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New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller State of the City

by Gifford Miller, Feb 24, 2005
 

Remarks as delivered February 24, 2005:

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Good afternoon.

Public Advocate Gotbaum, Majority Leader Rivera, Deputy Majority Leader Perkins, Majority Whip Comrie, Minority Leader James Oddo, members of the Council, Speaker Vallone, Borough President Carrion - welcome.

We're pleased to be joined by a number of members of the State Senate and the State Assembly.

I want to thank my wife and family for all their love and support.

And I want to thank my colleagues and the people of New York City for the extraordinary opportunity to serve as Speaker of this Council.

I am grateful for this opportunity to report to you on the state of our city, to recall our record of accomplishment and to chart a course of action for the days ahead.

Standing here, it's hard to believe that only three years ago we met for the first time in this Chamber as a new legislature.

That morning, you could still smell the smoke from Ground Zero, still feel the shock from that terrible day.

There are so many images from that time that are impossible to forget, but the one I remember most was sitting in the memorial service for the 343 fallen firefighters. I remember seeing the entire floor of Madison Square Garden filled with families who had lost a loved one, and seeing so many children who were the same age as my two sons are now.

I will never forget their sacrifice and I will never forget that image because, for these three and a half years, my work as Speaker and the work we have done together has been about building a better world for those children and a stronger city for every New Yorker.

We started out during one of the most uncertain moments in our city's history. We faced the worst fiscal crisis in a generation and had to make difficult choices to begin to rebuild our city's future.

But because the City Council held fast to our values, I am proud to report that the state of our city is stronger today than it was when we began our work here together.

This Council has confronted great challenges. And we have responded by making the right choices for New York's future.

We've practiced fiscal responsibility, while upholding New York's quality of life and protecting our most vulnerable. We have defended critical investments and improved essential services making life better for New Yorkers.

This City Council managed to cut $3.2 billion from the budget and still make kids our top priority, invest in working families and never forget the seniors who built this City.

We put education first, restoring hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts that would have harmed our children and hindered our schools at a time when we could least afford it.

We protected the standard of living and the dignity of New York's elderly by restoring more than $11 million for senior centers and meals.

We kept up the fight against HIV and AIDS by protecting $19 million for prevention and outreach programs focusing on communities of color.

We took a stand for the hopes and dreams of thousands of young people struggling to afford a college education by stopping $18 million in cuts that would have eliminated the Vallone scholarship program.

We defended affordable day-care for thousands of parents by saving 2,500 day-care slots and adding 5,700 more so working families could build a better future for their children.

We protected tens of thousands of Mitchell Lama units, dedicated $40 million to create additional affordable housing and used our rezoning authority to ensure thousands of new affordable housing units would be part of our City's development.

We created the City's first ever Earned Income Tax Credit that's helping 700,000 working New Yorkers take the step from poverty to prosperity.

And we invested $10 million last year in programs to address the root causes of long-term structural unemployment, because no one should declare victory over unemployment when half of African American and 43% of Latino men are out of work in our City.

And let me say that this year my colleagues and I are committed to doubling that investment - and we call on Mayor Bloomberg to join forces with us in a united front against joblessness.

I am proud that together, the New York City Council fought for the right choices in our City's budget. And I am also proud of the choices we made in passing new laws.

Because extending a living wage to 50,000 workers who are trying to climb into the middle class was the right choice for New York's future.

Protecting our children from brain damage and lifelong learning disabilities that result from exposure to poisonous lead paint was the right choice for New York's future.

Making sure that employees of City contractors get equal benefits, regardless of sexual orientation, was the right choice for New York's future.

Providing a school nurse to every child in this city was the right choice for New York's future.

And guaranteeing access to emergency contraception for the victims of sexual assault was the right choice for New York's future.

We've worked with the Mayor and his administration on legislation when it was the responsible thing to do. We've passed hundreds of laws with the Mayor that will better the lives of our constituents and help prepare our city for the challenges ahead.

But we've also stood up to this Mayor when it was the right choice for our City's future. In three years, we have overturned 27 mayoral vetoes, and we have always fought for the values and priorities of the people we represent.

That's why we are here. Each of us ran for office because we believe in the people of this City.

And every member of this Council has contributed to making New York a great city in the 21st century.

But in particular, I want to acknowledge the contributions of five people who have done an extraordinary job for the people of their districts and for everyone in our City. Five people for whom, like me, this is their last State of the City as members of this Council.

