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M. Stringer “A New Partnership” February 8, 2011 Good evening. First, let me thank the CUNY Graduate Center and President William Kelly for hosting us so graciously tonight. I want to say thank you to Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez for those warm words of welcome, and for his tireless representation of East Harlem. And to Marcus Samuelsson -- you are truly a Renaissance man. And your work to link great food and trail-blazing social policy is an inspiration to us all. Thank you for that kind introduction. And how ‘bout that Laguardia High School Chorus – let’s give it up for those kids! I’m so glad to see so many friends here tonight. This past year was a big one for me. For starters, I turned 50 in April. I was OK with it until the day I stopped at the mailbox and there it was – my membership card to the A-A-R-P. But lucky for me, hope was just around the corner – in what my mother calls “the Manhattan miracle,” I got married in September to Elyse Buxbaum, who is here with us tonight. Please welcome the new first lady of Manhattan! This is the fifth time I have had the privilege of talking to you about the State of our Borough. Each year brings a new set of challenges and -- we hope -- new wisdom about tackling New York City’s problems and realizing its dreams. We have seen a lot of progress since I was a kid growing up in Washington Heights in the ‘70s, when many openly debated whether New York was even governable. And much of that progress – especially in recent years – has been a product of the competent way our city is run. That’s a credit to our Mayor and countless others in city government. New Yorkers have rightly come to expect professionalism and efficiency in City Hall. As a result, New York is in better shape than virtually every other city in the nation. The Recession continues to hurt too many New Yorkers, but one out of 10 jobs in America last year was created right here – an astonishing figure. But for all that New York City has gained in recent decades, there is also something we have lost. You know it as well as I do. There is a troubling view taking hold that to set high standards and achieve good outcomes, we must rely on a closed, top-down model of government.
I say “troubling”, because once you subscribe to this view, you’ve opened the door to the idea that inviting new voices to the table is a distraction – and that actually listening to them is worse. Well, that is a view I reject. It is a view out of step with this city’s traditions, its civic culture, and its defining values! Just imagine where we’d be without the voices of New Yorkers in our civic debates – there'd be a highway through SoHo; an office tower where Grand Central is today; and we'd be living with towering shadows over Central Park. Without the voices of the people of New York in the chambers of government, we risk becoming A city of zip codes instead of a city of unique neighborhoods. A city of canned culture instead of a city of vibrant art A city of chain stores instead of a city of corner stores In short, a city like any other, instead of a city like NONE other. The challenge for this generation of city leaders is clear: New York is never going back to a time when our local government wasn’t up to the challenges we faced. But we must have faith in ourselves – to believe that the highest standards of performance in government can be achieved with the public informing our most important decisions. We can – we must – find that balance! That’s not just the right way to lead, it’s often the only way to bring tough projects across the finish line. It’s easy to make pronouncements and try to impose solutions. That will only get you so far. If you really want to close the hard deals, you have to forge consensus by reaching across the table. And so tonight I want to say – it is time for a NEW PARTNERSHIP between city government and its people! This New Partnership must show us the way: To encourage development while safeguarding our neighborhoods. To create a paid sick leave policy that works for both business and working families. To clear the snow in all five boroughs, not just Manhattan This new partnership will show us the way to support bike lanes that respect drivers, pedestrians and business owners, just like my office did on Columbus Avenue To improve our public schools while talking to the parents of our school children
