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Transcript: Mayor Adams Hosts Reception Celebrating Women’s History Month

March 28, 2024

Ingrid Lewis-Martin, Chief Advisor to the Mayor: Good evening. No, come on now. Good evening. I rarely ever say this, but you all look absolutely beautiful. I really mean that. You all look beautiful. And I see someone whose shoulders we rest upon. I don't know if the mayor knows that Dr. Karen Daughtry is in the house. One of our icons, one of our icons. So, you know, we are blessed today to have you here with us. Thank you for joining us.

Ladies, I think everything has been said. We know that when we want to get the job done, who do we call?

We call women. We know that. They say if you want to get the job done properly, you call a woman. I say you call a sister.

And when I say a sister, it doesn't matter what your religious affiliation is, it doesn't matter what your ethnic persuasion is, it just matters that you are a woman. A woman who gives back and cares about other women.

It is important that we as women, and especially women who are empowered, give back to our community, and it is doubly important that we lift up as we move up, that we bring a young sister along the way. So, I'm asking you to do what I've done for many, many years, from my days in the Senate, from my days in Borough Hall and here in City Hall. I work with and empower young women, and I want to encourage you to do that.

Everyone in this room has something powerful that they can give and contribute, and we need to talk to our young sisters who will be our leaders. There will be another chief advisor to the mayor, there will be another person to handle that title. There will be another first deputy mayor. There will one day be the first female mayor.

And it is our obligation to cultivate our young sisters and to pour into them. It's unacceptable to leave Earth with all your knowledge. So, every little bit of knowledge that you have, anything that you can give to a young sister, give it to that young sister. They are our future. As we elevate, we have to make room. Some of us don't know when to make room.

I know when to make room. So, we need to make room. And, you know, I want to just say this, we have three honorees tonight. Elizabeth, she said that they always call her just Elizabeth de León, so I don't even have to say her last name.

And then we have my soror. Yes, Alpha Kappa Alpha is in the house.

Diahann Billings-Burford, Aunt Burford. I have a list. Burford, but she's my soror. And posthumously Honorable Bella Abzug. Her two daughters, Liz and Eve, are here, I know Liz and I just met Eve, are here tonight to accept the awards. But we are talking about women's history month and women empowerment. It’s amazing that I happen to work for a man who is like a brother to me, but a brother that I actually like.

Because, you know, sometimes you got these brothers and sisters that like ehhhh, but he's a brother that I actually like. I love him, I admire and I greatly respect him. And he thought it not robbery to have his administration under his leadership as our second Black mayor, African American mayor, mayor of color. Out of 110 mayors, there's been two, and he's number two. And the first one, Honorable David Dinkins was his mentor, and my mentor too.

He thought it not robbery to have women run his administration. Very wise man. Because we already know when you want to get it done, you do what? Call a…

Audience: Women!

Lewis-Martin: That's right. You call a woman, you call a sister. So, our mayor thought it not robbery to have women in charge of running his office. Three of us run his office in partnership. In partnership, a true partnership.

You know, one thing about us, we don't always agree, but we always disagree respectfully, and at the end of the day, it's about the mission, his mission, his vision and his one voice. So, he has our first deputy mayor, he has the chief advisor and he has the chief of staff. The three of us work in partnership to run and operate City Hall.

And in addition, he has a number of female deputy mayors. Most of them are first, and I don't want to take his thunder, because I can tell you what each one is, the first one in their own right ethnicity wise, but he usually does that.

But, you know, we have a number of commissioners. We have one of our deputy commissioners, a phenomenal sister, I see here with us, Aissata. I saw another one of our deputy commissioners, Miosotis. Mi hermana por vida. All right. You know I'm Barbadian and Panamanian. So, I gotta throw that in there.

So, you know, he thought it not robbery to have women actually run his administration. So, we are blessed, we are humbled and we are honored that he recognizes the power of women. So, without any further ado, it is indeed a pleasure for me. I know everybody in this room, you already know him, correct? 

