Good evening Mr. Council President and members of the City Council, members of the Judiciary, members of the Board of Education, State and County representatives, and fellow Yonkers residents.
I want to start by giving a round of applause to Palisade Preparatory High School Jazz Band for their performance this evening. I also want to thank News12 and viewers watching live from home this evening on City Hall TV.
When we say we are going to talk about the State of the City, we really mean we are going to talk about the state of the people. That’s what a City is – the people. That’s why we are continuing the tradition we started three years ago of taking this speech out of City Hall and bringing it here to the Library – the place where the people come to get books, gather for community events, or meet their neighbors.
Tonight our gathering is even bigger, because people at home can join in by watching live on the City’s new website. That website provides people greatly improved access to information and services about City Government, and it will showcase our City for those who want to live or do business here. But tonight it is helping bring us together, and when Yonkers stands together, we can’t be beat.
Our new sense of unity starts with City Government. We’ve moved beyond the political gridlock that was an obstacle in the past and replaced it with bipartisanship and compromise that is the key to a better future.
The last two City budgets have been passed unanimously by the City Council, and last year was the first on-time, unanimous budget in 25 years.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t disagreements along the way, or that there weren’t changes or compromises to be made. When all was said and done we were unanimous in agreeing that we all did the best we could for the people of Yonkers.
This year as we welcome our new City Council President Liam McLaughlin and Councilwoman Corazon Pineda, I ask our partners on the City Council to again pass an honest, balanced, on-time budget. Let’s keep moving forward and demonstrate how government can work for the people of this great city.
One of the good things that happens when government works well, is that people and businesses want to work with government. The word gets out that Yonkers is a good place to do business and to live in, and that the City Government will help you succeed rather than get in the way. That’s key to improving our tax base and our economy, allowing us to keep taxes at a reasonable level, provide jobs for people who need them, and maintain our schools and essential services.
Two years ago most development projects were stalled and unemployment stood at 9.1 percent. The economy of the nation was changing, new jobs were being created in emerging industries, but those jobs weren’t coming to Yonkers.
Now Yonkers is a destination for new-economy companies, long-stalled development projects are moving forward, and unemployment is down to about 7 percent, its lowest level in 5 years.
It’s happening because we said to business we want you here, and we will provide the help you need to come here.
We recently welcomed Mindspark, one of the nation’s leading technology companies, which brought 160 new tech jobs to Downtown Yonkers.
The company wanted an environment to inspire creativity and they found it here, investing millions to reinvent an old industrial factory as a modern headquarters overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades.
Mindspark is just one of a new generation of businesses and people who see Yonkers as the place to be.
Another one of our new businesses is a boutique wine shop called Wine in Due Time, which also provides wine storage for collectors. Owner Sepi Pashaie lives in New York City, and that’s where she thought she would open her business. But then she heard about the new opportunities happening in Yonkers and she came to see for herself. Now Sepi’s business of selling and storing fine wine is up and running in downtown Yonkers.
Innovation is also coming from life-long Yonkers residents, such as John Rubbo and Nick Califano. They’re putting Yonkers on the map in the growing world of craft beer, with Yonkers Brewing Company.
Please join me in welcoming who I call the Innovative “Spirits” of Yonkers – Sepi and Nick. Thank you for investing in our city.
Yonkers has become the Hudson Valley’s center for creative thinkers in the tech industry who wish to trade ideas and innovative techniques. A few months ago a group of regional business leaders, including several from Yonkers, asked the City to help sponsor YONY, a way to highlight the new businesses coming to the City.
They now have a monthly tech meet-up, right here in the Library, bringing together hundreds of business leaders, financial lenders, creative thinkers and entrepreneurs to discuss the latest in innovation and creativity.
What Otis Elevator or the Alexander Smith Carpet Mills might have been to previous centuries, these people are to the 21st century. And it’s great to see those old factories, empty just a few years ago, now starting to fill up again with the kinds of businesses that YONY and the tech meet-ups will generate.
