It's a pleasure to be here this morning for the close of your 11th Annual Young Leadership Conference.
I want to talk this morning about leadership... about the responsibilities and obligations of leadership, and how many leaders, in government, business, community organizations, and all throughout society, can turn a City around.
I'm heartened by the fact that you all are here today, because it's proof to me that even at a time when so many people are cynical about government, you still have faith in your ability to affect change. And I know you will - after all, you are the leaders of the next generation. Actually, you're the leaders of today.
Because you have faith that with strong ideas and perseverance, the political process can work for everyone, I have faith in your leadership abilities. I am confident that the future of the country is in good hands.
Don't lose your sense of optimism. That would be a big mistake. When you lose confidence in your own ability to mold the future, sooner or later everything falls apart. New York City is no stranger to this feeling. Just five years ago, New York City was riddled by pessimism and cynicism. Too many people were overcome by these feelings and overwhelmed by our obstacles rather than invigorated by the challenges ahead... rather than being filled with hope for the possibility of constructive, progressive change.
For a majority of people both inside and outside the City, New York City was out of control. As a City, we had become known for our problems - not for our strengths. If you asked people around the country what they thought of New York, they most likely would have said we were a city that was dangerous, out of control - an unmanageable city.
But over the last five years, fueled by the leadership of so many people cooperating to make the City a better place, we've changed the spirit of New York City. Because we refused to give in to pessimism or cynicism, both the reality and perception of the City have changed.
A City that had lost more than 320,000 private sector jobs in the early 1990s has since gained back over 218,000 private sector jobs. A City that had been known worldwide as a capital of crime is now known worldwide as the City that leads America's crime reduction. A City that was known for its inefficient and overblown government has crafted an efficient, sensible government that tends to the needs of its people without burdening them excessively with taxes. We've actually reduced taxes on working families and businesses by more than $2 billion since I took office. And a City that was the poster child of government dependency is now the leading example of moving welfare recipients to lives of self-sufficiency and work.
The image of New York City has changed accordingly - both inside and outside the City - because each of the changes I mentioned and more have actually liberated people across the City, and given them greater opportunity, and more control over their lives. When this happens, people notice.
Just two weeks ago The New York Times released a nationwide poll in which more than 60 percent of Americans said they have a good image of the City, compared to just over 40 percent who said this in 1996. In 1996, equal numbers of people had good and bad impressions of New York City - today, the people who have a good image of the City outnumber those with a bad impression more than two to one. It is really remarkable how dramatically we turned the City around.
And what's even better news, of the people who have visited the City in the past five years, over 77 percent said they had a good image of the City.
The New York Times poll may be news to non-New Yorkers, but to people inside the City it's simply confirmation of what we've known and felt for some time now: that New York is no longer a place defined by crime or dirty streets, but by the energy and vitality of its people, by the pervasive feeling of optimism and opportunity that made us a great City in the first place.
So the question now is, how did this transformation come about, and what lessons can we learn from it? How can we apply this success - and the ongoing effort to ensure that it is both raised to greater heights and spread to very corner of the City - to the many other challenges that face us as leaders?
Not long ago, New York City was a place overcome by pessimism. We now believe in ourselves and our ability to improve the City.
You can't credit this transformation to any single change - each and every battle took a lot of work - but there is one fundamental change without which none of the other hard-won changes could have been attempted. There's one fundamental that is at the heart of changing the spirit of the city from one of pessimism to one of optimism.
People feel safer. People feel a fundamental sense of security whether it is in their homes, walking down the streets, or going to work. People feel safer in their daily lives.
Between 1990 and 1993 New York City averaged more than 2,000 murders each year. Last year there were less than 800 murders.