Please join me in thanking Tracy Boyland, Margarita Lopez, Bill Perkins, Madeline Provenzano, and Philip Reed for their service.

We've accomplished a lot together. But we all know there's still much more to do.

As New Yorkers, we look forward, not backward. We know that New York City still faces many tests in the years to come. We also know that the future belongs to those who are willing to accept great challenges and make the right choices.

Thinking about choices reminds me of a story about my son, and you all know how much I like to tell stories about my sons. Two years ago, when I was running in my last race for City Council, my wife decided that it was time for my older son to learn to vote.

Addison, she said, today is election day, and we have to vote. We can vote for Daddy, or Daddy's friend Jennifer. She was trying to be fair, my wife is scrupulously fair. Addison looked confused. Well, Addison, she said, voting is like choosing, and we have to choose between Daddy, or Daddy's friend Jennifer. Addison still looked confused. (He had only just turned 3.)

Well Addison, she said, in the morning, when Daddy takes you to school, he takes you to the deli and you have to choose whether you want a bagel or a donut. This is like that. You have to choose between Daddy and Daddy's friend Jennifer. At this point, Addison seemed to get it.

So she took him into the voting booth, held him up and said: okay Addison, do you want Daddy, or Daddy's friend Jennifer. And Addison looked at her and said: I want a donut!

The moral of this story is that the choices we make are really about the needs of New Yorkers.

And a critical choice that we must make right now is whether or not to spend public resources on a stadium for the West Side of Manhattan.

I've heard this Administration talk about how building the stadium is the greatest test we face. And I can't think of a better statement to demonstrate how the Mayor has the wrong priorities for our City's future.

Because when stadiums become a more important priority than schools, then the Mayor is making the wrong choice.

The bottom line is that I have fought and will keep on fighting against this stadium so that my children and your children won't end up paying for this terrible mistake.

Because this stadium won't help our city.

It won't help us financially.

Mayor Bloomberg has told New Yorkers the stadium will cost us $300 million in City money. What he hasn't said is that if the State doesn't come up with its $300 million for the stadium, we're on the hook for it. He hasn't disclosed the potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs for amenities like a so-called "game porch" and pedestrian walkways. And he hasn't told us that the Jets aren't going to pay taxes on this site, that they'll be getting breaks on the contributions they do make, and that they won't pay a fair price for the land.

When you add it all up, not only will this stadium cost taxpayers more than $1 billion, the experience of almost every other City tells us that we won't make that investment back.

This stadium also won't help our traffic problems.

The Mayor says that this 75,000 seat stadium will add only 174 cars on game day coming through the Lincoln Tunnel. In reality, the number of extra cars could be as high as 17,000 for midtown - and the Administration's plan doesn't include a single new parking space.

To the tens of thousands of New Yorkers stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, that kind of planning will give a whole new meaning to the term Tailgating.

The West Side stadium also won't help us get the Olympics.

The Mayor says that New York will lose the 2012 Olympic games if we don't build this stadium right away. In reality, he's setting up a false choice for New Yorkers. We don't need to build a stadium today for an Olympics that is seven years away - particularly when there are better venues in our city, like in Queens, on which to build.

And it won't help us create more jobs.

The right choice is to build housing, commercial and open space on this land, bringing thousands of jobs right now. And we should develop an Olympic stadium in Queens. That way, we'd bring twice the jobs to New York that we would by just building a West Side Stadium.

The fact is: the stadium is the wrong choice. The right choice for the far West Side is a vision for a vibrant, 24/7 community that will attract new businesses, new jobs and new residents.

This year, we passed an historic rezoning for the rest of West Midtown that included common sense priorities: more commercial space, more housing and more affordable housing, a network of parks and open space, an extended 7-line and an expanded Javits Convention Center.

Now, it's time to extend those priorities to the rest of the West Side.

Today, I am proposing a plan to rezone the 13 acres of the West Side that the Mayor wants for this stadium so that we can instead realize a vision for a thriving, vibrant West Side that sparks continued growth in the rest of our City. And I ask that you join me in support of that plan.

It would mean more funds to stabilize our transit system so we can avoid the repeated fare hikes of the last two years, more commercial space where our entrepreneurs and workers can realize their dreams, more parks where our children can grow and play, more access to our underutilized waterfront, and more housing where New Yorkers can raise their families.

Incredibly, the Mayor says that if we build housing on the far West Side this City will have "too much housing." Too Much Housing? Too much housing when our police and firefighters and teachers can't afford to live where they work? Too much housing when middle-class families are forced out of our City? Too much housing when the seniors that built this City struggle to keep their homes?

