Thank you. Thank you.
I want to recognize some special guests who are with us here today.
First, thank you to my pastor, the Reverend Doctor Elaine Flake of the Greater Allen Cathedral, for that beautiful prayer. Many of you know that I am a woman of God, whose faith has especially been my rock over two very difficult years. I know many of you are people of faith as well. Let us turn to it and find solace in the years ahead.
I wouldn’t be where I am without the support of my family: my husband Jay, my four wonderful children, and my 10 beautiful grandchildren. Thank you for always being there for me, through thick and thin, and standing by my side. You mean the world to me, and words cannot express how much I love you all.
One of my mentors is in the room this afternoon: the pioneer who paved the way for me and so many other African American women to both lead and succeed, the one and only Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State Conference.
Next to her I want to acknowledge another mentor, someone who has been a stalwart for change and justice in New York City, the Reverend Al Sharpton. I am a proud member of the National Action Network and grateful for his leadership over the years.
Next, I want to acknowledge some lions of the labor movement: Queens’ own Kyle Bragg of 32BJ SEIU; Henry Garrido of District Council 37; Dennis Trainor of CWA, District 1; and Pat Kane of the New York State Nurses Association. You fight day in and day out not only for the hundreds of thousands who stand behind you, but for the rights of all workers in this City. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The backbone of any Council Member is their staff – the dedicated public servants who serve the constituents of our community. To my district team in the Great 28, thank you for everything that you do.
I also want to thank the staff of the New York City Council for ensuring the government continues to run throughout the pandemic. I especially want to applaud their work to make today’s Charter Meeting happen.
I also want to thank my fellow speaker candidates. Diana, Gale, Justin, Keith, Francisco, and Carlina: you are all brilliant public servants. You each represent such different pockets of the city, all bringing a unique experience and vision to this race.
We all ran for speaker out of love for New York City. And out of this love we ultimately came together. We realized the stakes are too high for us to operate as separate islands. Instead, we must work as one.
Thank you for putting your faith in me.
To my returning colleagues: Eric, Kevin, Oswald, Rafael, Tiffany, James, Bob, Selvena, Kalman, Farah, Inna, David, and Joe. Whether you have been here four years or a few weeks, we are now the upperclassmen who our colleagues will call upon for guidance. Let’s be there to support them.
To Christopher, Erik, Julie, Shaun, Kristin, and Carmen, the incoming members of the Manhattan delegation, you are all bright leaders who represent such rich, diverse communities and I cannot wait to see what you accomplish.
To Marjorie, Pierina, Althea, and Amanda, my new members from the Boogie Down Bronx, you represent the future of this body and this City — women who are ready to lead on Day One.
To Kamillah from Staten Island, I am so excited for the amazing things you will do for your district.
To Lincoln, Jennifer, Crystal, Chi, Sandy, Alexa, Shahana, Rita, Darlene, Charles, Mercedes, and Ari, I look forward to working closely with you to meet the needs of your Brooklyn communities head-on.
And Sandra, Linda, Shekar, Julie, Nantasha, Lynn, Vickie and Joann. Let’s show this City what Queens is all about. We might come from different neighborhoods, but at the end of the day we’re one big family that always gets the job done.
My friends, history has its eyes on this Council.
We meet here today as the most diverse Council in history, led by the first African American Speaker.
While this is a moment to celebrate this milestone, we must remember that we are here because New York is at the crossroads of multiple crises — each one competing for our full attention. The cracks in our economic and public health systems widened to massive gaps during the pandemic. The people who elected us demand their government take action.
They are exhausted as they stagger into year three of this pandemic.
They want to feel safe and they want to be treated with respect and dignity.
They want to work in good jobs that allow them to live without fear of going hungry or losing their home.
I have served with several of you.
I have spoken to you all.
I hear you.
I believe we can meet this moment with a clear head and a unified voice. We can show the rest of the nation that people from all walks of life, on all points of the political spectrum, can listen to one another, deliver solutions and do what is best for New York City.
That begins by coming together to overcome this awful pandemic.
More than 35,000 of our relatives, friends and neighbors have been taken by this virus.
While reading every single name here today would be impossible, we can offer them a brief moment of silence. Let’s give them that moment right now.
It’s in their name that we will overcome this latest wave driven by the Omicron variant.
It’s for their sake that we ensure the City provides fair and reliable access to testing, vaccines, and boosters — no matter if it’s in New Dorp or New Lots, Riverdale or Rosedale.