So, I'm not introducing him to you. I am presenting to you someone that you supported, you helped to elect to be our second man of African descent, to be the 110th mayor of our glorious city of New York, Eric Adams. So, come on.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you. Thank you so much. You know, and I am going to be extremely brief because although I'm the president of the men who gets it club, I know that you shouldn't be spending time talking. But if we really want to change the trajectory of what we are doing about those who have been often omitted from this seat of power, we have to be real honest about it and we must have a real blueprint to accomplish the task.

And many years ago, probably around about nine, 10 years ago, as I mapped out this journey of becoming the mayor, I looked at where did I want to make the most significant inroads, particularly around the women who were going to be part of the team? So, this was not an accident on January 1st, 2022 that we was trying to figure out what we were going to do.

We walked in the door knowing exactly who we were going to put where, and we were intentional about looking at those traditional places that women traditionally were not able to be in leadership, like DSNY and like the NYPD and like now in the Department of Correction. But also looking at, as Ingrid indicated, the five deputy mayors, first Filipina deputy mayor, first Dominican deputy mayor, first Trinidadian deputy mayor. When you look at the list of what we have accomplished, and so when you look at the policies that are coming through the city, these policies are created by these women who've always had the talent but was never given the opportunity.

And it didn't start in mayor's office. As the borough president, now AG but City Councilperson, Letitia James, or she may have been a public advocate, when she did an analysis of pay scale in the city, she saw that I led the city by paying women 14 percent higher than men in the office. So, it was always there. But then the reason why, it is that those of us who have a biblical connection know of the story of a man walking on the beach next to God and seeing two sets of footprints in the sand, and during difficult times, he asked a question of why during difficult times, God, do I only see one set of footprint in the sand?

And you know what God said? I've been carrying you. 

When I look over my life, I look and see that each moments that the times were difficult, when they were hard, when I was bullied for being dyslexic, there was someone that was a woman that was carrying me.

When we were unsure of how we were going to pay our mortgage and people created the sou-sou around my mother so that we can do it, the women of the church did that. The women of the community will buy clothing for us on Easter and gifts on Christmas and canned goods on Thanksgiving, the women of the community will come and pray for us.

Back when I was a sergeant in the police department and someone shot out my car windows, after calling out my name, I woke up and saw women touching my building and praying for me. I didn't know who they were, and even throughout this journey, women would stop me on the street and put their hands on my shoulders and say a silent prayer and move on. I am their son. I am the person that they always wanted someone to fully understand the commitment and dedication that has always happened. They've carried me, not for me to be carried and talk about, look at me, I'm the mayor. But for me to use the power of being carried to make sure I can bring them along with this journey that I'm on, that is what happened.

And so don't be in awe of this perfectly imperfect person that is now occupying the most powerful mayoralty on the globe. But if you don't look behind my role and see the women who are really running this city, you're going to miss this moment, you're going to miss this moment. 

Never again, when any city, large or small, say that women are not capable of handling the most complex problems at the most complex period of time, the women navigated us out of Covid. The women navigated us through 180,000 migrants and asylum seekers that came to this city, Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom and Camille Joseph. It's a woman that now who's running the Department of Correction right now to turn around the Department of Correction. It’s a woman that's containerizing the garbage in the city so we can get rid of the rats.

You look at every area, when we finish our legacy is going to dispel all those rumors and beliefs that women cannot take the challenges of the day, raise a family and raise a city so that all families could be raised at the same time.

This is so significant. This is my hypothesis that is being actualized. This is the thesis of my life that I knew if we just got out of the way and gave women the opportunity to do what's right, they will do what's right. Because I saw a mommy do what's right. That is why.

And so, during Women History Month, let them say one month, I'm giving you all 12.

We have so much work to do, and there's a lot of noise that believe we can't do it. Those are hidden agendas, folks. Everyone knows this city is being run by women. So, when they start talking about we're not doing things correctly, that's a hidden agenda. That is a way to dispel the success.

