefits for low-wage workers, because $8 an hour is not a living wage it’s a poverty wage--and that’s true in the fast food industry and in big box stores, and at our airports. And yes that’s a cause worth getting arrested for. We must guarantee that every four year-old in New york city has full day pre-kindergarten, and that every middle schooler has an enriching after-school program--and we must not be afraid to provide these programs a dedicated funding source from an income tax surcharge on the wealthiest among us. We must ensure our streets are safe and accessible to everyone--especially pedestrians and bicyclists and bus riders. Because three pedestrian deaths in 9 days in our neighborhood is simply intolerable, and we won’t stop fighting until we get traffic fatalities in this city down to zero. We must fix our broken public housing system, so that residents of NYCHA can live in dignity and be treated with respect. And we must build a park system that provides a healthy and safe and inspiring refuge not just in Central Park but also in parks in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx and South Brooklyn.


This is our agenda, but we are not naive. We know that we will face concerted opposition to the passage and implementation of every one of these policies. And if we are going to win these fights we are going to need all hands on deck. It is going to take all of us working together in coalition. Everyone--not just the politicians-- all of you need to be involved in this effort. Que no se quede nadie afuera, eh? But if we remain united we will win these fights and many more. Porque es en la unión que esta la fuerza. We will make this an ever more livable city. One that works for all New Yorkers. And in the process we have a chance to redefine urban politics in America. Already mayors around the nation are taking a cue from our own mayor and are talking more than ever about inequality. Cities everywhere are looking to create walk-able downtowns and robust mass transit and new urban green spaces. Es decir que poco a poco Nueva York se está convirtiendo de nuevo en la ciudad que lidera el movimiento progresista al nivel nacional. And we will fight to make certain that four centuries after the arrival of Juan Rodriguez we will remain a city where all the people of the world can live and prosper together.