Good afternoon, and Happy New Year!
I want to recognize and thank my sister in service, New York Attorney General Letitia James, for swearing me in today. With everything that she is working on in the interest of the People of the State of New York, I appreciate her taking time out of her incredibly busy schedule to be here for me today. Tish has been a constant mentor and inspiration for me even before I first stepped foot in this Council chamber seven years ago. As our Public Advocate, Tish flawlessly officiated our Stated Meetings, promptly seated in that starred red chair. Tish, you have been such a positive, powerful influence for me and countless women throughout our city. Your trailblazing work continues to uplift all New Yorkers, and we are so proud of your leadership and persistence in the pursuit of justice and equity. Thank you, Tish!
Next, I want to take a moment to thank the hardworking staff of the New York City Council – including my own District 28 office team led by my District Chief of Staff, Ty Hankerson, who has been with me since day one of my membership on the city council – for your dedicated public service. We could not have accomplished what we did over these years without your commitment to this city. We are so grateful for your contributions to this Council, and we look forward to the next two years.
And finally, thank you to our partners in labor, advocacy, and government who continue to support the health and safety of New Yorkers day in and day out. Your partnership is vital to the success of this legislative body and all New Yorkers – and we cannot thank you enough.
Two years ago, I was proud to become the first Black Speaker of the City Council, the first wife, mother, and grandmother, chosen for the position by the first women-majority and most diverse Council elected by New Yorkers in history.
Once again, we have a historically diverse Council, and our women-majority remains. Together, we reflect the rich diversity of our great city.
We are made up of New Yorkers from all different backgrounds. We are nurses, social workers, educators, community leaders, advocates, small business owners, and so much more. Our members have various experiences with how the systems of our government impact the people in our communities. We have children, grandchildren, and family members whose current and future well-being depends on the work we accomplish, just as it does for each of our constituents.
The diversity of this Council and its women-majority have led us to govern differently than our predecessors. Our perspectives have shaped our legislative priorities, empowering us to address longstanding issues that have not been adequately prioritized. Our relationships to our communities have enabled us to unlock equitable opportunities that were previously inaccessible to so many New Yorkers who look like us. This allowed us to make strides in confronting ingrained challenges within our city and society, which will require our sustained commitment to fully address.
For example, we took action to improve maternal health for all New Yorkers, passing a historic package of laws to push the City towards addressing the severe racial disparities that disproportionately harm Black women and birthing people, and other people of color. When Black New Yorkers are nine times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related issue than white New Yorkers, our attention must be focused on resolving this long-standing crisis.
We knew this issue as more than a statistic. As mothers and grandmothers, parents and spouses, and loving friends, our experiences and stories, including my own, informed our work as lawmakers. We must renew our commitment and build upon our efforts to end this persisting injustice that continues to harm families.
We advanced our Mental Health Roadmap, which recognizes community-based care programs as proven solutions to promote well-being and prevent crises. We expanded the City’s commitment of resources to these underinvested-in programs as part of a critical intervention to address the mental health crisis. However, getting New Yorkers the help they need will require us to make even deeper investments into our communities, which we are prepared to do.
To bolster economic and educational opportunities, we expanded the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program and pioneered CUNY Reconnect to help working-age New Yorkers finish their degrees to improve their earning potential. Thousands of New Yorkers seized this new opportunity. We quickly blew past our initial goal to re-enroll 10,000 students, to reach over 25,000 New Yorkers, the majority of whom are women and people of color who previously left school because of family or work obligations.
Together, we have prioritized equitable access to opportunity by expanding Fair Fares, creating pipelines to civil service jobs and advancement for women, people of color and marginalized New Yorkers, supporting a healthier industrial sector in our city, and promoting entrepreneurial and small business growth for underserved communities.
We must continue to take critical steps forward to improve equitable economic outcomes for all New Yorkers and working families across our city.
We are most effective when we treat our challenges as the interconnected issues they are, rather than as isolated ones.