This site presents an incredible opportunity to develop the housing we need - both market and affordable housing. And we need more housing in New York City.

Second, we need more parks and open space and this site presents an opportunity to expand on the success of the Hudson River Park in a real way that gives people access to one of the greatest waterfronts in the world.

Third, there should be a commercial component but one that complements midtown and downtown - not competes with them. For example, this is the perfect site to develop hotels that support the expanded Javits Center that I so strongly believe in.

And, finally, the Mayor says that without a stadium there will be no 7-train extension. That's just wrong. That extension was never about providing access to a stadium alone. It is about developing the West Side in a way that creates more jobs and more opportunities for all New Yorkers and serves an expanded convention center that should be at the heart of our plans for the West Side's future.

And to make sure we make the right choice for this valuable property, the MTA must agree that its competitive bidding process will actually be competitive, by taking bids consistent with our rezoning vision, or else it will leave us with a process rigged for the stadium.

It's not too late to make the right choices. But we need to act now.

Over the last year, the Mayor has tried to pull an end-run around this Council to get approval for his stadium. He's sought to bypass the people's elected legislature by backdoor approvals through obscure and unaccountable state bureaucracies. He's tried to arrange a massive expenditure of public funds without any oversight from the City's publicly elected representatives.

So I will introduce legislation to stop the Mayor's plan to finance the stadium through a slush fund and make sure that every public dollar our City spends goes through our public budget process. And I ask you to join me in supporting this legislation.

This is a stand we must make. Since the Charter made the City Council the final authority on passing budgets, no mayor has tried to remove an expenditure of this size from public review. It's wrong. And even if you support the stadium, this is still a precedent that you and I cannot allow to stand.

This Administration is wrong when it says that a stadium is the greatest test we face.

Because we all know that our greatest test is educating our children.

And while every New Yorker should give Mayor Bloomberg credit for taking responsibility for the school system, no New Yorker who has seen the results can doubt that too much attention has been focused on bureaucratic reshuffling and not enough on the fundamentals: smaller class sizes, more quality teachers, safer schools, and stronger after-school programs.

Think about the difference between successful suburban schools and unsuccessful urban schools. The first thing you notice when you walk into a suburban school is that it's nice. It has lighting. It has a seat for every child. It has an art room, a music room, a science lab, and a gym where kids can exercise. It has the basic tools that kids need to achieve.

This sends a simple message to every child in that school, every parent in that neighborhood, and every teacher who works there: Your education is important enough to give you the most basic resources needed for success.

In New York City, we send the exact opposite message every day. We send three-quarters of our high school students to overcrowded schools and then tell them to have lunch at 9:30 AM every morning. We ask kids to pass science Regents tests and then we don't give them science labs. We ask kids to become truly literate and then we deny them the arts and music programs that study after study show improves literacy.

This City puts kids in schools like IS 10 in Astoria, which I visited last week, where snow blows through broken windows and into the classrooms where our kids are trying to learn.

This City sends a powerful message every day to kids and teachers in our public schools that it's not serious enough about their education to give them the tools they need to succeed.

We have to change that. We have to change the message we send to children in New York City by fixing every broken window in every school - not just some.

Last year, my colleagues and I agreed on a capital plan with the administration that would finally allow us to build the new schools our children need and fix the ones that fell into disrepair long ago.

But four weeks ago, the Mayor cut that plan in half - taking out $1.3 billion and throwing into jeopardy many of the projects we need to improve our children's education.

This cut is going to cost us a lot more than just dollars and cents. This cut means that 117,000 children in our city won't get their bathrooms repaired, that 46,000 children won't get new science labs, and that 130,000 children will be forced to go without the security upgrades their schools need to keep them safe.

We know the right choice is to face this crisis now, and fix these schools before we lose another generation of children.

The Mayor refers to these cuts and cancellations as mere "delays." He says they'll get the money "eventually." But make no mistake about it - education delayed is education denied.

Dr. Martin Luther King talked about how the word "wait" almost always means "never."

Well, the time for waiting has passed. The time for action is now - and no elected official can stand up in front of the people and say that education is your number one priority unless you are willing to make it your number one priority.

Let me be clear: I will not pass a budget that includes these cuts.

We started our work together on this Council by putting education first, and we should end it by putting education first. So we will not pass a budget that doesn't protect our schools.

We are ready, willing, and able to do whatever's necessary to keep the schools capital plan intact.

