State of the City of New Haven: City of Pride by John DeStefano, Jr., Mayor, February 1, 1999
Welcome. Before I begin, I'd like to extend my thanks to Board of Alderman President Tomas Reyes, to City Clerk Stanley Rogers, to the members of the Board of Aldermen, and to all of you who came out tonight. Good evening.
This is the 6th time I have had the job of talking about the state of our City, of New Haven.
Although as you may know, I have been on the other side of this podium - where you are - for at least as many times as I have been here, on this side.
And given that experience, I will let you in on a secret. When I sat where you are, I always had a nickname for this speech. I called it - "the list."
It was a speech that listed everything. Everything that had gone right, everything that had went mostly right, and everything that might have been right, if we would just remember the good parts.
"The list" listed everything - and it did so in excrutiating detail.
Now it occurs to me that, after 6 budgets together, after hundreds of press conferences and press releases, after tens of thousands of words in the New Haven Register, and on TV, and now on the City web page, after so many mayor's nights in, mayor's nights out and the weekly radio show, that you probably don't need "the list" again. And if you do, then I'm more than a little worried for you.
Now, even though foregoing "the list" might mean a shorter speech tonight, I know that some of you might still miss "the list", just like you might miss an old friend.
Well, that's OK. Because for those who do miss "the list" - and make no mistake, it's a good list - I had it printed up. Copies have been made and are here for you tonight. So take it home and read it. And let me take this short time, to say something else.
Now, I am going about this differently for a reason.
And, I think it's a good reason. Because, New Haven is in a different place than it was 5 years ago when I first was given the job to talk to you.
That was 1994.
Some of you will remember that New Haven, and that place, and that time.
I sure haven't forgotten. Actually, that place wasn't even here at City Hall. That place was the temporary chambers in the Hall of Records on Orange Street.
Except for the mayor's office, City Hall wasn't even open yet. And the Board of Aldermen had been in its "temporary chambers" for 17 long years.
That place, that New Haven in 1994, had some problems. It had raised taxes 43% in just 4 years. It had been laying off city employees and cutting city services. It had been losing jobs, losing tax base, and losing faces from city streets.
That place was building up conflict in city schools, and growing down the budget that is supposed to take care of our kids. That place didn't balance its books, pave its streets, pick up its litter, get along with its neighbors - or even cut the grass at times.
Even worse, in 1994 when people spoke of change in New Haven, they weren't talking about change for the better.
You see in so many ways, we are a different place than we were in 1994.
And, therefore, it's a place that requires different words, that demands different actions, that insists on accountability, that ratchets up expectations to a whole other level. Most important of all, it's a place with a different attitude.
Now this higher place surely still requires action and toil. And in 5 key, 5 important areas, we have struggled, and we have slipped, but mostly we have succeeded in earning this new place for New Haven.
These areas remain the way toward our journey's end. They are the foundation for our future. And they are, simply stated: excellence in education; neighborhood development and livability; empowering individuals; economic development; and improved public services, along with fiscal strength and stability.
I'll say it again, 5 key areas:
First, excellence in education.
We must continue the job of rebuilding our schools. To date our school construction program has committed more than $300 million to bricks and mortar. Over the next 3 years we will add still more schools, and increase the program to over half a billion dollars.
We must grow the school budget up -not down. Last year, the City dollars committed to our kids exceeded the minimum expenditure requirement for the first time in 6 years. That meant something. More classroom aides, library staff, after school academics and athletics. As Mayor, and as a public school parent, I tell you that New Haven will continue to provide the resources for all its kids to succeed.
Increased expectations. Last year we set a goal of increasing mastery test scores 5% this year, 10% next year, and 15% the year after. We exceeded this year's goal - and we will reach our goal for next year - and the year after.
Increased accountability among students, staff and parents. If you can't read at grade level by grade 3 - you don't get a promotion - social or otherwise. But, you will get extra help - after school and on weekends. If you're a teacher, you will get in-service support. And if you're a parent, you will get training too. It is a false pride - and a grave harm - to promote our children if they are not ready.
It was by doing things this way, by insisting on excellence in education in our New Haven, that Hillhouse High School earned--was not given, but earned--full accreditation after being placed on academic probation just two years ago, after years of neglect.
New Haven is changing - feel the pride in New Haven.
Second, neighborhood livability.
We must keep city neighborhoods safe. Violent crime is down 50% in New Haven. The number of murders last year was at its lowest level since 1985.
Now that is cold comfort to the family of Caprice Hardy - caught last week at the wrong place, at the wrong time, at a 24-hour store on Dixwell Avenue. But the work of the last 5 years meant that last month hundreds of our neighbors - neighbors whose names I gratefully cannot tell you - celebrated the holidays with each other, rather than mourning for those that they might have otherwise lost.
We must keep neighborhoods strong, by reducing blight, block by block. We must develop neighborhood plans that create clear goals and benchmarks. We must target after-hours clubs, vacant properties, abusive absentee landlords and quality of life nuisances.
