Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 2004 State of the City Address

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Minority Leader, Members of the Council, Comptroller Thompson, Public Advocate Gotbaum, Borough Presidents, distinguished guests, including Lieutenant-Governor Donohue and Mayor Koch, and one other very special guest.

A graduate of James Madison High School in Brooklyn who will soon be on her way to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, Miss Julia James. Congratulations!

Ladies and Gentlemen, today, I want to speak to you about Our New York.

The New York of Queens – where we meet today in the bustling Silvercup Studios, the home of “Hollywood East.”

The New York of Staten Island – where we’re taking a stand for neighborhood quality of life.

Of Brooklyn – where a remarkable Renaissance continues to flower.

I want to speak about the New York of the Bronx, where new stores and businesses are thriving.

And of Manhattan, which tourists have re-discovered, and are packing our hotels, museums, and restaurants in record numbers.

The New York of eight million citizens, three million immigrants, 1.1 million school children and seventeen hundred beautiful parks.

The New York that – a week ago – saw one million citizens and visitors gather together in Times Square -- in a safe and joyous celebration -- with a true American hero named Shoshanna Johnson.

That’s Our New York – and today, I want to speak to you about the state of the magnificent city we share.

Let me begin by asking you to join me in saluting some of our neighbors who have helped protect and defend Our New York in the war against terror.

They’re reservists in the armed forces.

They’re with us today. And I’d like to ask them to stand.

During the last year, you men and women have served our nation -- some on battlefields half a world away -- but we don’t forget that the war began right here on the streets of New York -- and for that reason, no one appreciates what you’ve done for America more than your fellow New Yorkers.

We welcome you here, and we hope and pray that all our men and women in the armed forces return home safely from wherever they now are.

And when they come home to their families, we want to make sure that they can live out the American dream, here, in New York City.

Two years ago, when we took office, a lot of self-styled “experts” were ready to write New York City off.

But today, because we’ve faced our problems together; because we’ve kept this the safest big city in America; because we’ve invested in affordable housing and essential infrastructure; because we’re turning our schools around; and because we’re maintaining an outstanding quality of life for all New Yorkers… jobs are coming back to the Big Apple. People have renewed confidence. And our future never looked brighter.

I can stand here today, and tell you that the state of our city -- Our New York -- is strong, and getting stronger by the day.

The naysayers, the “doom and gloom” crowd, those who have attempted to gain personal publicity or political advantage by trumpeting bad omens and embracing negative thinking, have been proved wrong once again.

Perfect we're not.

But who would want to live elsewhere?

We have every right to be proud that over the last two years -- faced with war abroad, and difficult times at home -- most New Yorkers have shown a willingness to put aside our differences and work together. That’s as it must be.

Because Our New York is a place where everyone must have the chance to learn, to work, to live in an affordable home in a clean and safe neighborhood and to enjoy everything that this remarkable city has to offer.

Today, our Administration is at midterm.

Going forward, our goal, as it’s been for the last two years, is to continue to create opportunity for every New Yorker, in every neighborhood, and in every borough.

And making that New York a reality for everyone is what this Administration is all about.

Over the last two years, many of our fellow New Yorkers have been in need.

And we’ve followed both the demands of the law, and the dictates of our conscience in helping them.

But, at the same time, we’ve recognized that we can’t meet our obligations to those at risk unless we govern within our means.

We’ve been compassionate, while also being as fiscally responsible as difficult times have demanded.

Accomplishing that required building bridges when we could -- and taking unpopular stands when we had to.

It meant not pandering to special interests or vocal advocacy groups -- particularly when the actions hurt the very people these groups ostensibly want to assist.

That’s the course we’ve followed for the last 738 days -- and the one we’ll stick to in the years ahead. We haven’t let cheap political attacks -- however harsh or personal -- divert us from that course…and we won't.

I was elected to be independent.

I was elected because I owed no political debts.

I was elected to “do the job,” and not to spend my first four years in office campaigning.

I’ve kept that promise -- and that’s why we face the future with renewed optimism.

What is the source of that optimism? The fact is, that virtually every economic indicator in the Big Apple today is positive.