And yes, to work with Albany legislators to finally pass a marriage equality act that honors everyone’s rights! WEST HARLEM REZONING/COLUMBIA Let me give you an example of what this new partnership can mean in the real world, when leadership sets high goals and isn’t afraid to engage communities. It’s called the West Harlem Rezoning. This rezoning is Manhattan’s largest ever – some 35 acres, or 90 blocks – right in the heart of one of the nation’s most historic neighborhoods. One of my proudest days as Borough President came last December when I – along with city Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden and Community Board 9 chair Larry English -- unveiled this new blueprint with hundreds of West Harlem residents. The process formally began back in 2007, when Columbia University laid out its vision for a 17-acre expansion – a plan the university insisted was vital to its future as a world-class center of higher education. Clearly, Columbia had genuine needs. But you know what -- so did the surrounding community. Many worried the neighborhood was vulnerable to new development. So we listened and learned – we held public forums, we worked with City Planning, we forged new relationships across old divides. The result was not just a 17-acre expansion, but a 35-acre rezoning that will preserve the culture and character of West Harlem – and Columbia’s place within it. Here’s what else -- when completed, the expansion will create some 6,000 new, permanent jobs in a critical part of our city, plus thousands of construction jobs. The plan will add new green space and job centers to West Harlem. It will create a $20 million affordable housing fund. So I am thrilled to announce tonight that after more than four years, the official public review of this historic rezoning will begin this fall and – with engagement from all sides – should be completed by early next year. I say it is time to carry the West Harlem Rezoning all the way home -- to finish what we started! We took the same collaborative approach at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus, where we joined with the neighborhood to find an expansion design that worked for everyone. Now, New York University is planning for its future growth. We’ve brought together all stakeholders. We’ve hammered out some planning principles, and our community task force has issued over 70 recommendations to help the university and Greenwich Village co-exist – a terrific start. I urge all sides to use history as a guide, and recognize that if you work together and demand excellence, then everyone can win – the community, the economy, the university…. All of us! INFRASTRUCTURE BANK
Of course, some challenges are so complex, the federal government must lend a hand. Here’s a big one: Our roads, bridges and tunnels are in desperate need of repair – that’s just a fact. Lt. Gov. Ravitch sounded the alarm last year when he warned that New York State has “no credible strategy” for funding its infrastructure needs. I believe there is a solution – it’s called an infrastructure bank. The idea is simple: Create an independent bank that judges infrastructure projects on the merits, with an eye toward improving regional networks. For too long, our transportation infrastructure has been dependent on local congressional earmarks. That’s not planning, that’s pork! President Obama has proposed a $50 billion National Infrastructure Bank. But we need to get moving. These projects are economic lifelines that support our families AND make New York more competitive. But establishing this bank will require real leadership that puts faith in NEW PARTNERSHIPS – between states, between different levels of government, between business and labor. The problems we face are real – New York City’s roadways were recently judged among the worst in the nation, which is no surprise to anyone who has traveled the BQE. Our airports are clogged and in need of expansion. And yet we have no plan to pay for upgrades, locally or regionally. That is why I am announcing tonight that on March 14, I will join with my good friend Rep. Steve Israel to host a conference aimed at creating a national or regional infrastructure bank to rebuild our vital transportation links. We need to reclaim New York’s heritage as a place that tackles big projects – on time, and on budget! This conference will bring together industry, labor and government to create an action plan. We will develop a coalition, implement legislation. And we will make an infrastructure bank a reality in the Northeast! SECOND AVE/MTA One project that could benefit from a little more collaboration is Second Avenue, otherwise known as the MTA’s largest, open air construction bazaar. As some of you may know, I recently spent a little time living in this neighborhood. Let me tell ya – there’s nothing like waking up in a blast zone to start your day off with a bang. I was gratified that the MTA Inspector General agreed to open an inquiry into problems along Second Avenue. But I remain deeply concerned about his findings – more than $250 million in cost overruns already and years of delay. That toll doesn’t even count the 29 small businesses – yes, 29 ! – that have been shut down by this project.
