Well, good afternoon. Happy New Year. Feliz año nuevo.
Mayors Koch and Dinkins, thank you very much for being here; and also let me welcome our new Public Advocate and [Comptroller], Bill de Blasio and John Liu; Speaker Quinn and the City Council, especially its 12 incoming members and 12 outgoing members; our burrow presidents and district attorneys; and I also want to give a special thanks to two colleagues who have devoted their time and talents to our city over the past eight years -- [Comptroller] Bill Thompson and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum; and, as we look at our flags still flying at half-staff, let us join in honoring and thanking a true civil rights pioneer, and a legendary public servant, and a great New Yorker: Percy Sutton.
Last night, the final moments of 2009 passed into history. And as they did, Americans from across the country looked to New York to ring in a new year, a new decade, and a new beginning. And that's only right, because our city has always led the nation not just in celebrating holidays, but in pioneering the most innovative and ambitious new ideas. That's true in the arts, in science, in business. And more and more, we've made it true of city government in so many areas. Whatever happens, happens here first. New York is, as Mayor Koch once famously said: "Where the future comes to audition."
But as we consider the bright promise of our future, we cannot ignore the hard times that exist around us. Many New Yorkers are struggling to pay the rent or the mortgage, to find a job, to feed their families. The road ahead will not be easy, but the journey we have taken together over the past decade fills me with optimism for the one that now lies ahead.
We have experienced financial crisis and economic recession and weathered them better than most. We have suffered devastating attacks and rebounded faster than anyone thought possible, and we've refused to be terrorized. We have faced down controversies that once divided us and we have remained united. Working together, we have created a city that all New Yorkers can be proud of.
We have made the safest big city in the nation even safer. We have adopted bold education reforms that President Obama's Administration has hailed as a national model. We have built the country's largest affordable housing program and adopted its most sweeping public health agenda.
We have pursued the boldest sustainability agenda on the planet. And we have made the greatest City in the world even greater!
As I stand here today, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve New Yorkers for four more years -- and to be the first independent to have the honor of taking the oath. I recognize -- I understand -- that this term is a special opportunity, one that comes with extraordinary responsibilities.
I realize too that the building behind me is yours -- and the job in front of me is to listen and to lead. I will not shirk from the hard decisions that lie ahead. And by continuing to reach out to every community, by tackling the toughest issues with renewed energy, and without fear of failure, we will deliver innovations that improve New Yorkers' lives and strengthen our communities. By taking this approach, there are no limits to what we can accomplish in the future. And for confirmation, simply look at our past.
Four years ago on this day, I stood before you and pledged that we would wage a new campaign against an old problem that takes a terrible toll on our communities: Illegal guns. The skeptics said: "That's a national problem. What can one mayor do about it?" But since then, we have built a bi-partisan coalition of 500 mayors who have won victories in city halls, state houses, and yes -- even Congress.
Now, we'll set our sights on another national issue that affects New Yorkers in profoundly personal ways: Immigration reform. With leaders from across the country, we will assemble a bi-partisan coalition to support President Obama's call for comprehensive immigration reform that honors our history, upholds our values, and promotes our economy. No city on Earth -- no city -- should hold these principles higher aloft than this city of immigrants. Because no city on earth has been more rewarded by immigrant labor, more renewed by immigrant ideas, more revitalized by immigrant culture, than the City of New York.
And when I listen to the outstanding students we've had here today from the Newcomers School, I feel more strongly than ever that the future of our city, and our country, depends on newcomers like them, and on whether we honor the ideals that have lit the lamp of liberty in our harbor for more than a century, and that continue to inspire the world!
Immigrants helped make New York City the world capital of opportunity and entrepreneurism, and now we will make City government a global leader in supporting and encouraging entrepreneurs. Just as 311 made it far easier for New Yorkers to interact with City government, we'll now help small businesses get the answers and services they need -- all in one place. Working closely with Speaker Quinn and the City Council, we'll transform the relationship between business and government making it possible for entrepreneurs to open their doors more quickly -- and build their futures more successfully. I've been there. I know how tough it is. I also know government can do more and we will. In business and in government, I've seen how innovation occurs when people look with fresh eyes at old problems, and then work together to solve them.
As we begin this new decade, we will take a fresh look at everything with fresh thinking and fresh energy, and we will put more emphasis than ever on collaboration. We'll start with an exercise that, as far as we know, no government has ever done.
Back when I was running my company, we temporarily re-assigned senior managers to new areas. It was an eye-opening experience that improved teamwork, generated new ideas, and launched the company to greater heights.
Beginning in about a week, we'll conduct a similar exercise within City government. For three weeks, every First Deputy Commissioner will become a deputy at another agency -- one they regularly work with, and they will work directly with that agency's commissioner -- side by side, 24/7. We intend to break down the bureaucratic barriers that too often impede innovation, compromise customer service, and cost taxpayers money.
Each Deputy Commissioner will report directly back to me with recommendations for ways their own agencies – and the agencies they've been assigned to for these three weeks -- can work more closely together to improve their performance.
Commissioners: This is not someone looking over your shoulder, but a member of our team -- your team -- who can be an invaluable resource in finding new ways to do the job better. And Deputy Commissioners out there: This is not a game of musical chairs. This is a management challenge, and a unique opportunity for collaboration and innovation. This is also a test for you -- and a chance to demonstrate your skills and abilities. And as I tell everyone I hire: "Don't screw it up."
Conventional wisdom holds that by a third term, mayors run out of energy and ideas. But we have proved the conventional wisdom wrong time and again, and I promise you, we will do it once more.
Even as we face difficult fiscal realities, we will budget not only with our heads but with our hearts. We will find innovative new ways to create jobs in the industries of the future, from bioscience and arts and culture, to green technology that fights global warming and local asthma at the same time. We'll find innovative new ways to offer all children -- in all communities -- the first-rate education that they deserve and that is so crucial to building a strong middle class. We'll find innovative new ways to protect our city from terrorism and drive crime to record lows, with a renewed focus on a key group: young people who are troubled and at-risk. We'll do this and much more -- together, as New Yorkers.
This morning, as part of our NYC Service initiative, I worked with community volunteers and members of our Civic Corps at a soup kitchen run by the Franciscan sisters in Brooklyn. And this afternoon, I'll be joining more New Yorkers for service projects in the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. On this new day, I can't think of a better way than giving back to demonstrate who we are, and what we must do. The future starts here. It starts now. And it starts with us.
When I raised my right hand, I took a formal oath to uphold the laws of our City. But now, I want to make a personal commitment to you -- and to every New Yorker. No matter where you live and work, no matter what your race or roots, no matter who you love, who you worship, or who you voted for, I pledge to be your Mayor. And I will not stop working for you -- I will not rest -- until every job seeker finds work, every high school student graduates, every child is safe from illegal guns, every family has an affordable home, and every New Yorker with a dream finds it within reach.
To take on the impossible challenge is our City's burden -- and our City's blessing. As the timeless quote from the E.B. White -- from the great E.B. White reminds us:
New York is to the nation what the white church spire is to the village -- the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying the way is up.
Eight years ago, I stood on this spot and dark, ugly plumes of smoke were still rising just a few blocks south from here. But today we see visible symbols of our aspiration and faith rising from that same site. And I believe with all my heart that on this -- the first day of the year, the first day of the decade, and the first day of the future of this great city -- the way is still up.
God bless you, and God bless New York City.
Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)
Page Updated: 1/3/21
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