The Council’s approach to public safety has been a prime example. Public safety is access to mental health, as well as resources and opportunities that help New Yorkers meet their basic needs.
We have prioritized pushing the City to better meet the needs of crime survivors in communities that experience violence the most, rather than simply paying lip service and using their tragedies to advance ineffective policies that make us less safe, as so often happens.
Our city and communities deserve a more sensible conversation on public safety that advances new comprehensive safety solutions and is built upon lessons learned from our past mistakes.
We have pursued an all-of-the-above approach to public safety because this is the pathway to contend with the legacies of harm that have impacted generations of New Yorkers, particularly in underserved Black and Latino communities.
We have also recognized housing as public safety and began confronting our city’s housing crisis as the pathway to a safer New York.
We have started to shift how the Council approaches equitable housing development by making clear that we are most successful when all stakeholders work together, and all of us contribute to solving the housing crisis. The Council will have to be a constructive force in helping our city emerge stronger from the severe lack of homes that has deepened our crisis of affordability and homelessness.
By treating housing as part of an ecosystem that can help deliver health, safety and prosperity, we are better able to utilize housing as a tool to invest holistically in the strength of our neighborhoods. That is how we can help New Yorkers remain in the city they love.
We passed critical laws to advance climate leadership and environmental justice in our city, as well as so many other critical solutions, while prioritizing our oversight role to hold city agencies and the administration accountable.
We stood our ground on principled fights when the best interests of New Yorkers and our city were at stake. We exercised our role as the equal branch of government through checks and balances to executive authority, which helped to strengthen our democracy and the governance of New York City.
We have so much to be proud of – our work over these past two years have made a marked difference in our constituents’ lives. To our returning members, I thank you. Your tenacity, thoughtfulness and service on behalf of your districts and city make our city stronger, and your leadership is critical to this body.
To our new members, Yusef, Kristy, Chris, and Susan, we welcome you! The various experiences and expertise you bring to this body will be so important for the challenges ahead of us. I encourage you to rely on my office, central staff, and your colleagues as resources to navigate the intricacies of your new roles and the legislative processes.
While we each represent unique districts with many distinct needs, together, we make up one city and one body. Our shared commitment to service and the goal to improve life for all New Yorkers is the North Star that must unite us all.
As a body, we are stronger together, and can succeed by working together.
While we helped our city emerge from the worst of a global pandemic, our work is not yet finished, and our efforts towards a full recovery are just as critical now as they were before.
Our full leadership team will be announced in the coming days. Today, I can say that the selections for part of it will include Diana Ayala as our Deputy Speaker, Amanda Farias as Majority Leader, and Selvena Brooks-Powers as Majority Whip, placing all women in the top leadership positions of the Council and a Latina as Majority Whip for the first time in history. I am confident that together we will help lead this Council and prepare the institution for future success. I want to thank Council Member Keith Powers and express my gratitude for his leadership, which will remain integral to our team and this Council.
As a body, we must be tenacious in our leadership, and remain clear, focused and humble in the face of our challenges, because they are deeply ingrained in our society.
We will need to renew our efforts to address the pre-existing disparities, widened by the pandemic, that block women, working families, and our communities of color from securing stability and opportunity.
Although the equitable future we seek may take years to arrive, every ounce of progress we secure today will bring us closer to what New Yorkers deserve.
When the path forward feels muddled, we can work with advocates, organizations, and community stakeholders to clear the way, because they are our partners. When the challenges feel too big to handle on our own, we can work with our colleagues across all levels of government, because the crises we face require our collective efforts to solve. And when we are short on answers, we can sit with our constituents and hear their stories and solutions, because they possess a wealth of experiences and knowledge that can guide our way forward.
Together colleagues, we can chip away at the injustices that our communities have endured for too long and deliver more of what New Yorkers deserve. We can move our city forward.
As I look at this new body, I have high hopes for what we will accomplish together. It is the honor of a lifetime to serve the great people of New York City alongside all of you, and to serve you.