Once again, we must remember that government’s role is to work with communities -- not weaken them. We all need the new subway. But it can’t be built on the backs of mom-and-pop businesses that have made the neighborhood what it is. I am pleased that tonight – after working with MTA chair Jay Walder, Con Edison and small business owners – we can announce some measure of relief. In the coming months, we will: Work with the MTA, Rep. Carolyn Maloney and other East Side elected officials to establish a construction advisory committee to better inform businesses and residents about work on their blocks We’re going to implement a plan with Con Ed to lower energy costs and promote stores in the construction zone with a major ad campaign. And we will continue to work with Jay Walder to make this and other great mega-projects a success. Just like West Harlem, Second Avenue is about establishing a grand new economic lifeline. But the way to get there is not by steamrolling down the avenue. It’s by working together, respecting neighborhoods and demanding efficiency and excellence from all levels of government! ASTHMA CENTER Real leadership is about what we can do together. The East Harlem Asthma Center is a shining example. In many ways, it is the crown jewel of the “Go Green” program our office began in 2007 to help under-served neighborhoods address health and nutrition needs. Childhood asthma has taken a dreadful toll in East Harlem. It afflicts more than one out of every four children in the neighborhood – shamefully, the highest rate in the nation. We decided to do something about that. And last summer, after five years of effort, our hard work was rewarded with a new asthma center that was made better – not worse -- by years of public engagement. Since August, some 2,000 children and their families have found critical care at the center. Tonight I want to reaffirm our mission: We are going to cut the neighborhood’s hospitalization rate for children’s asthma by 50% in five years. And we are going to do it one child at a time! I want to applaud Mayor Bloomberg, the city’s Health Department, state Senator Jose Serrano and Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, who worked with us to keep the project on track. But mostly I want to thank the East Harlem Community, for demanding real results from government. To everyone here from El Barrio, this was your dream. You made this a reality. Keep demanding the results you deserve! GO GREEN/FOOD Of course, a single asthma center is not going to reverse decades of environmental neglect in East Harlem. Our challenge is not just to fight sickness, but how to foster health?
One answer is food, and the crucial role it plays in our well-being. A year ago, my office and our partners at Just Food brought together over 1,000 people to hear from experts about creating a more sustainable food system. In a city where one-fourth of our youth are considered obese, and too many of our communities lack access to fresh, healthy produce, we can’t just plant ideas – we must harvest them. Here’s a few advances we’ll be making this year with our partners at “Go Green,” Grow NYC Greenmarket, and the city Health Department: First, we’ve committed $3 million to green roof projects in schools, where we teach about biology and agriculture, but also nutrition and healthy eating choices. We’re joining with community farmers to cut the red tape that too often hampers their efforts. We’re funding com-posting piles around the city, because 40% of our garbage doesn’t need to end up in landfills And we are rolling out the “Veggie Van,” a refrigerated vehicle we are funding that can bring fresh produce directly to the people -- to senior homes, public housing and other areas. Finally, last spring we launched our YouthBucks Project. These are $2 coupons that we have put in the hands of more than 2,000 children this year, and which they can redeem for healthy snacks at our farmers markets. This year, we’ll be doubling the number of children we reach -- to 4,000! HYDROFRACKING We all want to make our city greener and more efficient. But sometimes safeguarding our environment means tackling threats far beyond our borders. Hydraulic fracturing is one such threat. That’s the controversial process of using dangerous chemicals to extract natural gas from underground shale. I was proud of the “Kill The Drill” coalition that emerged last year to point out the dangers of hydro-fracking in our watershed. Let me be clear -- I am a strong proponent of clean energy, including natural gas, but it must be developed safely. Hydro-fracking is a risk to our health and our drinking water. New York’s watershed is an ecological and engineering marvel. But when the issue first surfaced, too few voices were making the crucial connection between upstate drilling and city drinking water. We have the finest tap water in the world. It beats bottled water hands down. It has saved the city some $20 billion in filtration costs. And we want to mess with that? As the state begins a new Environmental Review this spring, it is critical that city voices be heard. We must continue to work with our upstate partners. And we must make sure that no New Yorker ever has to worry about the safety of their tap water. BANK ON
