|GOTHAM GAZETTE: SEARCHLIGHT 2002: Stated Meeting Report||JUMP TO YOUR DISTRICT|
On January 7, 2004, Gifford Miller was unanimously reelected as Speaker of the New York City Council. Miller then delivered a speech highlighting the major accomplishments of the past two years and outlining plans for 2004. The following is the text of the speech. (Click on the bold words to read more about the issue.)
BUILDING ON THE LEGACY OF OPPORTUNITY
Delivered by City Council Speaker Gifford Miller - January 7, 2004
Friends, colleagues, and fellow New Yorkers:
I want to thank my colleagues on the council for reelecting me speaker. It is an honor to serve alongside so many outstanding leaders in this council... leaders who have produced truly meaningful results for the people of New York. And it is an honor to serve with you in this distinguished body.
On behalf of all New Yorkers, I thank the council for your commitment, your dedication and, most importantly, your hard-won accomplishments of these past two years.
Those accomplishments are a result of your energy, your passion for representing the people of New York and from much hard work. But they are also clear statements of something even more important: the values this council brings to bear on public policy.
Working alongside all of you, putting our values into action, has fortified my faith in government. Because this council has made good on its commitment to truly understand the needs of New Yorkers, to fight for what's right, and to stand up for the people against misguided or ill- considered actions.
In this council, we conduct the business of the city person-to-person, face-to-face. And we confront the problems of the city head-on. I'm proud of that - as I think all of us should be. I'm proud that we've tackled the tough issues in a balanced manner, that we've kept our perspective in difficult times and applied our values consistently.
This council began its work under difficult circumstances with a challenging mandate. We had to address the worst fiscal crisis in our city's history and we had to do it at a time of tremendous uncertainty about our future. But we held fast to our values and we applied a consistent approach - and I am proud to say that our approach prevailed.
Because we knew the importance of fiscal responsibility, we didn't duck the harsh reality of the city's budget crisis. We didn't opt to delay the day of reckoning. Instead, we faced it squarely and decided the responsible course was to cut as much as we possibly could. That's what we did: we cut $2.5 billion in spending in fiscal 2003 and $3.5 billion out of the budget by fiscal 2004. And I'm proud to say our approach prevailed.
Because we knew it would be wrong to turn our back on the most vulnerable in our city, we worked to make the right cuts in the right way. We knew from experience and from talking and listening to the people we represent, how important a hot meal at a senior center can be to a hungry senior... how crucial preventative services are for stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and people of color... how critical a Vallone Scholarship is to that student who is the first in her family to attend college... how affordable day care enables working parents to provide for their families a better life for their children. Because we understood that, we've fought time and again to protect the most vulnerable. And I'm proud to say that our approach prevailed.
Because we understood that middle-class taxpayers are the backbone of our city, we didn't capitulate to demands for a property tax increase that was simply too big to swallow. Instead, we scaled back the proposed increase and we reduced the sales tax increase requested by the mayor. And I'm proud to say that our approach prevailed.
Because we know how important quality of life is to every New Yorker, we protected the gains we've made in our city's quality of life. We managed to cut billions from the budget and still keep cops on the beat and get the trash picked up and the potholes filled and the grafitti cleaned. And I'm proud to say that our approach prevailed.
We did the people's business. And I think we did it well. From the diversity of our own lives - and those whom we represent - we draw strength and we build unity. Someone once said "Robinson Crusoe, the self-sufficient man, could not have lived in New York City." We depend on one another here. We're connected to each other as neighbors and New Yorkers.
And we operate that way here in the City Council. We come from different corners of the city. But we share strong values. We believe in the history of New York and in its future. We know that future depends on our ability to provide opportunity and hope, to nurture the dreams of a better life for each new generation of New Yorkers. At its very best, that's what our city has stood for over the four centuries. And the City Council of New York is determined not only to honor that legacy of opportunity, but to build on it.
We understand that every time opportunity is denied anywhere in the five boroughs of New York, our city is diminished.
There were many times when this body needed to react - and did. But you are also a pro-active council, committed to progressive values, determined to advance a progressive agenda.
You know there is no opportunity today without education. So we have always put our schools and our students first.
We enacted school construction accountability, requiring the Department of Education to submit timely accounts of construction costs and timelines on all capital projects. The days of $2 billion accounting gaps, haphazard management at the Board of Education, and endless excuses are over.
This past October, the council released a report detailing the decayed physical state of many of our schools. Together, we put forth a plan calling for $12.9 billion in capital funding to repair dilapidated schools and rescue the students who attend them. We need to face the crisis in our schools directly and stop passing the buck. These schools are our present and our future. We can invest in them now - or pay much more later. We're pleased the mayor responded by raising his capital spending plan from $4.5 billion to $13 billion. That's a step in the right direction. We have work to do before making that plan a reality. But we're moving in the right direction.
We pressed hard to put an end to school violence. No child can learn, no teacher can teach, under a constant threat of violence. Parents need to know that their children are safe in public school. We want more safety officers in our schools, more tools to keep our children safe. And we're pleased to see the mayor beginning to make this critical issue a priority.
Education is the cornerstone of the future. It's the building block for countless New Yorkers' dreams of a better life for their children. This council will not betray those dreams. That's why we fought at every step to restore proposed cuts to the education budget. And we'll continue to fight for education in the months and years ahead.