Unemployment is at a 20-month low. Businesses are hiring; in November alone, 29,000 New Yorkers found jobs. Building permits are up. Residential property values are 15% higher than they were a year ago. Wall Street firms have stayed in this city, and just had their best year in three.

Our hotels are full, and international tourists are coming back to New York. Hundreds of new hotel rooms now under construction will be open by August, to help us host the Republican National Convention and the 50,000 visitors it will bring to our city.

New York’s economy is growing again.

The reason? Because we recognized that tough times call for making tough -- and sometimes controversial -- choices. And we made them.

Take the City’s financial problems:
When we took office in January of 2002, we faced a $5 billion budget deficit. A year later, the deficit had grown to $6.5 billion. That’s larger than the entire budget of Los Angeles! We were in a full blown fiscal crisis.

From the outset two years ago, I charged our Commissioners, not with implementing service cuts to programs that help people: that would have been divisive just at the time this city post 9-11 was pulling together; but instead to find ways to make their agencies more efficient, and to provide better services with fewer resources.

And they did.

We closed the biggest budget deficits in the history of this City without repeating the mistakes of the 1970s.

There were no fiscal one-shot gimmicks. We didn't turn our city over to a Financial Control Board to gut our fire and police departments, or layoff teachers and close needed hospitals.

And when the lights went out last August, the contrast between the choices we made -- and those that were made during the fiscal crisis of the 70's -- were never more evident.

We preserved our quality of life and kept this city a symbol of what is great about America.

But as with all good things, there was a price.

The people of this City had to reach deeper into their pockets to get us through the past two years. They are the true heroes of this crisis.

Now that the crisis is beginning to subside, it’s time to reward them, and reduce the burden on their shoulders.

Thanks to a reviving economy, and the contributions of our citizens, we’ll finish the current fiscal year with revenues exceeding expenses.

So, as promised, the surcharge on the personal income tax is going to “sunset” on schedule.

On June 1st, the clothing sales tax exemption will be restored and the sales tax surcharge will also be phased out as scheduled.

And this is why in my preliminary budget next week, I’ll propose a rebate that would roll back the property tax increase that was enacted in 2002. The part that hurts individual home, co-op and condo owners, including seniors on fixed incomes.

To put that in perspective, this will amount to a savings of $400, and in most cases would eliminate the painful, 18.5% increase.

And -- if we keep growing -- we can issue similar rebates next year ... or even roll back the rate entirely.

This isn’t to say we’re out of the woods. We’re projecting a $2 billion deficit next fiscal year, and a $4 billion deficit the fiscal year after that.

But we’re close enough to the edge of the forest that we can begin to reduce the tax burden on the New Yorkers who have sacrificed the most. It’s the right thing to do.

New York City taxpayers stepped up to the plate -- and now it’s time they got recognized for doing so.

In addition to our getting the City government finances in order, another reason that Our New York is coming back is because we’ve kept it the safest big city in the nation. That’s a title we inherited from the Giuliani Administration. And it’s one we intend to hold.

During 2003, the NYPD drove crime down to levels last seen in 1968. We reduced crime by 5% citywide last year, and by more than 10% over the last two years. We’ve driven crime down in every borough -- and Queens, where we are today, led the decline in violent crime. Crime in the subways fell another 13% last year, to its lowest point since we began tracking it. We’ve driven domestic violence homicides down by 20%, and we’ve just finished the second consecutive year with fewer than 600 murders.

The last time New Yorkers saw that was in the early 1960s.

We’ve done all this while protecting the nation’s most important city against the constant threat of terror.

We saw that again last week, during the celebration of New Year’s Eve in Times Square -- the safest in modern memory. No one was going to tell us to stay home on New Year’s Eve!

In short, the State of public safety in Our New York is outstanding. This is not an accident. It takes the diligence and professionalism of the 37,000 men and women of the New York City Police Department -- and we appreciate their remarkable achievements.

But we dare not become complacent.

For this reason -- and despite the ongoing fiscal constraints imposed by the City’s projected deficit next year -- I’ve authorized the expedited hiring of a new class of police recruits, 730 men and women.