Several years ago the City created Y-Enterprise – a shared-space business incubator in the former Otis elevator factory that would provide startups with a place to begin their business at a reduced rent.
But there was a problem. No one was sharing the space. In fact it was completely empty. So we set out to fill it, and we succeeded, so well that now private industry has decided to come here and follow our model.
That’s why Watercooler, a company that builds, manages and rents shared work space to entrepreneurs and start-ups is coming to Yonkers and expanding its business, joining the new generation of innovators here in our City.
We’re excited by this new generation joining our City’s economy. It’s a generation that is not defined by age, but by its innovation, willingness to work hard, and a drive to succeed.
We call it Generation Yonkers, and it will be the core of a new promotional campaign that will soon take place throughout the tri-state region and attract more businesses and jobs to come to Yonkers.
Innovation cannot stop with the private sector. That’s why City Government, too, is looking at new ways of doing things.
There’s no better example than the old City Jail. People had been talking about moving that jail on the waterfront for years. It just made no sense to use prime real estate to house prisoners. Last year I promised to turn that talk into action, and we did.
We moved the prisoners into an unused jail that already existed at the Cacace Justice Center. That move is saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Then we sold the old waterfront jail for a million dollars to two of the most accomplished members of the art world – Art collector Daniel Wolf and Maya Lin, a world-renowned artist and architect whose work includes the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Instead of housing prisoners, the Waterfront Jail will now house art collections, include loft space for artists, and attract visitors from around the nation.
Now others in the art world want to join the transformation taking place in Yonkers. Last summer we announced plans to develop a South Yonkers Greenway along the Putnam Trail, extending from Lawrence Street to the New York City border at Van Cortlandt Park. It will provide park and recreation space, and a bike path for commuting and exercise.
Tonight we are excited to announce that world-renowned artist David Hammons has purchased a property on Lawrence Street, at the footsteps of the future Greenway, and plans to open a new art gallery in the neighborhood.
Mr. Hammons’ work is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. But soon you won’t have to go to Manhattan to see Mr. Hammons’ work. You’ll be able to see it right here in Yonkers.
Mr. Hammons was gracious to join us tonight and share in the celebration of his new space in Yonkers. Please join me in welcoming David Hammons to Yonkers.
This May, Yonkers will welcome students of the Fashion Institute of Technology Urban Studio as they host a series of exhibitions, including Yonkers Arts Weekend just next door at iPark. The event will showcase art work created by FIT students for public viewing. FIT will also utilize the beautiful backdrop of Untermyer Park for a first-of-its-kind fashion show here in Yonkers. We are excited to welcome FIT to Yonkers and look forward to more opportunities ahead in the near future.
Our revitalization of the film office continues, with shows such as “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Blacklist,” “Law & Order,” “The Following,” and “Person of Interest,” filming here. We’ve also hosted filming for movies featuring Cameron Diaz, Kate Upton, Kristin Stewart, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Since we launched the Mayor’s Office of Film and Photography and FilmYonkers.com, Yonkers has seen over 200 productions shoot in our city, up from only a dozen or so in previous years.
This increase is bringing new revenue to the City and local businesses. It resulted in the first Yonkers Film Festival last year – YOFI – which was a great success and will take place once again this October.
The economy is changing, and our success in attracting high tech industry, film and movie production, and high profile artists indicates that our City is changing with it.
Another big change over the years has been Yonkers Raceway, which these days is better known as Empire City. It remains the City’s largest private employer, and attracts more than 8 million visitors a year, generating over 1.8 billion dollars for New York’s schools since 2006 and 20 million dollars annually for our schools here in Yonkers.
Yet just a decade ago there was discussion about tearing the track down. At the time I had put forward a proposal as an Assemblyman to bring Video Lottery Terminals to Yonkers Raceway in order to save it. I remember reading an editorial with headline along the lines of, “Michael Spano’s Video Lottery Terminals: Just Let a Bad Idea Die.” When we talk about 8 million people a year now coming to Yonkers to visit Empire City, I think it’s fair to say that we’re glad it lived.
