FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 6, 2010
MAYOR BLOOMBERG SPEAKS AT FUNERAL SERVICES FOR FORMER MANHATTAN BOROUGH PRESIDENT PERCY E. SUTTON AND ANNOUNCES NAMING OF HARLEM PUBLIC SCHOOL COMPLEX IN HIS HONOR
The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's Remarks as Delivered at Riverside Church
"Good morning everyone.
"Let me add first to Reverend Coleman's list of dignitaries who are here to pay their respects to Percy: we have our senior Senator Chuck Schumer here, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, and our Deputy Mayor for Education Dennis Walcott.
"You know, if there really are 'eight million stories in the Naked City,' then Percy Ellis Sutton must have lived at least half of them. He was a pioneering civil rights attorney, a courageous politician, a veteran of two wars, a successful media mogul, a post office clerk, a subway conductor, even a pilot on the barnstorming circuit. Now, I know how tough one career change is. Percy did it about six times.
"In many ways, though, Percy's greatest accomplishment really was his own life. Growing up on that Texas farm with a future confined by the dark shadow of Jim Crow segregation, who would have imagined that years later the President of the United States - an African American - would mourn his passing as a great loss to the nation?
"But by jumping on that train bound for New York at the age of 12, Percy took his destiny in his own hands and began a journey that would change the course of our city - and our country. Percy proved the point that anyone - even the son of a former slave - can come to New York, live out his dreams and make a huge difference. And boy, did he ever.
"Of course, whatever opportunities New York City gave to Percy, he repaid them a thousand times over. Because of him, the doors of City University were opened to all students. Because of him, black radio became a fixture on the dial. As Reverend Jackson said, because of him the Apollo was saved from bankruptcy. Because of him, Charlie Rangel became Congressman Charles Rangel and then Chairman Charles Rangel. David Dinkins became the 106th Mayor of New York City and David Paterson, as you saw, became Governor David Paterson.
"Percy counseled so many government leaders over the years - including me. I remember meeting him during my first campaign for mayor. He came to me many times after that to offer advice, and in retrospect I was smart when I took it. Unfortunately, I didn't every time. And I always admired how at an age when many are thinking about grandkids and retirement, Percy was still consumed with how to make this city he loved even better.
"To honor Percy's life, we've lowered the flags at all City government buildings. We've eulogized his incredible life in the papers, on television, and right here in this beautiful church.
"And effective today I'm proud to announce one of Harlem's historic buildings at Edgecombe and 135th Street, which is home to three of our wonderful public schools, will be renamed the Percy Ellis Sutton Educational Complex.
"I can't think of a better way to remember Percy. Harlem has been the epicenter of our public school reforms. In 2002, only 12 percent of eighth graders here were at proficiency level in math. Today it's 61 percent. Now of course that's not good enough, but it's progress which would surely gratify a man whose own father was a school principal, whose mother was a teacher and who worked so hard against so many odds to educate himself. And we owe it to Percy and his legacy to continue those bold reforms, not just here in Harlem but throughout the entire city so that we produce future trailblazers like Percy who will lead this city, as well as the world.
"Leatrice, Pepe, Cheryl, Essie May and all of Percy's friends and family, and all New Yorkers who I guess are in that category - you have my prayers and my thanks for sharing this great man with us. Some would say we should have tears in our eyes today; I say we should have very big smiles on our faces. This is somebody who really made a difference. May God bless his memory and may God continue to bless the city that he loved."
Stu Loeser (212) 788-2958