They’ll begin training immediately and be deployed on the streets of the city this summer.

We’re taking advantage of $90 million in Federal funds through the national “COPS” program to help pay for these new police officers.

Hiring two classes -- one in January and one in July -- will now become our standard practice, because it will allow for better training, deployment and overall management.

These new officers represent the future of Our New York: where the law-abiding public flourishes, where terrorism is thwarted, where criminals remain on the run, and where schools are for learning.

Our success in fighting crime has been the result of Operations Impact, Spotlight and Silent Night, the Brooklyn Gun Court, and other initiatives that focus on problem people and problem places.

During 2004, that’s where we’re going to keep the focus.

Last March, two of our Finest, Detectives James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews gave their lives to free our streets from guns. Now it's up to the rest of us to carry on where they left off.

We will.

In the coming year, we're going to apply our successful "problem people, problem places" strategy in a coordinated, targeted campaign against gun violence.

It will include a heightened, Spotlight-type focus on offenders who have multiple gun possession arrests, as well as increased attention to firearms cases in public housing.

We’re also going after big-time gun-traffickers. We’ll demand that Albany close a loophole in the law that now lets illegal gun dealers escape tough sentences by defining their sales as piecemeal instead of in bulk. We’re on to that game, and we’re going to close it down.

Our Fire Department has done an equally outstanding job of keeping New Yorkers safe. We’ve kept civilian fire fatalities to levels not seen since the 1950s. We’ve rebuilt the Department, and last month, the FDNY reached the most important milestone in that recovery. There are now more men and women in the ranks of our Bravest than there were on September 10th, 2001. Meeting that goal would normally have taken four years - we’ve done it in two.

Tragically, last month, we also lost one of the first men to step up to fill the ranks of the FDNY after 9/11: Firefighter Tommy Brick of Ladder 36. It was a sad day for our city -- and it redoubled my commitment to do everything we can so that all our firefighters come home safely at the end of each shift.

Another safety issue is traffic accidents. And we're taking steps to reduce them. During 2003, New York had 168 pedestrian deaths -- a 16% drop from the previous year and the fewest in 30 years. That was the result of an effective partnership between the Police and Transportation Departments.

We’re not resting on our laurels, though. While over the last two years, we’ve improved safety along Queens Boulevard – it remains a major concern. So later this month, we’ll unveil engineering and enforcement initiatives that will make Queens Boulevard even safer for pedestrians and motorists.

Within a few weeks, we’ll also present plans for permanently improving the safety of the Staten Island Ferry. A record of more than 90 years of ferry operations without a serious accident created the unfortunate byproducts of complacency, and an entrenched bureaucracy. Well, those days are over.

Last October’s crash of the Barberi was an awful tragedy -- and we’re going to make sure that it’s never repeated, ever.

While we've made New York safer, we’ve also improved our quality of life.

Statistics show that our streets are cleaner today than they’ve been since we started keeping track, 30 years ago. And within 24 hours after last February’s blizzard finished burying our city in two feet of snow, our Sanitation crews had plowed all six thousand, three hundred miles of streets and highways in our city at least once. Unprecedented!

Unfortunately, under the "no good deed goes unpunished rule," snow and cold weather lead to potholes. But with this Administration, when potholes are reported, they’re filled -- 90% of them within 30 days. It might not seem it on some roads, but a modern-day record, as far as we can tell.

Over the next 12 months, we’ll build on these achievements, with a citywide beautification plan. From planting new flowerbeds and trees, to repairing street lamps and benches, we’ll continue to improve the appearance of our streets, and the quality of our neighborhood life.

Physical improvements and development are part of our efforts to improve neighborhoods, but we’ll also work to end over-development where it has gotten out of hand.

What is over-development, you may ask?

It’s houses so poorly designed that they have front doors that open directly into the street, houses that have no front yards, not even sidewalks. It’s developments that seem, with little exaggeration, to pile homes right on top of one another.

Last month, I enthusiastically accepted recommendations from the Staten Island Growth Management Task Force that will help us end the over-development of Staten Island neighborhoods.