Yet just as the Raceway’s future has been in doubt before, it could be in doubt again if we are not careful. With full casino gaming now having been legalized in additional locations upstate, it is a mistake to deny that right to Yonkers.
The State needs to allow full casino gaming at Empire City in Yonkers.
I want to make another proposal – one that may face some odds at the moment, just as the original proposal for gaming did – but we all know how that first proposal worked out. Hopefully this second one will have the same success.
It is time to bring a professional sports franchise to Empire City.
It would be a game changer for our city, not only as a result of more visitors and revenue for our city through gaming, but also through sparking the development of additional entertainment venues.
If New Jersey can host two New York football teams alongside a swamp, we can certainly host a professional soccer team along I-87.
Not far from Empire City, the Cross County Shopping Center continues to expand with the City’s assistance. Thanks to the help of the Industrial Development Agency, led by CEO Ken Jenkins, a 155 room Hyatt Place Hotel is now under construction. Combined with two new restaurants also being built there, this will result in more than a hundred new permanent jobs in Yonkers.
Meanwhile in North Yonkers another hotel, by Marriott, will soon be breaking ground at the South Westchester Executive Park, again thanks to assistance and incentives provided by the City and the IDA. This new hotel will bring 50 new permanent jobs to our city.
And just down Odell Avenue, the new River Club project is now set to break ground this week with the construction of two residential towers, offering 330 market rate apartments along Warburton Avenue. The 107 million dollar project has been talked about for years and at one point seemed to be dead, but we brought it back to life, along with 120 construction jobs that the project will create.
We’re also paying attention to our City’s unused assets. I promised to address the hundreds of vacant or blighted properties whose owners had simply stopped paying taxes on them years ago.
We have now taken over and resold some of these vacant properties for more than 1 million dollars, and collected more than another million dollars by demanding other tax delinquents pay up or risk losing their properties. These properties are now tax payers once again, rather than tax deadbeats.
A good example of this is 168 Ashburton Avenue. This long vacant, tax delinquent eyesore, attracted squatters, drug use and other criminal activity. Now it is back on the tax rolls, and the new owners are in the process of redeveloping it. This means a safer community for those who live and work nearby, and preserves property values for the entire neighborhood.
We have also resolved the long-stalled downtown redevelopment plan that was supposed to include a baseball stadium at Chicken Island and new high rise developments nearby. The high rise developments made sense. The baseball stadium did not. Now we have separated them.
In the very near future Fidelco will begin construction of Palisade Point, a new 100 million dollar residential building along the waterfront. Importantly, they have already constructed a beautiful new public waterfront promenade that is part of the plan.
We want the waterfront to be a great place to live, but it also has to be a great place to visit and enjoy the river views for those who do not live there.
At the same time we are releasing a new RFP for Chicken Island. We will be asking for plans that are practical, that will improve the downtown experience, and that have sufficient financial backing. It’s time for bricks and mortar on the ground, not pie in the sky.
We continue to improve the natural assets of Yonkers. A year and a half ago we completed the initial daylighting of the Saw Mill River and opened Van Der Donck Park.
What was a parking lot is now one of the most recognized urban revitalization projects in the country and has received international recognition.
We are now moving forward with phase two of the Saw Mill River Daylighting, uncovering another stretch of the river and creating new pedestrian space in what will become Mill Street Courtyard.
The project will spark development at the adjacent buildings, offering new living and commercial space, and will be another catalyst for growth.
Shortly we will begin phase three of the Daylighting, which will take place on the other end of New Main Street just across from Chicken Island. Together these three phases will link our revitalized Downtown with a beautiful river walk park.
I want to thank Governor Cuomo and our State delegation for their continued support of this project, and their dedication to the continued growth of Yonkers. Thank you Senator Stewart Cousins, Senator Latimer, Assemblywoman Mayer and Assemblyman Pretlow.
Government has certain basic responsibilities, among them keeping the people safe. We are among the safest cities of its size in the country. That’s something we are proud of, and remain committed to preserving.