I haven’t forgotten the horror stories some of you told me over the last three weeks. Constituents in a mad rush to find a COVID test. As if it’s the days before the vaccine all over again.
We will work together, as partners, to correct the failures of this latest surge.
And it’s in the memory of those we lost that we have a just recovery. That means addressing the healthcare inequities that caused communities of color to suffer the most from COVID, only to receive the least resources.
Then we must build upon the lessons learned, especially when it comes to caring for our elderly loved ones. I know this is a top priority for so many of you, whether it’s Crystal caring for your mom, or Lynn fighting your hardest to expand hospital capacity during the pandemic. Joann, I know you also have firsthand experience with the healthcare system. Darlene, Christopher, and Sandra, I know you have thoughts about this as well.
Nor did I forget what you said, Linda, Erik, and Shahana, about the strain COVID has put on people’s mental health. We will work together to not only address the long-term impacts of COVID-19, but also reimagine a better system of health and wellness for New Yorkers.
And as people return to work, go back to their favorite restaurants, or visit their neighborhood park, they need to feel safe. Safe from the virus and safe from violence.
This nation is living through a long overdue reckoning of racial justice. There have been far too many Ramarley Grahams, Eric Garners, and Akai Gurleys. A Black man or woman should not have to fear that a broken taillight could quickly escalate into a death sentence.
Enough is enough.
At the same time the fact is shootings have doubled in the last two years. Another symptom of the pandemic we must confront.
Gun violence is happening in Southeast Queens, in Central Brooklyn, and in the South Bronx. These are Black and brown communities that want to see a police presence. The Council Members of these neighborhoods have made this clear.
As the former Public Safety Chair and a Council Member for one of those communities, I understand where you’re coming from. I heard you and felt your pain. I realize the nuance of this issue and the need for better policing – but we want those police officers to treat people with dignity and respect.
As Speaker, I will continue to listen to each of you on this issue, hear what your constituents have personally lived through, and find the right balance of public safety and fairness.
Too many young lives have been ruined on both ends of a gun.
One of the best ways to stop guns from flowing into our streets is to provide good-paying jobs and workforce training instead.
The pandemic devastated so many families who already struggled to get by. Those of us lucky enough to have jobs that allow us to work from home weren’t creating the economic activity that bodega owners, restaurateurs and the hospitality industry depended on. This crisis has led to an estimated 1.5 million New Yorkers — including one in four children — right now struggling with food insecurity. Selvena, Althea, and Sandy, I heard you on this.
Rita, Erik, and Julie, I heard you when you raised how the crisis of homelessness has worsened in the last two years. We will make this a priority.
I know that the parents of young children — like Rafael, Kevin, Shekar and Carmen — struggle to balance a full-time career with being a full-time parent, especially in this new capacity. The concerns of your constituents about access to safe, quality childcare are the same ones my children have. They’re the same I had when I was raising them. This issue might not be new, but it’s not getting any easier — especially as thousands of college-educated New Yorkers are either underpaid or underemployed.
The richest City in the world should be able to provide quality childcare to every parent and guardian.
This Council will work to reverse the economic slide brought by the pandemic. And we will do it through the principles of the labor movement, which has always put workers first. I want to once again thank the members of the Labor Strong coalition, specifically for recognizing the value of union labor at this pivotal moment and for fighting to preserve it.
I grew up in Hollis, Queens, the daughter of union workers who strove to ensure that our family would have opportunities they never dreamed of. My father spent 14 hours a day out of the house as a proud Teamster. My mother worked for two decades as a correction officer, serving the City that she loved with distinction and retiring as a captain in the Department.
They taught me the value of fair pay for a hard day’s work. And I think that’s something we can all agree on.
Our recent history through this pandemic and the issues it punctuated has shifted the path of where we must go. This is the job ahead of us.
My leadership team will be announced in the next coming days. I can say today part of it will include Diana as our Deputy Speaker, Keith as our Majority Leader, and Selvena as Majority Whip. I am confident together we will get the job done.
Members of this City Council might disagree on many things. As a former Community Board Chair, I know too well that disagreement is both inevitable and healthy. What might be good for the Upper West Side might not necessarily make sense for Gerritsen Beach.
But I know that we will overcome any smaller differences for the good of this City.
Because the beauty of this particular Council — a true snapshot of New York City in 2022 — is that our diversity will make us stronger.