And those recommendations provide a template for what we’ll do in the coming year to protect the quality of life in Throgs Neck in the Bronx, Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, Bayside here in Queens, and in other residential communities throughout the city.

However, at the same time that we reflect on our economic successes, let's remember that we didn’t simply make City government more efficient; we also made it more compassionate.

During a time of crisis, the true measure of a community’s strength is how well it does taking care of its children, its elderly and its disadvantaged.

While cutting City spending by some $3.3 billion, we’ve done a better job of providing help to those who need it most.

For seniors: we’ve maintained services to our elderly. During the last fiscal year, we made sure that all the city’s senior centers remained open. And today, we’re making that same commitment for the next fiscal year. You can write it down: We are going to take care of those, who took care of us.

For children: we’ve continued to make the lives of our most vulnerable children safer, and their families stronger. During the last year, we reduced the foster care rolls to their lowest level in 16 years. The number of children entering the system fell by 17%. More families were kept together -- and at the same time, adoptions were finalized for more than 3,100 children.

We’ve helped the homeless: during the last fiscal year, we placed a record number of homeless New Yorkers -- 20,000 men, women and children -- in permanent housing. This past summer, for the first time in modern memory, no one slept on the floors of the Emergency Assistance Unit.

For those struggling out of poverty: despite a deep recession, over the last two years, 32,000 people have come off the welfare rolls, and fewer New Yorkers are on public assistance now than at any point since 1965. We really are moving people from welfare to work -- and doing it in the face of a national and local economic slowdown.

For those needing medical services: public hospitals and clinics will play a key role. Not so long ago, they themselves were on the critical list. Since we’ve come into office, however… those public hospitals that serve our citizens that have undergone independent accreditation -- five in 2002, and four in 2003 -- have earned some of the highest scores ever received by any hospital in our city -- public or private. That’s a medical miracle!

And all New Yorkers are winners.

To help working New Yorkers who don’t have health insurance use these facilities… during the last 12 months alone we’ve enrolled more than 150,000 men and women for coverage under the State-sponsored Family Health Plus program.

We’re stepping up a campaign of early testing for breast, cervical and colon cancers, and other serious illnesses in low-income communities.

We’re expanding our use of rapid HIV assessments that provide results within an hour of the test.

Pretending health problems don’t exist- using band-aids where major surgery is more appropriate - just isn't this Administration's style. We know what and where the public health issues facing our residents are -- and we’re doing something about them.

We're also doing something about making City government more democratic and accessible to the public by taking it into the information age.

And the biggest step there has involved my three favorite numbers...3-1-1.

Since we launched 311 last March, New Yorkers have treated it like the greatest thing since egg creams. 311 operators regularly handle 25,000 calls a day that tell us where potholes need to be filled, where abandoned cars need to be towed, and where vacant lots need to be fenced.

3-1-1 has given us a tremendous tool for improving the quality of life throughout the city. And it’s an invaluable management tool. It provides detailed information about how the City operates. And it’s made City government accessible and answerable to the people of New York -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Over the next two years, we’re going to keep up -- and pick up -- the pace in all these areas.

And at the same time, we will focus on two areas crucial to realizing the vision of Our New York: Continuing to generate jobs and opportunity in all five boroughs and making all our public schools true centers of learning.

First, as to jobs.

People can only take personal responsibility seriously if they can earn a living for themselves and their families.

As our economy recovers, we’ve got to make sure that the rising economic tide genuinely lifts all boats -- not just those moored at Wall Street, but also those along Queens Boulevard and Fordham Road and Flatbush Avenue.

Let’s start with Flatbush Avenue.

Within the next few weeks the NBA owners will decide whether or not the New Jersey Nets will move to Downtown Brooklyn to play in a new arena designed by one of the world’s great architects, Frank Gehry. That would have been inconceivable as recently as ten years ago. How did we get to a point where a major sports franchise -- and one of the world's most prominent architects -- might be coming to Brooklyn... together?

It’s because we’ve built new parks, expanded housing, and turned Downtown Brooklyn into the city's third-largest business district. We've made Brooklyn into a place that's able to win in the competition for residents, businesses, and workers.