Thanks to the men and women of the Yonkers Police Department, major crime in our city is down more than 20 percent since I took office in January of 2012.
That downward trend is continuing in 2014 as year-to-date major crimes are down 21 percent.
We are also committed to seeing that our Police Department and Fire Department reflect the diversity of the people they serve. Last year we saw an increase in minority applicants for the police exam, and we graduated the most diverse class of firefighters in our city’s history.
I want to take a moment to commend Yonkers Police Commissioner Charles Gardner and Yonkers Fire Commissioner Robert Sweeney on the outstanding job they are doing not only keeping our city safe, but achieving great success in our recruitment efforts.
We’re also providing law enforcement and parents with new tools to better protect our children. As a parent, it’s hard to imagine anything worse than learning your child has gone missing. In 2012 Westchester County had the highest volume of reported missing children cases in the state, outside of New York City.
That’s why we recently launched a new Child DNA Identification initiative, among the first of its kind in our area, enabling parents to securely store their child’s DNA samples and have it readily available for law enforcement in the case of a missing child.
We have already given out nearly 1,000 Child DNA Identification kits. They are available to any Yonkers parent who contacts the Police Community Affairs Division. We want to make sure parents have every tool available to protect their children.
We are also concerned about our young drivers. Texting and driving has now become the leading cause of car accidents among teens. Last year Governor Cuomo increased the penalty for texting and driving. In Yonkers, we’re following the State’s lead with a new initiative – Eyes On The Road – cracking down on distracted driving with stepped up enforcement by Yonkers Police.
In addition to a safe city, we owe the generation of the future a quality education. Yet two months ago our schools were confronted with the biggest challenge we have seen in recent memory.
The former School Superintendent told me that the Yonkers School District, which we knew was already facing financial hardship, had overstated 55 million dollars in state education aid. In other words, they overdrew their checkbook by 55 million dollars, and we would have to make up for it or face devastating cuts to the schools.
I can still feel the emotion of that Tuesday. At a time when our city finances were improving, and we were reversing previous years cuts to education, we were suddenly told we had to plug a 55 million dollar hole just to stay even.
It was a surprise to us in City Government, to say the least, because under state law once the City allocates funds to the School District each year, the City has no further control over how it is spent, or even access to the books.
There has been much talk about how this could have happened. Blame, however, accomplishes little, and certainly does nothing for our children. I, for one, do not demand that anyone accept blame. I do, however, demand that we all accept responsibility for fixing the problem.
On the day that the former Superintendent informed me of the shortfall, I feared the worst. I had visions of teacher layoffs, and cuts in the programs, support services and sports that we had only recently restored.
Our schools needed a solution that accomplished three things: First, we had to plug the gap. Second, we needed City Hall oversight to prevent this from ever happening again. Third, we needed to consolidate overlapping functions that were causing the system to spend too much money on bureaucracy and not enough in the classroom where it counts.
Under the new state law that we requested, and obtained, we are now authorized to consolidate the Board of Education’s administrative departments, like finance, law, human resources and maintenance, with the City. This reduces duplication and improves accountability, so it’s a double advantage.
The new state budget also contains 28 million dollars in additional aid to help plug the gap, and will give the City the ability to finance the remainder of the shortfall so that we can replace it gradually over future years.
I thank Governor Cuomo and our State Delegation for passing a budget that helps address Yonkers School District’s needs and giving the City the authority to institute much-needed accountability going forward.
There should be no mistaking that the assistance provided to the Board of Education still falls short of a complete solution to the massive deficit. In order to balance the budget, the Board still has tough decisions to make, but the result will not be the disaster we once feared.
I would like to recognize the efforts of the members of the Board of Education led by President Nader Sayegh, as well as Superintendent Michael Yazurlo who stepped up big time for our schools.
We are not allowing the fiscal challenges that we face stop our own efforts to innovate in how we improve education.
Earlier this week the Washington Post published a study that ranked Yonkers High School as the third most challenging high school in New York State. Seventeen of the top twenty New York Schools on that list were from Westchester, and Yonkers was number three, just behind Bronxville and Rye.