A healthy water system is a lifeline, something we often take for granted. So is the U.S. banking system that allows us to save money and plan for the future. But it might surprise you to learn that there are more than 166,000 people in Manhattan without a bank account. Most are low-income, and on average they spend $530 a year just to cash their checks and pay their bills. These families aren’t just shut out of the banking system. They’re shut out of the American dream. This past summer, my office launched Bank On Manhattan, a program designed to connect New Yorkers to affordable banking services. Many said we’d never get banks to work together with community based organizations, but that’s exactly what we did. In fact, we got nine banks to join the cause, as well as the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the FDIC and the New York State Banking Department. I am proud to announce tonight that -- in the high-need neighborhoods we targeted, after just one quarter -- 4,700 Manhattan residents have opened Bank On accounts! Do the math on those accounts: That’s $2.5 million in check cashing fees now being put to better use – maybe saving for college, starting a new business, or just putting food on the table. Tonight I am announcing a new goal – to bring this program citywide. The first stop will be Queens, where we are working with state Sen. Peralta to spread the benefits of Bank On to Jackson Heights and beyond. We need to extend a little bit of Wall Street to ALL our streets, because face it – no one in this country can build a prosperous future without a bank account. HOUSING AFFORDABILITY Empowering New Yorkers to build better lives should always be our highest calling, and that’s a challenge that extends to another struggle facing so many of our citizens – the need for affordable housing. This is a battle that must be fought on two fronts – we must constantly fight to preserve what affordable housing stock we have. And we must always search for new and innovative ways to create more. When residents living in Pinnacle Group buildings approached my office with stories of harassment in all five boroughs, the evidence was startling.What we heard from scores of tenants was that Pinnacle was trying to systematically drive them from their homes. It had to be stopped! – so we gathered facts, we educated people on their rights, we joined forces with then-Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. And when there was no other recourse, the community sued. I was proud to stand with the 60,000-plus tenants, who have now won the right to pursue a class action lawsuit against Pinnacle under federal RICO statutes! These tenants are a testament to the power and strength of coming together to protect and preserve
affordable housing. Their message to Pinnacle is clear: If you ignore the law, you will face the consequences. We also need strategies to build NEW affordable housing. We should start by identifying all the vacant and abandoned lots in the five boroughs – a tally that, shockingly, doesn’t exist in any comprehensive way. If we are truly going to win this fight for more affordable housing, then we can’t overlook the most obvious places to build. When my office surveyed the entire borough of Manhattan in 2006, we found more than 2,200 vacant lots and buildings – many of them ripe for development. We need to pass Council legislation that would survey all five borughs, and pinpoint exactly where these sadly under-used lots are located. Let’s pass that bill! Let’s do it this year! EDUCATION Good housing anchors us in our neighborhoods. But the surest path to a better life has always been a quality education. The mayor deserves enormous credit for taking on the challenge of leading our school system. But this progress report is not complete. We have classrooms that are too crowded, and parents who too often feel shut out of meaningful debates. Here’s why it matters: You can’t forge genuine change if you don’t have honest conversations with the people those changes affect. That’s especially true when it comes to our schools. When my office launched an online Town Hall this year to ask parents and educators about their top concerns, we heard a lot about overcrowding, budget cuts and testing. But mostly we heard a chorus of thank yous: Thank you for seeking my opinion. Thank you for asking me about my child’s education. The survey underscored what my office has documented for years – for too long the Department of Education has failed to collaborate, plan ahead and provide accurate data. And it’s always our students who suffer. With new leadership at Tweed for the first time in nine years, I look forward to working with Chancellor Black. We need to come together and develop better strategies to engage parents, to reduce class sizes, and to protect classrooms from further budget cuts. And before we shut down another 25 schools, let’s have an honest conversation about the impact these closures have on students and their futures. Closing a school should never be a primary response – it should always be a last resort! CRIME/PUBLIC SAFETY There are other ways we can help our young people, who too often are the victims of violence in our
neighborhoods. We have learned from recent history that the right approach to tackling crime can make a world of difference. But it is not enough to point out the challenges. We have to become part of the solution, to create new partnerships that help support the brave work of the NYPD. So tonight we’re launching “Harlem Clean and Safe,” a collaboration between my office, Community Board 10, the 28th Precinct and the 125th Street Business Improvement District. This campaign is a community call to action that will help us build a cleaner, safer Harlem through mentoring, education and outreach. Through partnerships like this, I believe we can build the trust we need to talk constructively about policies that too often divide our communities, like stop and frisk. We need to find out if a more targeted, collaborative approach can do an even better job of getting guns and knives off the street. When it comes to crime, we must never stop looking for new