It’s the same way we're transforming all boroughs, using a strategy with three key elements:

Number one: we're making New York more livable.
Number two: we're making New York more business-friendly.
And Number three: we're working to diversify the City's economy.

First, over the next year, we’ll be making our City more livable by adding new parks and open spaces.

We’ll present our plan for more than $240 million in parks improvements in the Bronx -- an investment tied to the planned construction of a water filtration plant under Van Cortlandt Park.

We’ll move forward on creating -- at Fresh Kills -- the biggest new park in more than 100 years, one three times the size of Central Park.

And here in Queens, in just a week of negotiations, we got Keyspan to sell us the six-acre Elmhurst gas tank site for conversion to another new City park for just $1.

Our Administration is working with community groups around the city -- at Staten Island’s Homeport site, at Coney Island, at Sherman Creek and elsewhere to make it easier for New Yorkers to enjoy our waterfront, and also to turn it into an economic development resource.

Our rezoning of Greenpoint-Williamsburg alone will create 49 acres of new parks, and more than 7,000 units of housing in a now-desolate area.

We’re relying heavily on such former industrial sites to provide housing for New Yorkers -- especially affordable housing.

Our “New Housing Marketplace” plan, a five-year, $3 billion program to create and preserve 65,000 units of affordable housing in all five boroughs, is underway and on target. 10,000 new homes are already in the development pipeline.

And in a few weeks, we’ll launch a new, multi-million dollar public-private partnership that will develop up to 10,000 units of affordable housing on cleaned-up brownfields throughout the city.

We're also working to preserve existing housing. Specifically, this year, we'll push for a new State law to protect tenants in Mitchell-Lama housing from sudden and sizeable rent increases. These residents stood by our city and our neighborhoods; now we'll stand up for them!

Second, we're making New York business-friendly.

That means creating the infrastructure needed for economic growth.

Building on the work of previous Administrations, we’re creating the space required to keep employers -- and their jobs -- in New York City.

That’s why we’re redeveloping the Hudson Yards on the Far West Side of Manhattan.

This year, we’ll complete the environmental and public review processes to extend the Number Seven line, build 20 acres of new parks, and more than double the size of the Javits Center.

And next year, we’ll start actual construction.

Those projects are essential to Our New York’s long-term future.

They will also be needed should New York win the right to host the Summer Olympics in 2012 -- something I think we have a great chance to do. A week from today we will formally -- no, make that enthusiastically -- submit our application to the International Olympic Committee to let the 2012 games begin in the World's Second Home.

I’m also pleased to report that every element of our Vision for Lower Manhattan is moving forward -- from housing to parks, and, with the leadership of Governor Pataki, from direct commuter and airport access to, of course, the plan for the World Trade Center site itself.

In Lower Manhattan, the tragedy of 9/11 has given us the will and the resources to create a true 24-hour downtown.

Across the City, similar efforts are underway.

In Flushing, we’ve established a partnership with the community to build an even more dramatic and entrepreneurial business district.

And in the South Bronx, we’ve entered into a letter of intent to turn the long-blighted Bronx Terminal Market into a spectacular riverfront shopping and recreational center.

You’ll see similar developments in Long Island City, in Jamaica, and across Harlem.

Now, as to diversifying our economy, the third element.

Manufacturing will play a big part in that.

Yes, we’re remaking and reusing underused industrial sites for parks and housing.

But we’re also working to increase the number of industrial and manufacturing jobs
in the Big Apple.

Right here in Queens, this will be a banner year for our industrial park in College Point. This fall, Crystal Windows, a successful minority-owned manufacturer, will break ground on an expansion that will create 150 new jobs.

The Greater New York Auto Dealers Association is building a training facility that will prepare thousands of young New Yorkers for well-paying jobs in the automotive field.

And very shortly, we'll be announcing a bright new future for the long-neglected Flushing Airport site --one that will create hundreds of new jobs.

Over the last several months, we’ve interviewed more than 500 owners of industrial businesses.