Think about what it means for a minute to have 2,000 murders a year. Think not only about the victims, and the impact of their deaths on their families and friends, but about the way it makes you feel when you pass a crime scene in your neighborhood or even just read about it in the paper. Whether or not you or someone you know has been victimized, a City besieged by crime, as New York City was, fills all its citizens with fear and prohibits everyone from feeling a fundamental sense of optimism about the future of the City, and a basic sense of possibility about their own lives.
On the other hand, when you read in the paper that there were no murders in the borough of Brooklyn two weeks ago for the first time in decades, whether or not you live in Brooklyn, you feel a sense of optimism about the future of the City. And when people across the City learn, and experience the fact that crime is at its lowest level since the late 1960's, think not only about all of the lives that are being saved, and all of the anguish that we are sparing families across the City. Think also about every single life that is being touched with a spirit of possibility and optimism because a heavy burden of fear has been lifted.
Crime reduction is about civil rights and human rights. It's about freedom. I once said, in 1994, that crime, and the fear and intimidation that it produces, was the number one threat to our ability to exercise our civil rights. At the time, I was severely criticized by the people who previously ran New York City.
For some reason the people leading the City didn't think about crime in these terms. But let me ask you what is a more basic right than being able to walk down the street, go to school, go out to dinner, open your business in the morning, or keep it open at night, without being afraid that you might not make it home safely?
If you don't have this basic right, what good is the right to free speech, or assembly, or religion to you as an individual?
And if a society as a whole doesn't confront this basic crisis, how can it begin to address the other major challenges it faces? New York City couldn't face its challenges in the past because we were crippled by crime. And now, it's because we have addressed crime, and reduced it to manageable levels - but, of course, levels that are still too high - that we have been able to confront the many other serious challenges facing us as a city on the macro level, and as individuals, on the micro level.
Security in Israel
This basic right of personal security, and the freedom it produces, touches people whether they live in a city, the suburbs or a rural community. It touches them whether they live in the United States or in Israel. Wherever you go, personal security is a basic prerequisite to the necessary freedoms that enable society to progress.
Both New York City and Israel have major problems to confront and major challenges to address. And for both of us, the only way to address them is by first ensuring the basic, fundamental security of our people.
This is a very important time in the history of Israel, which has been filled with defining moments. And through those 50 years, Israel and the United States have stood by one another as great and historic democracies linked by our reverence for freedom, justice and the rule of law. We respect one another and stand by one another.
It's a wonderful friendship. In 1991, when Iraqi missiles were landing in Israel and threatening the already tenuous security of the Israeli people, we asked Israel to refrain from responding. To comply with this request required courage, trust, and remarkable self-restraint - but, like only a true ally could, Israel came through. When in the last few months, Iraq once again showed contempt for the tenets of peace, Israel once again - at considerable risk to itself - reacted with confidence and resolve.
Time and time again, we have proven that we can count on one another. The strength of our relationship has been clear to me every time I have visited Israel, from my first trip in 1986 to more recent trips, when I have traveled there in the most unfortunate circumstances. I am proud of the way that New York City, and the United States, pulled together to stand by Israel after the death of Yitzhak Rabin, and I was deeply impressed by the way that the Israeli people handled themselves with dignity in the wake of that tragedy and so many others.
On those trips, it's been my pleasure to meet with Mayor Ohlmert of Jerusalem - and to see the progress that he is making in forging a peaceful and united Jerusalem. I have always believed that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and should remain that capital, undivided, forever.
Over the last few years, despite the tragedies and setbacks, we've made remarkable progress toward peace, more than many people ever imagined. We should be heartened by this progress, and commit ourselves to maintaining the gains we have made and move forward.
At the core of the peace process must be a feeling of basic security - everything follows from that. But for many people in Israel that feeling is missing right now. The simple fact is that if the vast majority of people don't feel secure, the idea of peace will remain to them nothing more than a theory. Without fundamental personal security, peace can never become a reality in the everyday lives of Israelis... or, for that matter, for anyone in the Middle East.