Not only will we restore funds to the capital budget, we will make the fundamentals our priority to give our kids the education they need.

First, that means reducing class sizes. We will bring class sizes down by building new schools and better using the facilities we have.

Second, we will attract and retain the best teachers by treating them with respect, providing better teacher training, and, yes, paying quality teachers what they deserve.

Because when you tell every teacher in the city that there is only one way they may hang their bulletin boards, you're driving good teachers out of our schools.

When you hold a stopwatch over every teacher in the city and tell them that they must spend exactly four minutes teaching one subject and then six minutes on the next, you're driving good teachers out of our schools.

When you pay teachers in the city less than their peers in the suburbs, you're driving good teachers out of our schools.

We need to make teaching in New York City an attractive option. We need to give teachers the little things that will make a big difference, like a workspace where they can grade papers, and expanding the Council's successful HIP program to connect parents with teachers.

And while we do what it takes to put a good teacher in every classroom, we will make it easier to remove poor teachers from our schools so that the few who aren't doing their job won't ruin the reputation of the many who are. We'll offer poorly performing teachers help first, but ultimately good teachers don't want to see incompetent people in the classroom next door.

Third, we will make sure that every one of our more than 1,300 schools is safe - not just a handful of troubled schools. This Mayor has announced two separate, zero tolerance policies. And why do we still not have zero tolerance? Because principals have been told that if they suspend too many children, they'll lose their jobs. That's wrong.

Right now principals are given all of the responsibility and none of the authority they need to get the job done. We should work with principals and give them the tools they need to create safe and secure environments for their students and staff. And we should begin by having school safety officers report directly to them, not just to the local police. And those school safety officers need better training and a career track that's meaningful.

Fourth, we will provide children in our city with real after-school opportunities. Right now the administration is proposing an after-school overhaul that under-funds these programs by $16million. We will strengthen after-school programs by making them more effective, but also by providing the real resources they need to succeed.

When it comes to educating our children, we know what works - smaller class sizes, more quality teachers, safer schools and stronger after-school programs.

But we also know that the greatest obstacle standing in our way is the worsening abuse that Washington and Albany inflict on our city every year.

The priorities I've outlined today are the right choices for our city's future. But we will not be able to meet the challenges of the 21st century unless we finally get our Fair Share.

Three years ago when I began our campaign to get New York's Fair Share, the federal and state governments took a combined $20 billion more from the city than they returned to us. Today, according to the Mayor's own Office of Management and Budget, they take more than $24 billion.

Ladies and gentleman, we are going backwards -- by $4 billion.

That's $4 billion more that we don't have now for cops and firefighters. $24 billion that we don't have for teachers, for parks and libraries. For all the things our City must do.

We need the Mayor of New York to refuse to put up with this treatment and provide real leadership. We need the Mayor to take a stand and speak out against the very people who are doing this to our City.

We simply can't afford to let President Bush and Governor Pataki off the hook anymore.

We are shortchanged on anti-terrorism funding and health care funding. We are shortchanged on education funding and transportation funding. Formula after formula robs our city at a time when we can least afford it.

The result is that we are over-taxed and under-served. We are losing businesses and residents to cities that can offer more services and lower taxes.

The children and families of New York deserve better. We demand better. And we will not rest until New York gets its Fair Share.

If we can make the right choices for New York's future, then I know there is nothing we can't accomplish as a city.

We can protect our city from terrorism and crime, provide safe and clean streets and neighborhoods with a good quality of life.

We can fix our transportation system, provide housing, and promote economic growth in every borough.

And we can build the schools our children need for a lifetime of learning and prosperity.

Because in the end, there is simply nothing wrong with New York that can't be fixed by what's right with New York.

My wife and I wouldn't dream of raising our two sons anywhere else.

New York is still a magnet for talented and innovative people. We come from different nations and from different parts of the country. But we all come for the same reason that people have been coming to New York for the last 350 years - to live in the heart of a new world, to build a better life in a city that represents the entire human race.

Every morning of every day of every week, millions of men and women in our city get out of bed, and then work all day long to realize the promise that New York holds out to every citizen of the world - the promise of a better life for all those with enough imagination to see it and the guts to make it happen.

It's their common sense wisdom and priorities that we try to put into practice in this Chamber.

I thank you for the incredible opportunity I've had to lead this Council over the last three years. I couldn't be more proud of the work we've done together. And I know we will, together, continue to make the right choices to build a better future for our great City.

Thank you, and God bless America and God bless New York City.

 


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