Within the next two months, we’ll unveil an industrial policy to help them retain the good jobs they provide, and grow new ones. This policy will include actions to establish clear land use regulations for industrial areas, and provide necessary infrastructure.

We’re going to place much of our focus on industries where New York has a natural competitive advantage. Manufacturing still -- but proactively focusing on what today’s markets require, not fighting yesterday’s battles as some would have us do in a hopeless, "head in the sand" stubbornness to accept change.

For instance, there’s the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. Many wanted to keep fish distribution in Lower Manhattan. But by moving the market, we’ve gained competitive advantage in food distribution through better space, transportation, and proximity to the buyers. A year from now, we'll complete the new Fulton Fish Market -- bigger, better and employing more people than ever before.

Movie and TV production provides another great illustration.

This is a $5 billion-a-year industry in New York.

Sure it means jobs for actors and actresses, but it also means thousands of jobs for carpenters and caterers, musicians and electricians, and many other New Yorkers.

By not recognizing industry needs and changes, we lost a lot of production to L.A. and Canada. No longer!

It’s why the Suna family turned a bakery and a steel fabrication plant into this movie studio, and why they plan to expand Silvercup Studios. It's why the City is helping finance an expansion of the Kaufman-Astoria Studios. And it's why, later this year, we'll help open Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. That's a $100 million private project, spurred by public infrastructure investments, that will create more than 100,000 square feet of state-of-the-art film and television sound stages.

And very soon, we’ll unveil another plan to bring even more TV and movie production to the Big Apple. It’ll take the combined efforts of the City, the State, the industry, and labor. Stay tuned!

What about small businesses, you ask?

Since one-half of our private sector workers are employed by companies of 100 people or less, our effort to diversify the City's economy includes a relentless focus on small businesses.

The Department of Small Business Services is changing the way we support entrepreneurs. In the coming year, we’ll open one-stop business solution centers in Queens and Staten Island, and create one-stop job-training centers in Brooklyn and
Staten Island.

We’re taking steps to enable entrepreneurs and workers from all backgrounds to succeed in those industries that are growing in our city.

That's also why we’ve developed programs and tools to enhance access to City contracts for women- and minority-owned businesses -- and to hold City agencies accountable for progress in this area.

Two years ago, most New Yorkers were profoundly worried about the health of the City's economy. Few could have imagined that, at the start of 2004, we would be talking, not only about an economic recovery, but also about an economic transformation.

We’re preparing all of New York to compete, and to win, in the future.

In fact, that preparation is going on right at this very moment. Not here, not by us -- but in public school classrooms throughout the city. They’re schools like the Louis Armstrong Middle School in Elmhurst, and the Academy of American Studies in Long Island City. We’re honored to have students, teachers and principals from those schools with us today. Please join me in welcoming them.

Thanks to Assembly Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Bruno and their members, last January 15th, on Martin Luther King Junior's birthday, I presented our administration's school reform plan.

It's a hugely complex undertaking -- and one that's too important to be slowed or watered down by timidity or special interests -- or by those who look at a work in progress, and see an excuse to give up.

In the last year alone, we’ve completely overhauled the management structure of the schools. We’ve streamlined and reduced the bureaucracy, and redirected $250 million to classroom learning.

We've established a new citywide curriculum focused on the essentials of reading, writing and math.

A clear line of accountability enabled us to do something basic, but unprecedented: Deliver eight million books and teaching materials to our classrooms in time for the first day of school in September.

Parents have been brought in as full partners in their children's education.

For the first time, every school has a fulltime parent coordinator helping parents get involved.

And last week, the Justice Department approved our plan to replace the final vestige of the old regime -- the ineffective and often patronage-ridden community school boards -- with new parent-focused Community District Education Councils.

By next September, we will have opened 30,000 new classroom seats, more than 8,000 of which will have come from converted administrative space.

Those 8,000-plus seats alone are the equivalent of 13 new schools that would have cost half a billion dollars to build -- monies we just don’t have. The part completed this September was the largest single-year expansion of the system in at least 14 years.

Helen, you'll be glad to know, more than half of those new seats were here in Queens -- the borough that needs them most.