What this study said was that when it comes to offering college level, advanced placement tests, and encouraging all students in the school to take them, Yonkers High School does it better than almost any other school in New York State.
That’s outstanding, and that’s the kind of success we know is possible when all work together on behalf of our students.
This year, partnering with the State University of New York, we’ve united all sectors of our city behind quality education under an initiative called Strive: A Cradle to Career Partnership.
It’s not just another program or campaign, it’s a philosophy shared among civic, education, business and community stakeholders around the country that everyone has a role to play in the success of our youth from the day they’re born to the time they begin their careers.
We’ve brought together over 100 organizations representing all sectors of our city to create a community support network to keep students on a pathway toward success throughout their entire academic career and into adulthood, bridging the gaps that exist between a student’s potential and achievement, both in and outside of the classroom.
Speaking of educational opportunities outside of the classroom, last year we promised to provide a new, state-of-the-art planetarium. It had been discussed for years, but working with the Hudson River Museum we got it done.
Today the newly upgraded Andrus Planetarium is open, offering stellar views of the universe with technology compared to that of Hayden in Manhattan.
Word has already gotten around, because last month, visits to the Planetarium’s public shows were up 99 percent compared to the year before, and overall Museum visits were up nearly 60 percent.
But if you prefer to see the stars outdoors on a warm summer night, overlooking the river while enjoying a live musical performance, check out the Museum’s new Amphitheater, and enjoy world class entertainment all summer long.
This past year we were saddened by the loss of a true friend of Yonkers and the Hudson River Museum. Matthew Lifflander was a long-time supporter and Board president of the Museum. His legacy will continue to have an impact for years to come, and others are already following his example of dedication to the Museum and to Yonkers.
I would like to recognize another outstanding leader who plays a critical role in the success of the Museum as its current Chairwoman, Jan Adelson. Thank you for all that you do for Yonkers.
As Yonkers continues to grow, we must be sure it remains affordable for working families.
Yonkers cannot be a city of opportunity without assuring quality, affordable living for those who work hard each and every day just to make ends meet. We must offer a city of opportunity for all.
This past year, working with the City Council, we passed a bi-partisan, historic housing ordinance that requires affordable housing is part of new development, and provides incentives to renovate and improve our existing housing stock.
When you consider that a generation ago Yonkers was known nationally as a city in great conflict over affordable housing, and that those on either side of the issue found it impossible to find common ground, the fact that we have now unanimously passed an affordable housing ordinance indicates it is truly a new day for Yonkers: A new day we can justly be proud of.
Thank you Councilmembers Sabatino, Johnson, Shepherd, Breen and Larkin, former Council President Lesnick and former Councilman Terrero.
A good example of the progress we are making is former School 6. For the last 30 years the School 6 property has been an eyesore and a burden to neighbors along the Ashburton Corridor. Not any longer.
Last summer we demolished the crumbling building and broke ground on Schoolhouse Terrace at Croton Heights. The 58 million dollar environmentally sustainable development will include 121 new mixed-income apartments, 2 new underground parking garages and new community space for residents.
Two years ago our City faced a projected four year deficit of 465 million dollars. We applied a range of treatments to address the structural problems, and bring our expenditures in line with our revenues. One of the lessons we learned was that no area could be overlooked, particularly energy.
Many of us look at our home energy bill each month and cringe. We have the same reaction in City Government, especially when it turns out we are overpaying.
It’s only fitting, since we’re here at the Riverfront Library tonight, that we start with the Library. It turns out the City was actually overpaying on its own energy bill right here by 40,000 dollars a month.
About a decade ago when this building was constructed, the City was buying energy from a third party supplier that was not giving us the most competitive price.
Why? Because the price tag for connecting this building to the power grid would have been about 400,000 dollars, which the City did not want to spend.
The problem was that the cost of avoiding this one-time 400,000 dollar charge was to pay 40,000 dollars more a month forever. Yonkers has since spent 12 million dollars in higher energy bills since the Library opened in order to avoid paying 400,000 dollars. So this year we made the one time investment, which will be repaid in less than one single year through our energy savings. Going forward the savings will be about a half a million dollars every single year.
