Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Brad Land(er) of the Lost

Brad Lander’s Inauguration Speech, January 17, 2010
This has been a truly humbling and extraordinary hour. As my kids would say: “Awesome.” I find myself in awe of – deeply inspired, but also a bit daunted by – the full range of today’s performers, speakers, and guests.
Of the creativity and soul of Ravi Coltrane, the Bangladeshi Institute for the Performing Arts, the Urban Bush Women, and the MS 51 Choir. Let’s hear it for them one more time.
Of the civic commitment and visionary leadership represented by Marty Markowitz, Chuck Schumer, Bill de Blasio, John Liu, Yvette Clarke, Nydia Velazquez, Anthony Weiner, Jerry Nadler, and the other public officials here today. I am truly honored by your presence, and humbled by the example you set.
I stand in in awe of the life-long pursuit of equality and compassion represented by my friends Rafael Cestero, Michelle de la Uz, Steve Flax & Kali Ndoye. I especially appreciated their words about Haiti; our hearts – and our contributions, and our pledge of service in the days ahead – go out to people there in the face of this unimaginable tragedy.
And of having taken the oath of office from Fritz Schwarz, who chaired the Commission that wrote the City Charter that I have just sworn to uphold. As Meg said, an oath is a profound act, not something I take lightly.
At a more personal level, I feel very lucky that so many members of my family are here – my sister, my niece & nephew, my aunt & uncle.
Especially my parents, Carole & David Lander, whose homes is the source of my values, and whose lifelong example is my inspiration to try to bring a little good into the world.
My kids, Marek and Rosa, who teach me to see our community with new eyes, and whose art projects and g-chats make every day a great one.
And – most of all – the most deeply thoughtful person I know, a great parent, a great public interest leader in her own right, my partner in this as in all things, Meg Barnette.
I want to thank everyone who produced today’s event: especially Caron Atlas, and also Rebecca Busansky. The members of my staff, especially Rachel Goodman and Michael Freedman-Schnapp. All our volunteers and vendors.
I am tempted to try to express – in just some small way – the gratitude that I feel to those whose extraordinary efforts during the campaign made this day possible. You were truly incredible, and I will never forget it. And also to those here today who did not support me in the campaign, but whose civic commitment so quickly transcends politics. But I would need to thank just about everyone here, and several hundred more – and as much as I might like to go on that long, the good news is that a few wiser heads have persuaded me otherwise.
So I hope it will suffice for now to say that I stand in awe of all of you – of your talent and smarts and compassion, and of the way you come together to make this an extraordinary community.
You inspire in me a deep sense of hope, and a deep sense of responsibility – to do the job of councilmember, as I just swore, to the best of my ability.
While I am deeply hopeful, I also want to be honest about the daunting challenges we face at this moment.
First, we face the challenge of recovering from economic crisis, while at the same time preserving the neighborhoods that we love and confronting the deep inequality that scores our city.
It will take visionary creativity and entrepreneurial energy to get our city back on a path to growth.
But we need a new model of growth – since too much of what we’ve seen in recent years has widened already gaping inequality – with condos priced far beyond the reach of most New Yorkers and new retail jobs that barely pay enough to feed a family. At the same time, too much development has failed to understand, respect, and strengthen the feel and character of the neighborhoods we call home.
I don’t want to be blithe about this challenge. It’s easy to kvetch – about inequality, about buildings that block out the sun, about the loss of affordable housing and small businesses. It is much harder to chart a course to economic recovery that will yield a more livable, more sustainable, more affordable, and more equal city.
But I know it is within our grasp – because I’ve seen it. In projects we did at Fifth Avenue Committee, in initiatives by community development groups from Melrose to Cypress Hills, even in the official economic development policy of the City of Los Angeles. Economic development efforts whose core goals are to create and preserve genuinely affordable housing for the people who live nearby, to provide jobs that pay enough to support a family, to combat poverty, and to nourish sustainable communities. I pledge today to fight for that kind of economic recovery … to the very best of my ability.
Second, we must preserve and strengthen vital public systems – the schools and subways and parks and water supply and social services that together are the physical and social bedrock of the shared project that is New York City – all at a time when need is dramatically up, and public revenues are down.
Again, there aren’t easy answers.
Its easy to say we should cut services … until it is your kid’s school, or your family’s Section 8 voucher, or your neighborhood’s beat cop. And its certainly easy to complain about many of our public bureaucracies, which too often fail either to provide effective service, or to listen to the voices of citizens.
I believe that the solution begins in building partnerships between government and the public, that insist both on real results, and on democratic engagement. This balancing act takes longer, to be sure. Quality systems to measure accountability take discipline and data. Meaningful democratic engagement takes patience and openness. The combination is all too rare.
A small but instructive example is emerging just a few yards away, at Park Circle, at the southeast corner of this great park. After a community group started organizing for change, the Department of Transportation sponsored a community planning session, made a plan based on what people said, conducted a public walk-through mid-way during construction, genuinely listened, and made changes to their plans. Of course there are still concerns, but there is also real support for what otherwise would have been met with strong opposition.
If we follow this model – if we welcome parent involvement in our schools, if we treat transit riders as partners, if we have honest conversations about how to pay for the things we want and need – then I believe that we will both improve our public systems, and build the public will need to support them, even in times of scarcity.
The third challenge is about our local democracy itself. We need to renew belief and participation in government at a time when cynicism is – often deservedly – very high.
I come to this moment as someone who has worked only outside of government, often frustrated with current policy, committed to organizing to demand change. And I will certainly hold onto that approach.
But I also see a challenge here. For democratic government must also be the space in which groups with different points-of-view meet to debate, in effect to organize against each other … and then to figure out what to do with those differences.
I am mindful of the fact that some of the things I plan to organize for – paid sick days for all workers, congestion pricing to prevent us from choking on traffic, full civil rights for the LGBT community – do not have the support of all the people in this room, much less all New Yorkers.
Of course we don’t always agree. After all, we’re Brooklynites. But our shared commitment, our diverse civic energy – even our arguments – help us understand the common treasure that is this city.
In an essay he wrote last week about the opening of the Prospect Park Armory, a fantastic new community resource, my son Marek wrote the following: “The best part of the Armory is the location and the community it’s in. The location of the Armory is very good because it is very near my house. The community it’s in is great, because everyone likes to help with this kind of thing.”
At a time of harsh budgets and scarce funds, there is one resource that is vast: the creative, collective energy of the people in this room, the people in our community, the people of this city.
Tapping into that vast resource is my pledge – and my challenge – to everyone here.
Somehow, even with all we are already doing, we must redouble our efforts to strengthen the institutions and spaces where community residents come together – community and civic groups, religious and chesed organizations, labor unions, cultural groups, coops, PTAs – and now for relief efforts for our brothers and sisters Haiti as well. To help meet basic needs, to create vibrant communities, and to wrestle with our disagreements toward public policy that will yield a city that offers real hope and opportunity to everyone who calls it home.
I started campaigning more than two years ago, believing in the possibility of local democracy both to improve our neighborhoods and to advance a broader vision of social justice.
Over the past two years, in thousands of conversations on stoops and at subway stops, in parks and classrooms and small businesses, over too much coffee and every type of food the world has brought to Brooklyn, that belief has deepened into the awe, the deep sense of responsibility, and the profound feeling of hope that I feel at this moment.
As big as the challenges are, I am certain that we will rise together to meet them – because in this place, as Marek wrote, everyone likes to help with this kind of thing.
Thank you.

Brad Lander

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