We must insist on accountability from community development organizations, third party contractors and city programs. Last year City staff and I subjected ourselves to every scrutiny and review. City staff and I learned some things the hard way. But learn we did - and our programs are stronger and better for it, and our focus is sharper than ever.
It was by doing, by trying, by learning and by working together toward neighborhood livability that we earned, we were not given - but earned - the designation of All-America City.
New Haven is changing - feel pride in the City.
Third, empowering individuals.
We must provide access to jobs, training and support. From our Enterprise Community to Greater Dwight's Shaw's development, to hundreds of new early childhood slots for our kids, to reverse commuting programs, care for the homeless, the addicted and the disabled, we have reached out successfully again and again.
We understand that empowering individuals means personal economic well-being, resulting from personal accomplishment. We know that empowering individuals means personal choice and happiness.
We understand that handouts don't work - but that everyone needs a hand up. And we know that none of us ever, ever, got anywhere without the helping hand of someone else. The hand of a family member, the hand of a teacher, the hand of a friend.
And in New Haven we have earned a new name for empowering individuals. It was not given to us. We worked for it - and we earned it. In fact, 119 cities from all over America competed for that new name. And it is called Empowerment Zone.
New Haven is changing - feel pride in New Haven.
Fourth, economic development.
The retail project, when it is submitted to the board later this month, will finally be real. The Church Street South bridge, the Downtown commuter rail station, the reconstruction of I-95 across the harbor, are all under design.
An active waterfront, anchored by the Yale Boathouse and the Amistad, connected to the mall and our high-speed rail station, connected to the 9 squares with its 12,000 residents, 35,000 jobs, 12 million square feet of office space and 1.5 million square feet of retail space, and the wealth of our arts - is real.
Our future is already here. We've worked hard at it, we weren't handed it - we earned it.
New Haven is changing - feel pride in New Haven.
Fifth, improved public services along with fiscal strength and stability.
More streets and sidewalks are being paved. Library usage doubled last year. We built 12 new playgrounds, planted 30,000 flowers last spring and 70,000 bulbs this fall. We have better maintained parks, contract management of the Airport, WPCA and golf course. And, after nearly 30 years, in what is surely the hallmark of my administration, we have a sign on the Coliseum.
We must continue growth in our fund balance and the grand list, growth in tax collections and budget surpluses, growth in the bond rating and investor confidence - but reductions, in taxes.
We may not be the perfectly managed city in the state - but we are the best. We are doing more and more for our citizens each year– and doing it with fewer and fewer of their dollars.
New Haven is changing - feel pride in New Haven.
Now these things do not belong to me, nor do they belong to you, the Board of Alderman. Rather, they belong to those who are responsible for making them happen. These accomplishments belong to the people of New Haven--to all of us who live here, who work here, who volunteer and join here, and who work for city government.
If I were to have one phrase go forth from tonight, one idea summing the content of these words, one wish, one prayer for New Haven, it would be that New Haven is changing - and that it is the type of change that we can be proud of.
New Haven, feel proud. Know the strength of your talents. Feel the capacity of your work. See all the good that you have done. Set your ambitions high. For this is a new time. This is a time to feel proud about the distance we have travelled over the last 5 years.
And know that this is not a pride of vanity. It is a pride earned from hard work.
And armed with such knowledge, we now have the character to travel undeterred to our goals. We shall not lose our way - our vision - because of those who would sow hate among us and call it class, or neighborhood, or gender, or race.
And since we know our strength, we will not doubt ourselves because of what others might say of us - in other cities and towns, on the front page or on TV.
For our confidence is set upon the foundation of our efforts, made strong by our accomplishments, and cemented by the pride that we have earned.
And those things that are earned, can never be taken away.
This past Saturday night, Kathy and I attended a joint performance of the New Haven and Heritage chorales at Woolsey Hall. The performance was presented as a tribute to Martin Luther King and to mark the beginning of Black History Month.
And it was just terrific. My favorite piece followed the intermission and is called "Done Made My Vow." It was written in 1985 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Norfolk State University. And it was done as a church service, with words drawn from Dr. King, the Bible and old spirituals.
"Done made my vow" was uplifting - and it was performed beautifully. And it so much resonated with the feeling I hold for this City and our people, that I wanted to share a very small piece of it with you tonight.
I will, of course, recite it, for if I were to sing it I would be inflicting the most grievous harm possible on a public body.
It goes - in part - like this…
"yes, we have journeyed a long way,
you and I.
my name is toil.
and you know me;
you've met me along the way.
….you and I have tilled the soil
and sown the seeds,
and wept in seasons of bitter harvests.
but today we have gathered here
to celebrate our past
and to dedicate our future.
my name is toil,
my mother is strength,
(my father is courage),
my future: achievement,
my goal is pride."
New Haven, you are changing.
Feel the pride.
For you have earned it, and no one can take it away!
And may the Lord bless our City and her people. Thank you and good night.
Added February 3, 1999