I'm very honored to be called upon to say a few words about Abe Beame.
Abe Beame was a living symbol of the American Dream. I believe that one of the secrets of New York's success--well, maybe not a secret, but something we don't always think enough about--is immigration. Over the past two centuries, people have come to this City from many different places, bringing different religions and different backgrounds. But they've all come with a common feeling and purpose: to make a better life for themselves and their families. That common purpose unites them as New Yorkers in a very special way.
Abe Beame's life is--and will always be--one of the great immigration stories in the history of the City. He was born in London in 1906. And just as the sun began to set on the British Empire, he came to the United States at the dawn of the American Century. His family settled in New York, and they saw our City as the epicenter of hope and opportunity in the New World.
My grandparents made the same decision to come to New York. Actually, I sometimes think of my grandfather on the shores of Genoa with his little satchel in his hands, preparing to come to the New World. And now that Ellis Island has been given to New Jersey, I can't help but wonder if he was really saying to himself, "I'm going to New Jersey." [[laughter]] Deep down, I know it was "New York."
It seems very fitting, and almost prophetic, that as a child Abe Beame read the stories of Horatio Alger. He must have found some inspiration in those books, because he took the fictionalized American Dream of Alger's characters and made it his own reality.
He grew up in a cold water flat on the Lower East Side, studied diligently at P.S. 160 and the High School of Commerce, where he graduated at the top of his class. At the age of 15, he met the love of his life, Mary. They were married after his graduation from City College in 1928, and she remained by his side for 67 years. They raised a family, first in Crown Heights and then in an apartment near Prospect Park, always spending summers and holidays at a cottage in Belle Harbor, Queens.
He began a private accounting firm, and he worked part time as a teacher. He served as Budget Director in the Administrations of Mayor Impellitteri and Mayor Wagner. And he didn't seek elected office himself until he was 55. He served two terms as the City's Comptroller, and in 1973 ran a campaign for Mayor directed by his son Buddy and centered on the principles of personal integrity and fiscal discipline. He proved victorious in a crowded field of four very strong candidates. He was sworn in as the 104th Mayor of the City of New York in a private ceremony in his cottage at Belle Harbor on the night of December 31st, 1973.
That evening was probably the most peaceful and worry-free of his mayoralty.
When he came to City Hall on his first day in office, he found that he had a $1.5 billion deficit. That was a time when the City's budget was just over $10 billion. When he left Gracie Mansion four years later, our City's budget showed a surplus of $200 million. The four years in between saw our City face its worst civic crisis since the Great Depression.
Armed with personal courage, a tireless work ethic and an in-depth knowledge of City government, Abe Beame helped our City recover from its destructive fiscal addiction to borrowing. It's an important part of the Abe Beame's legacy as Mayor that maybe hasn't gotten all the attention it deserves. But in the fullness of history I believe it will.
But equally important is the fact that our City emerged from all that it experienced stronger and wiser than before. In his inaugural address, Mayor Beame announced that it was his intention to encourage New Yorkers "to identify with this great metropolis that is their home." Abe Beame's identification with the City of New York was absolutely complete, and he conveyed it to people over and over again. It was evident in small ways, such as his insistence on taking public transportation--the subways and buses he rode frequently after serving as Mayor. It was also evident in the pride he took gazing at the skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan, eating at neighborhood restaurants in Brooklyn, or walking the beaches of the Rockaways. Abe Beame loved the many facets of life in the City of New York, and he conveyed that to people. That love drew him to a career in public service, just as it drew people to him. He was successful because people recognized that Abe Beame took genuine pride in being a New Yorker, and he inspired their pride.
As Mayor, Abe Beame brought a civility and effortless dignity to maybe the most troubled and difficult times our City has gone through.
He sought a Mayoralty defined not by public appearances, but by substantive accomplishments, and he had many of them.
And he continued Fiorello LaGuardia's tradition of being a 24-hour-a-day Mayor, working tirelessly around the clock.
But most of all, Abe Beame had the courage to make very tough choices, and to face our City's problems directly.
When New York City was poised on the edge of bankruptcy, Abe Beame helped to shepherd us to the other side.
Today, New Yorkers return the favor by wishing him safe passage-as we bow our heads in thanks for his lifetime of service, and extend our love, our thoughts, our appreciation, and our prayers as one City to his family.
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