ways to tackle old problems. It’s why we’ll be working with District Attorney Cy Vance and the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence to lay the groundwork on another exciting project this year – Manhattan’s first Family Justice Center. Survivors of domestic violence will now be able to meet with a prosecutor, speak with a counselor and obtain assistance on immigration and family court matters, all under one roof – while their children are playing safely in the next room. It’s time that Manhattan join other boroughs in having such a one-stop center, because no survivor of domestic violence should ever have to struggle to find help. I am proud to contribute $3 million in funds from my office to help build the Family Justice Center. And I want to thank Mayor Bloomberg, District Attorney Vance and Commissioner Yolanda Jimenez for partnering with us to make this project happen! IMMIGRATION All New Yorkers deserve to feel safe in their homes, and that includes our recent immigrants. Other cities may build a fence at the border: In New York, we are committed to building trust and strengthening the rights of immigrant communities. Too often, immigrants live in fear of seeking everything from medical help to legal services. To address these issues, my office published the Immigrant Rights and Services Manual last year. It’s a first-of-its-kind resource that covers everything from workers rights and language access, to deportation and civic participation. New York must reclaim its place as a national leader on immigration – not just as a state of entry, but as a state of mind. We need to focus our attention on Congress and demand comprehensive immigration reform. We must pass the federal Dream Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrant youth. And
we must end the so-called Secure Communities program, which is shattering families by turning minor infractions into grounds for deportation. If we fail to raise our voices, America will dishonor its history as a nation of immigrants. And we can’t let that happen – not in New York! SPEAK UP NEW YORK! The story of New York has always been one of inclusion and, yes, working for a better tomorrow. Many of us in this room have stood outside subway stations, worked the phones or handed out leaflets to try and advance some cause or fix some problem. Technology has made our lives a little easier. We got 311, which I like to say has allowed New Yorkers to perfect the fine art of complaining – something we all love to do. But folks, it’s now 2011, and tonight I’d like to share with you a new advance in bringing New Yorkers together. It’s called “Speak Up New York,” and it’s a first-of-its-kind, government website that I believe will allow us all to make progress, not just complaints. Imagine an online portal that will allow you to explore New York’s government resources and diverse communities like never before. At Speak Up New York, you will find the City’s first online mapping of community groups, allowing you to navigate services in your neighborhood with the click of a mouse. You’ll find neighborhood forums where engaged citizens, from the Lower East Side to Washington Heights, can work together to solve problems and forge coalitions. You’ll find a comprehensive library of useful guides, explaining everything from how to start a block association, to how to testify at a Council hearing. Mostly, New Yorkers will find each other. And instead of going door to door in the hopes of gathering a few folks around a kitchen table, we can bring thousands together at this new, virtual table. With our partners -- Open Plans and the Manhattan Neighborhood Network – we are launching the BETA version of Speak Up New York this month, and the 2.0 version by the end of the year. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge some of the members of our working group that have helped plan and build the site. Please stand up! Learn. Connect. Take Action -- that’s the motto of Speak Up New York. Maybe someday we’ll all have the Speak Up app on our cell phones. “Speak Up” is like a candle in the dark. My hope is that it becomes a civic game-changer – a tool that empowers people, preserves our sense of home, and helps to inform government leaders about challenges down the road. CONCLUSION
Nearly 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy wrote “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” What Kennedy meant, I believe, is that leadership is not just a set of rules written down in a book. Leadership is about constantly widening your circle of inquiry and concern. It's about seeking out new voices and actually listening. And it's about using that newfound knowledge to inform the hard decisions that must be made. That is the New Partnership. It is about government finding solutions to our hardest problems from the people it governs. And where better to do that than in New York, where if you open your mind to the city’s knowledge, if you stretch beyond your own circle, there is a world of innovation and talent to be found. We are a constellation of neighborhoods, and all of them shine in their own brilliant way. That is the richness of New York. That is the bounty that will keep the state of our borough -- and our city -- stronger than any other place on earth. And it is why we will always be a magnet that pulls dreamers from around the globe. We may speak in many different languages, but in every single one of them we speak of a brighter future. I look forward to talking with you, listening to you, and learning from you, just as I have for years. Working together we will build the best New York yet! Thank you, and good night.
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