Corey Johnson’s first speech as New York City Council Speaker
Thank you, my friends and my colleagues. I want to thank all of you for your support. Words cannot express how honored and humbled I am by the confidence you’ve placed in me.
I’d like to recognize some of the honored guests who are here in the room: Former Mayor David Dinkins, Former Speaker Peter Vallone, Congressman Joe Crowley, Democratic Caucus Chair, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Former State Senator Tom Duane, Former Assembly Member Keith Wright, Former Council Member Dr. Una Clarke, Former Council Member Jimmy Vacca and Former Council Member Vincent Ignizio.
Thank you for your service and dedication to New York City.
To my good friends Robert, Ydanis, Jimmy, Mark, Donovan, Jumaane, Ritchie and Inez: I’m inspired by each one of you and your dedication to your constituents, your districts, and the City of New York. I’m proud to call you friends; I look forward to learning from you and partnering with you to do great things over the next four years.
Some people who are very special to me are here today. One person in particular, my Mom, Ann, drove down from Massachusetts to be here. My family never had it easy, and Mom worked incredibly hard to provide for my sister and me. She taught me the meaning of overcoming adversity and unconditional love. She taught me the importance of service to others. And she taught me that fierce women get things done. You are my best friend, my rock, and I wouldn’t be here without you. I love you, Mom.
To my stepfather, Rod, who drove a Pepsi truck day in and day out to provide for his family, and who died six months before I was elected to the City Council; and my father, who was adopted from South Korea and brought here by an American couple when he was 3 years old, and who died a few months into my first term – I wish you both could be here – but I want you to know I love you very much.
I have so many other people to thank that I could spend the next 4 years naming them – but you all know who you are, and I am eternally grateful for your friendship and support.
We stand on the shoulders of leaders who came before us. I want to thank former Speaker Peter Vallone, who is with us today, Speaker Gifford Miller, Speaker Christine Quinn, and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, for their strong stewardship of this body. It is because of your leadership that my colleagues and I are inheriting a strong, inclusive, and independent City Council.
Over the last four years, under the leadership of Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Mark-Viverito, and the members of this Council, our City has made significant progress on a number of critical issues: Free universal Pre-K for every four year old in New York City. Historically low crime rates and a dramatic decrease in the truly harmful and corrosive practice known as stop-and-frisk. Tens of thousands of new units of affordable housing. A dramatic drop in traffic fatalities. The lowest unemployment rate in decades. Paid sick leave and living wage laws that are benefiting working families without killing a single job.
But the problems and challenges we continue to face are of historic proportions.
The affordability crisis gripping our City threatens the very existence of our neighborhoods. New Yorkers who have lived in the same community their entire lives now find themselves priced out, unable to afford their rent or even groceries. Many working families are living paycheck to paycheck, one missed shift or one medical expense away from eviction. Our shelter system is overflowing with families who are working full time jobs but can’t afford homes for themselves and their children.
Mom and pop small businesses are finding themselves unable to compete with deep-pocketed chain stores. Subway riders are experiencing the consequences of years of disinvestment in infrastructure.
Shamefully, racial disparities persist in nearly every aspect of life, including life expectancy, health outcomes, criminal justice and education.
And the coming fiscal realities presented by Washington and Albany will only deepen the challenges we face.
These problems are incredibly complex and entrenched. But the future of our City depends on our ability to confront them.
And confront them we will.
We believe in a New York where every person has access to good paying jobs, affordable housing, quality health care and good public schools.
We believe that small business owners with big dreams should be given a fighting chance to succeed without getting evicted from their storefronts.
We believe the poorest New Yorkers should have access to public transit they can afford.
We believe that women must be properly represented in government – and that includes in the New York City Council.
We believe a person’s health outcomes should never be determined by their zip code.
We believe that no person should be stopped and frisked based on the color of their skin.
We believe in a New York where no one is targeted simply because of who they are – Muslim New Yorkers, immigrants, the undocumented, African Americans, Jewish New Yorkers, transgender New Yorkers. We must reject hate in all its forms and stand united against bigotry and racism.
There has never been a more important time to ensure that our City has a strong, unified and independent Council to take on these challenges. I know that with the immense talent, wisdom and experience of this body, we will prevail.
And we must defend these principles while renewing our focus on the hyper-local issues that our constituents ask us for help with every day. Residents of all neighborhoods are entitled to clean and safe streets, well-maintained public parks and City agencies that are responsive to their needs.
Running for speaker took me to nearly every neighborhood in all five boroughs. If I ever write a book about the speaker’s race, I’m going to call it ‘End of the Line,’ because I rode literally every subway line to the final stop, many times.
One thing that struck me as I spoke with New Yorkers around the City was how much their Council Members mean to them. People care deeply about their neighborhoods, and they see their local Council Member as their neighborhood champion, their advocate down at City Hall.
We are the People’s House, the voice of millions of New Yorkers who wake up every morning – in Brooklyn, in Queens, in the Bronx, on Staten Island, in Manhattan – New Yorkers who head to work or school or church to build their futures – brick by brick, block by block. Their voices, your voices, need and deserve to be heard.
We have one mission: to better the lives of our constituents, who, day and night, place their trust in us to represent their interests and advocate for their needs. We must not and will not forget who sent us here.
We are the bodega owner in Bay Ridge forced to choose between keeping the lights on and buying his daughter’s textbooks. We are the teachers at PS 150 in Sunnyside, Queens, who nurture the hearts and minds of our children, but lay awake at night wondering how to afford necessary supplies while still making rent. We are the senior citizen in Hell’s Kitchen who wonders if, next year, she’ll still be able to climb her fourth floor walkup. We are high school graduate in the Bronx who gets a scholarship to her dream college. We are the homeowners on the southernmost tip of Staten Island who keep watch for the next storm and wonder if we are truly ready.
We carry these voices in us. Their stories motivate us to work ever harder – to sleep even less – to be ever more responsive to their needs. If we become unmoored and lose our way, we need only listen to the voices of those we represent to correct our course.
At this time 32 years ago, in this very room, the City Council considered legislation that would finally outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations. As the AIDS epidemic was decimating the gay community, supporters and opponents of the bill engaged in a long and bitter fight in this chamber. The City Council passed that bill. Opponents said that the bill would lead to societal acceptance of the LGBT community. And guess what: they were right!
Let us continue to take on the important issues that may be considered controversial today, but will be indisputable tomorrow. Let us continue to use the power of this body to expand opportunity for all, to be the voice for the voiceless, the champions of the most vulnerable. Let us continue to be a source of light and love and hope in a turbulent world.
Dear colleagues, I am incredibly honored by the confidence that you placed in me. To Adrienne, Alan, Alicka, Andrew, Andy, Antonio, Barry, Ben, Bill, Brad, Carlina, Carlos, Chaim, Costa, Daneek, Daniel, Deborah, Diana, Donovan, Eric, Francisco, Fernando, Helen, Inez, Jimmy, Joe, Jumaane, Justin, Kalman, Karen, Keith, Laurie, Margaret, Mark G., Mark L., Mark T., Mathieu, Paul, Peter, Rafael L., Rafael S., Ritchie, Rob, Robert, Rory, Ruben Sr., Steve, Steven, Vanessa, and Ydanis – I want you to know that in good times or bad, through thick and thin, I will always have your back.
Thank you for your support. Thank you for your friendship. Now, let’s get to work.
I love you, Mom.