We found other areas where we could not just save some green, but be greener. In fact during the past two years we’ve launched one of the most comprehensive energy plans of any city in the state. We’ve called it Yonkers Green City.
You may have noticed Yonkers streets are a little brighter at night. Last summer we initiated the Yonkers Green City LED Streetlight Replacement project. Street by street, we are upgrading 12,000 city streetlights with new energy-efficient LED bulbs. We recently passed the halfway point of the project and when complete, the energy savings to taxpayers will amount to 18 million dollars over the next 10 years.
One of the biggest consumers of energy in all cities are municipal buildings.
Partnering with the New York Power Authority, we completed energy efficiency upgrades at nine City facilities last year, saving taxpayers a quarter million dollars annually in energy costs and reducing greenhouse gases by approximately 578 tons every year.
We’re not stopping at municipal buildings. All building owners, public and private, must be part of the effort to reduce our energy use and carbon footprint.
We passed the city’s first ever Sustainable Buildings Ordinance, encouraging and incentivizing the construction and retrofitting of city-owned and privately-owned buildings in Yonkers. It’s good for the city’s bottom line, it’s good for business and it supports a better quality of life for residents and future generations.
Those who drive know too well the cost of filling up at the gas station.
Over the last several years, as gas prices have been on the rise, more and more people are turning to fuel efficient and fuel alternative vehicles to keep their gas costs down. Yonkers needs to do the same, so we are announcing the new Yonkers Green City Smart Car Fleet.
As you walked in this evening you may have noticed one of five new smart cars that are part of our phase-in of fuel-efficient vehicles which will replace some of the City’s old gas guzzlers.
We are also converting twenty city vehicles from gasoline altogether. They will now run on cleaner and cheaper propane gas – the same stuff you use to power your grill. It’s smart, it saves and it’s another way to live within our means.
We’ve talked at length this evening about our beautiful, vibrant waterfront that is bursting with excitement and becoming a regional destination to live, work and play.
To the south, where much of the new development is not taking place, is the County’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. Its neighbors are thousands of residents whose quality of life and property values have long been negatively impacted. While the County has promised mitigation for 30 years, they have only recently completed phase one of a three phase plan. Now some Westchester County leaders propose to send more sewage from other municipalities in Northern Westchester down to Yonkers, without completing the mitigation plan they promised.
This proposal isn’t new. It’s the same idea Yonkers residents told the County to flush years ago, and tonight, we echo the call to flush it once again.
The Wastewater Treatment Plant occupies a sizeable area of valuable waterfront. While we cannot move the plant, we can improve it and the area around it. Plants in other communities in Westchester such as New Rochelle and Mamaroneck, as well as New York City, are combined with parks to reduce the negative impact. It’s time the County consider that approach and it’s time to stop dumping on Yonkers.
I am proud to announce that we are working along with Westchester County Legislator Virginia Perez on a plan for a new South Waterfront park in the Ludlow neighborhood, providing residents the opportunity they deserve to enjoy the beautiful waterfront just steps from their homes.
Quality of life also extends to our four-legged friends. After 50 years, a new state-of-the-art Yonkers Animal Shelter is now open. It’s larger, cleaner and offers a place for residents to spend time getting to know a friendly pet that will become a valued member of their family. For those who may not be able to rescue a pet, it offers an opportunity to give back to the community by volunteering, even if it’s just an hour or so a week.
What’s most exciting is the pride that so many residents, organizations and individuals have taken in helping provide a better life for our homeless furry friends. So many people donated their time and dollars to help make this new animal shelter a reality. Stories like that of young Stephanie Pino, who sold cupcakes, or Nicole Vene, who sold lemonade, to raise money for the Shelter. Nicole has joined us here tonight. Please join me in recognizing and thanking Nicole for her contribution and being part of our city’s success.