Education is vital. But as we work to build opportunity, we must be mindful of the fact that our city hasn't always extended the chance for a better life to every citizen. That's why this council must fight not only for quality education in every school, but for opportunity and fairness in every neighborhood for every New Yorker.
That's why we passed pioneering legislation to provide real opportunity to New Yorkers moving from welfare to work. Because we know for our people to get good jobs they need the proper training.
That's why we ensured that workers covered by city contracts and subcontracts receive a living wage. Because they need a living wage to provide for their families and nearly 50,000 New Yorkers have benefited from that law.
That's why we protected and strengthened rent regulations in order to maintain affordable housing for low-income and middle-class New Yorkers, because too many New Yorkers spend too much of their hard-earned dollars on rent.
That's why we passed tax incentives to encourage development of affordable housing and improvements to existing housing stock.
That's why just last month we broke years of stalemate and division and passed landmark legislation to protect children from the devastating effects of lead paint throughout the city. Because we cannot be complacent when thousands of our children are being poisoned by lead every year. And we are determined to override the mayor's veto of that legislation and put it into law.
We fought some big fights to preserve fairness and opportunity, but we never lost sight of the day-to-day quality-of-life issues that are so important to every New Yorker. You all know this is a tough town. But every New Yorker deserves safe streets, a decent home and a well-maintained neighborhood. Every New Yorker deserves a good quality of life.
That's why we passed "Adopt-a-Park" legislation to help neighborhood parks across this city. Because every park, not just Central Park, should benefit from the support of concerned citizens. If people want to beautify our city, we shouldn't put bureaucratic hurdles in their way.
That's why we fought to keep New York the cultural capital of the world, allocating more than $139 million for capital improvements at three dozen cultural institutions throughout the city. Because we understand that culture is part of the lifeblood of New York.
That's why we toughened punishment for those who pollute our rivers and our water supply. And passed tough laws to reduce particulate matter and make our air cleaner.
That's why we cracked down on graffiti, increasing penalties for the defacement of property and held vendors accountable for selling graffiti tools to minors.
Because we know we cannot have a thriving city without an energetic economy and vibrant small businesses, we also made it easier to do business in New York City.
We passed major procurement reform to streamline contracts for goods and services, which will help our home-grown businesses and make city government more efficient, more responsive and more cost-effective.
We expanded business improvement districts to energize small businesses in Brighton Beach, Metrotech, and Flushing. It was the right thing to do and now we need to do it in other business districts around the city.
We cut the mayor's sales tax request in half and ended it a year ahead of schedule - saving money for consumers and bringing shoppers into New York to patronize city stores.
Because Democracy and human rights are the birthright of every New Yorker, we protected the civil rights and political rights of New Yorkers.
We passed three separate laws - two of them over the mayor's veto - to make emergency contraception more widely available to poor women and victims of rape. Because the right to choose is something we must fight for - even here in New York - and never take for granted.
We expanded the terms of our domestic partnership law with the first recognition act in the country. And we passed landmark legislation to protect the civil rights of transgendered New Yorkers.
We fought the plan for so-called "non-partisan" elections in our city. We secured real electoral competition and a voice for all New Yorkers.
We've had a productive two years. But our work is far from finished. Much remains to be done.
No one in this room today is satisfied with the state of our schools - and we won't be until every New York City school provides every student with clean, safe, well-lit classrooms, science labs and gyms and the best public education in the land.
We are one of the safest big cities in America, but for victims of crime in our city, the crime rate is still painfully high.
We have begun to jumpstart economic development in all five boroughs. But we have far to go to revitalize business districts that are the key to prosperity across the neighborhoods of New York.
We are still building our movement for a fair share for all New Yorkers. But our city continues to send billions of dollars more to Washington and Albany than we get back. It's not right. And we're going to continue raising our voices and raising the pressure for justice. We are shortchanged on terrorism funding. We are shortchanged on health care funding. We are shortchanged on education funding. We are shortchanged on transportation funding.
Formula after formula robs our city at a time when we can least afford it. When the Republicans come to New York City this summer, we will welcome them. But we will also make clear that New York is more than just a photo op.
We are going to call for justice. The children and families of New York deserve better. We demand better. And we will no rest until New York gets its fair share.
You know, it wasn't long ago that some predicted that a fiscal crisis even more serious than the crisis of the 1970's would rock New York City like a tidal wave, leaving the city in its wake.
We have faced difficult days. The economic environment has been tough. The city's fiscal condition has been strained. And September 11 remains an open wound that only time and the warm embrace of our families and fellow New Yorkers can truly heal.
But across unsteady seas, I believe this council has navigated with skill, with wisdom and with a deep and abiding understanding of what our city and its people are truly all about. Above all, you have been faithful to this city's legacy of opportunity. And you have indeed built upon that legacy.
We have used our values to guide our actions.
As we begin a new term, our city's future is rich with promise. We have laid a foundation for growth. We have defended the vulnerable, stood up to the powerful and fought to secure and strengthen New York's claim as the greatest city of the world.
I am proud to be a member of this council, proud to work alongside all of you, and proud of what we have accomplished individually and together. And I am, as ever, proud and deeply grateful that, like you, I have the privilege and the honor to be called a New Yorker.
The next stated meeting is scheduled for January 21, 2004
For an archive of past meetings and council votes, visit Gotham Gazette's Searchlight.