And when schools reopened three days ago, after the winter holiday break, principals, teachers and school safety officers had a new mandate -- and a new responsibility -- to keep the schools safe, and to immediately remove violent or seriously disruptive students.

We’ve identified the schools with the highest rates of disorder. We’re doubling the number of police officers assigned to each of them -- and by February 1st, we'll have permanently assigned an additional 150 officers to a School Safety Task Force. From now on, kids who want to learn will be able to do just that.

Now we're taking our education reforms to the next level. In collaboration with New York City's vital cultural institutions, we have created a coherent plan for visual art and music education. It will be implemented in September, ensuring that the art, once again play a central role in the public schools.

We’re launching a major initiative to improve secondary schools. We inherited a system in which only three out of every ten 8th graders meet standards in English and math. And many students leave public schools in the middle grades because their parents believe there aren't enough good secondary schools. We're going to change that!

We're going to improve the curriculum. We're going to restructure many schools to make them smaller, safer and more accountable. Most importantly, we're going to begin giving parents and students a better, wider range of secondary school choices.

With the help of funds provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, next September, we'll open 40 new middle and high schools across the city. They’ll include more “early college high schools,” that will allow students to earn up to two years of college credits. Some of them will be sponsored by our CUNY colleges.

Over the last few years, the turn-around there has been extraordinary -- a tribute to Herman Badillo, the former Chairman of the CUNY system, and others who refused
to accept a failed status quo.

Standards there have been raised, and there's no question the result has been a striking improvement in student performance. We’re going to duplicate that throughout the public school system. We're going to demand more and the students are going to be the beneficiaries.

It’s been 50 years since the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Does anyone seriously think we have “realized the dream” for all our children? It's time to recognize both how far we’ve come -- and not come -- and recommit to our goal of a quality education for every student.

And that's why, this year, for 3rd graders, we're putting an end to the discredited practice of social promotion. We’re not just saying that this time, as has been done in the past…we’re going to do it!

Why start in the third grade? Third grade is critical. By fourth grade, students are supposed to move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” If they can't read, they can't do it. Third grade is also when we first measure performance in language skills and math with standardized tests. As they grow older, the odds against helping students meet demanding standards get much, much longer. But with kids who are 8 or 9 years old, we've still got a very good shot at success -- and we're going to take it.

Third grade is also where the numbers needing help are still manageable, and progress can be measured. We want to start an initiative that is both effective and practical. One week from today, Chancellor Klein will outline our new policy in greater detail.

But I can tell you now that everyone involved -- principals, teachers, students and parents -- must be held accountable for making sure that our students meet the standards.

Early intervention will be a big part of this effort. The focus in the classroom will remain on helping students master the basics of reading, writing and math. We’re simply going to give every child the chance to succeed. That’s what our education program is all about.

In fact, that's what Our New York is all about. Giving every child -- and every New Yorker -- the chance to succeed.

Now I want to conclude today by issuing a challenge. I want to challenge all of us to keep our city great and to make it even greater. It won’t be easy, but I know we can do it.

New Yorkers never back down from a challenge and there is hardly any limit to what we can accomplish.

The country -- and the world -- saw exactly what we were capable of in the terrible aftermath of 9/11. And they saw it again during the Blackout last August. But more importantly, so did we.

In our hearts, we saw just what Our New York can be: A city where -- beyond all reasonable expectations -- crime keeps coming down year after year after year. A city where the education of every child is regarded not only as a moral duty, but as a civil right. Our New York: A city where every man or woman who is able to work has the dignity and hope that comes with a job and lives in a good home, on a clean, safe street. And where those of us who work for the people always act in the people’s best interests.

That’s my vision of Our New York. I know it’s yours as well. And that New York can be ours if we work for it, together.

Others may doubt us. They may criticize us. They may try to deny us what is rightfully ours. But they will fail.

And I promise you, as long as I am mayor, I will never back away from fighting any opponent -- or confronting any obstacle -- that would prevent our people from achieving all of their dreams in Our New York.

Happy New Year to you all. And God Bless New York City. Thank you very much.

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