A sore subject for as long as I can remember has been the City’s water meters. Years ago the City essentially stopped reading the meters, using estimated bills instead. Those estimates were often inaccurate, resulting in mistakes that could amount to hundreds of dollars.
One of the first things we set out to do was install new meters that could be electronically read and would be accurate. Tonight I am proud to inform you that with the help of the City Council, we are well underway, and soon those water meter horror stories will be ancient history.
Providing accurate, quality water service is a basic responsibility of city government, but how well we fulfill that responsibility makes a big difference in our resident’s daily lives.
That extends to our workers who pick up the trash from our streets and parks, those who deliver meals on wheels to senior citizens, the improvements we are constantly making to our parks, such as the upcoming 150,000 dollar plan courtesy of Empire City Casino to improve Coyne Park, and the upcoming improvements at Murray’s Skating Rink and Untermyer Park.
We constantly seek ways to do those everyday tasks better and improve the services we provide. The end result is a better quality of life for all.
Yonkers’ story could not be fully told without recognizing the men and women who sacrificed their lives for us and our country. They did their duty, and we should do ours to them. Earlier this year, the Council passed legislation, which I signed, providing veterans a reduction on school taxes. By providing needed tax relief to our veterans, we are respecting those who both need and deserve our gratitude.
This year Yonkers will pay special tribute to our Vietnam Veterans for their service and sacrifice. We will continue to honor, serve you and protect you just as you did so selflessly for your country. I ask all Veterans joining us tonight to stand. Thank you for your service.
We have talked tonight about our progress and our agenda for the future. Yet there is one issue that affects all the others. That is the financial strength of the City. You can’t do anything if your finances are not in order. Fortunately we are doing far better than could have been expected two years ago.
At the time I came into office, Yonkers had experienced yet another downgrade in its bond rating. The City was just a few notches above junk status. Now, thanks to our new fiscal discipline, we are headed in the other direction. A few months ago Standard & Poor’s upgraded Yonkers bond rating to A+, the highest rating this City has had in more than 30 years.
Perhaps a bond rating might sound unimportant, something that only the City’s accountants would care about. What does a bond rating have to do with paving the roads, putting police and firefighters on the streets, improving the schools or collecting the garbage?
In truth it impacts all of these things. An improved bond rating means an impartial rating agency has examined Yonkers City government and said you are living within your means. You are managing your money well. You can pay your debts. You have a demonstrated plan to provide the money to pave the streets, to pay police and firefighters, fund the schools and collect the garbage.
So when Standard and Poor’s gives us an A plus, the best rating in 30 years, it means the people can be assured the services they count on will continue to be available and their quality of life is protected.
I began tonight by saying that the State of the City is the State of the People. I also said when the people of Yonkers stand together, we cannot be beat.
As we go home tonight let us be thankful for the people of Yonkers, our neighbors, our friends, our city.
Be thankful for those parents who saved to buy a home, who are raising their children here, perhaps work two jobs to pay the monthly bills, yet still find time to lend a hand to a neighbor, a community organization, or their church.
Be thankful for the recent immigrant, maybe from South America or Asia, who is still struggling a bit with English but who knows hard work and grit will take him farther than he could ever go in his former home, and who is determined to build his piece of the American dream here in our City and who is grateful for that opportunity.
Be thankful for that business owner or entrepreneur who senses the new spirit of commerce in our City, who sees old empty factories being transformed into the next wave of the new economy, and has decided that the place for his or her startup is not Brooklyn or Hoboken, or the Silicon Valley in California, but right here in Yonkers.
Be thankful for that police officer or fire fighter who answers every call never knowing when his or her life will be put in danger, or the city worker who drove a plow hours at a time, for many days and nights to clear our streets in the harshest winter we have had in years.
Be thankful that you are one of nearly 200,000 of the most interesting, most hard working, most dedicated, most diverse, and just plain determined people that you will find anywhere. I know I am thankful for each and every one of you, thankful you have given me the privilege to serve as your Mayor.
As you leave here this evening, never stop believing that Yonkers best days are yet to come.
God bless you all and goodnight.