For the first time ever, this legislative body will have a majority of women serving as members.
With citywide leadership overwhelmingly male, it’s crucial that women not only have a seat at the table, but we lead the way out of this crisis and toward a fair and inclusive recovery.
Representation matters, not just because it will inspire the next generation of women leaders, but also because it will drive how we will govern moving forward.
That’s why it’s so important we all come from different cultural, geographical, and professional backgrounds. No matter what might have brought our ancestors or immediate family to New York, they all chose this City because it embodies hope. It represents a better life.
As a Council, we will draw on our own lived experiences and wealth of knowledge to help inform, shape, and develop the policies that impact everyday New Yorkers.
Because we are everyday New Yorkers.
We will put our collective minds together to craft an equitable budget, pass impactful legislation, and provide meaningful oversight of every City agency.
New Yorkers have placed their trust in each and every one of us. And it’s our responsibility to work together and deliver the future that they deserve.
We cannot thrive as a city unless we address quality-of-life issues. What might seem like the simplest things like clean streets and confronting noise complaints — I was listening, Chi, Amanda, and Sandy — these things can make a world of difference to a neighborhood.
As I stand before you today, humbled by the faith you put in me, I can’t help but think about my own unconventional journey that led me to this very moment. As the first woman elected to represent my district in Southeast Queens, which I call The Great 28, I am no stranger to fighting just to have my voice heard. But I never gave up. I never stopped trying. And eventually, I was proud to break that particular glass ceiling.
From Bayside High School to Spelman College to some of the nation’s largest companies, my path was anything but straightforward. I was a flight attendant, a child development instructor, and a corporate trainer for Fortune 500 companies.
But after decades in the private sector, I knew I was destined for another purpose, a life of service. My heart was always with the community that raised me. I knew that I had to give back and make a difference for the sake of our children and grandchildren who come after us.
That’s why as Chair of my local community board, I worked with neighbors and civic leaders who may have had differing viewpoints and ideas. But we all recognized the common objective of making our community a better place to live, work, and raise a family. It made me appreciate that our collective contributions must be weighed through what’s good for the city.
When I was elected to the City Council four years ago, I promised my constituents that I would not only bring our fair share of resources back to Southeast Queens, but also provide the type of leadership that would make them proud.
To the residents of Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village, and South Ozone Park, I hope to continue to make you proud every single day.
Like so many New Yorkers, I lost both of my beloved parents within the span of a year during this pandemic. Although I miss them very much and wish they could have been here to share this historic moment with me, I know they are smiling down on me with tremendous pride and joy. Their sacrifice and determination shaped who I am today, and for that, I will always be grateful.
I also remain thankful for my late uncle, Kermit Eady. As President and CEO of the Black United Fund of New York, he worked to bridge communities of color with the charitable donations meant to build them up. Throughout the mid-to-late 1980s, he changed economic empowerment for the African American community. He taught me many things, but most of all never to stop fighting for your community’s fair share.
I stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before me. Lower Manhattan’s own Frances Perkins, who nearly 90 years ago became the first female U.S. cabinet secretary. Shirley Chisholm, who in 1968 became the first Black woman elected to Congress and just four years later became the first Black candidate to run for a major party’s nomination for President.
Christine Quinn and Melissa Mark-Viverito, who proved that women can not only lead the City Council, but they can do so by standing up for the most vulnerable among us. Attorney General Letitia James, someone familiar to this room who went on to become our first Black statewide elected official. And right now, 150 miles away, our state’s first female Governor, Kathy Hochul, is delivering her first State of the State address.
I must also acknowledge two other historic moments specific to this body that paved the way for me to stand here today.
First, in 1941, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was elected as the first Black member of the City Council.
Then, in 1973, Mary Pinkett was elected as the first Black woman to serve in the Council.
Now, on January 5, 2022, I am beyond honored to be the first African-American Speaker of the New York City Council.
It has been a long and arduous road, but I am blessed to be here in this chamber, in this position, to serve all New Yorkers during this time of great need.
I am confident that together, we will accomplish what we have been tasked to do by those we represent; and that is getting New York back on its feet and fulfilling its promise as the safest, fairest, and best City in the world.
Before I conclude today, I want to share with you one of my guiding principles that has motivated me to get through the hardest times of my life. Every morning. Every morning, I wake up on purpose with a purpose — and that is to serve the people of this great City.
We will realize that purpose as a united City Council, and I look forward to achieving it together. Thank you very much!