There are obligations on all sides to demonstrate a commitment toward peace. However, fundamental security is a prerequisite to peace. It is reasonable, given the long history of conflict in the region, to expect that the Israelis must feel that their security interests have been satisfied before we can achieve any genuine and enduring peace. Those without democratic traditions have an even greater burden to demonstrate a commitment to fundamental security than does a democracy like Israel. How can anyone be expected to negotiate reasonably without sufficient guarantees that their security interests are being addressed?
In New York City - which, I admit, has a much different set of obstacles than Israel - we're seeing what happens when you take care of the basics so that every day, in the most fundamental ways, people are free to confront the many serious problems facing the City. We're free to discuss these problems together, in good faith, because we feel basically secure as individuals and as a City. Crime reduction enables dozens of other fundamental transformations -- many of them equally important -- to happen, like welfare reform, economic development, and so many other changes.
One of the perfect examples is the transformation that has happened to public assistance in New York City. After President Clinton signed the federal welfare reform legislation into law in August of 1996, cities and states across the country had to be sure they were moving people off the welfare rolls. In New York City, we continue to do what we started in March, 1995 - move people toward self-sufficiency in an intelligent, humane, compassionate, and truly progressive way.
Our innovative policies have been a huge success. Last month New York City went below 800,000 people on public assistance for the first time since John Lindsay's first administration. That's a sign of a society that is progressive, more optimistic, freer and more independent.
But for years in New York City people convinced themselves that putting people on welfare was progressive. What's progressive about making people dependent on government, sometimes for generations on end? That's what I call retrogressive - a truly compassionate, progressive government does just the opposite.
As I've said on a number of occasions, a job is the best social program there is. No government social program, or private social program anywhere is nearly as good. When you give somebody a job, you give them the opportunity to build self-respect, self-esteem, and self-sufficiency. You give them the most precious possible gift - the opportunity to take care of themselves. A City with more and more people able to take care of themselves is a City that can then move on to the next step, which is taking care of our children and others in need.
This philosophy guided, and still guides, our welfare reform efforts, and the overall revitalization of the City. Rather than waiting for the effects of the national welfare reform movement to broadside the City, we acted first - crafting a welfare-to-work program that is setting an example for cities and states around the country.
Similarly, rather than wait for the effects of the immigrant reform legislation to hit us, we were proactive. We worked hard to protect immigrants from the unfair provisions that were originally a part of that legislation.
What we're trying to do now in the City is what we set out to do from the start: to create a climate so that individual people can take control over their own lives and move toward greater political, social and economic freedom.
The spirit of the City now is that people feel they can make a difference, that we can improve the City by working together. There is no monopoly on leadership. Leadership is within each one of us. I know you understand this. Even though in a City like New York, the Mayor or the Speaker of the City Council are leaders in title, we couldn't make effective changes without strong leadership in our communities. That's why New York city is so fortunate to have thousands of active, truly progressive organizations like UJA all throughout the City.
Last year alone, UJA's leadership contributed $240 million to people in need throughout the United States, Israel, and 50 other countries around the world. But no monetary figure can describe the value of what you do.
For example, NYANA (New York Association for New Americans) - a branch of UJA - has been the leading organization for the resettlement of Jewish refugees. Since NYANA was established in 1949, they've helped almost half of all Jewish refugees who've come to New York City integrate into the community and develop a network of support.
I deeply appreciate the way UJA, and specifically NYANA, were leading members of the Immigrant Coalition. Last year NYANA not only cooperated with the City in its fight to restore benefits to immigrants... but led in the fight to bring the country to a fuller understanding of the value of immigrants to our culture, economy, and society. I know that millions of immigrants in New York City and across the country are grateful for your efforts as well.
UJA has always led by its actions - by providing care, nourishment, housing, medical resources, education, and so much more. Your proud history of leadership hasn't been determined by money. It's been determined by real human energy.
Your future - and the future of New York City, the United States, Israel, and the world - will also be determined this way.
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