January 1st, 2022, crime was surging in the wrong direction. No one wanted to come to the city. No one wanted to be on the subways. Tourism was not here. Bond raters didn't want to raise our bond ratings. We didn't even educate our children at the proper way. Covid was keeping us indoors. All these uncertainties were lingering. No jobs were coming to the city. Look at us now. Two years and three months later.

We reached more private sector jobs in the history of the city, Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer, we managed the asylum seeker, Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom. We've been able to lift our bond ratings because of our business initiative. We've been listing up what my commissioner of DCWP is doing to give people fair wages every day.

Look across the city, brought down the cost of child care from $55 a week to less than $5 a week, giving us free high-speed broadband services for children living in NYCHA, and improved reading and writing in the city, out-pacing the state in the process of doing so. You do an analysis of what we are doing and what we have done, don't allow those haters to try to define our success and what we have become.

And even when it was madness. Where's Molly? Molly, raise your hand. What she has done, I got two Mollys in here, probably. What she has done with our housing crisis has been unbelievable. Over and over again. I tell them all the time, keep a journal. Keep a journal because you are going to have to go back and tell the story.

One of the first things we did when we became in this administration, we went to the Museum of the City of New York. First Deputy Mayor Wright had us walk through so we could look at the walls and see the previous administrations. Everybody went through some stuff, folks. We saw the headlines and the stories and the narratives and we left there that day and said, one day we are going to be on this museum. What are people going to write about us? They're going to write that we led with compassion, commitment, dedication, and that we want to treat people with the dignity and respect that many of us did not receive.

That's why we are fighting against infant mortality rates. That's why we dedicated $43 million to our Women Forward agenda. That's why we're having these difficult conversations about women's health. Right here we had a major summit about dealing with women's health issues. That's why we're looking at the statues and figures around the city with She Built NYC that was put on pause because of Covid, but we're going to take it back up again. 

And so to our honorees, who we're going to see, we want to thank them. And we particularly want to thank the family member of Bella Abzug, who's here, on what they have contributed and accomplished.

She fought for the Equal Rights Amendment. She passed historic bills, including Title IX, the Freedom of Information Act, and the first law banning discrimination against women with respect to obtaining credit. She's here in spirit with her daughters because absent from the body is present in the spirit and the daughters are here in this room, as she's looking down on them as we continue her legacy and what she represents.

I want to give you this proclamation and thank you in the name of your mother and what you are doing in your own right, continuing that legacy. Whereas guided by her conviction that women deserve and needed seats at the political table, Bella ran for Congress in 1970. Think about that, 1970, at the age of 50, and won her election to represent Manhattan's West Side and Lower East Side in the male-dominated U.S. House of representative.

During her effective three-term tenure as our nation's first Jewish female member of Congress, first Jewish female member of Congress, the outspoken lawmaker helped to bring billions of dollars in public works and transportation funding to New York City and the state. She advocated for Equal Rights Amendment and was involved on several historic bills including Title IX, the Freedom of Information Act and the first law banning discrimination against women with respect to obtaining credit. She also introduced an amendment for the Civil Rights Act to include gay and lesbian rights.

After leaving Congress, she went on to force the positive change in a variety of civic and governmental rules among them as co-founder and president of the Women's Environment and Development Organization. She's an amazing starward. I want to bring up my borough president. Come on, borough president. She was a friend. You know, she has been very supportive of this. Congratulations.

We want to take a picture and then one or two in you and say a few words.

Liz Abzug, Founder and President, Bella Abzug Leadership Institute: Mayor Adams, that was quite a speech about women and what the women in your administration, and I want to thank you for this proclamation in our mother's name. I want to thank Ingrid Martin, chief, deputy, is it chief? She and I have been in touch a lot through this year about this. Gale Brewer, who, you see here, who I've known for a lot of my life. I feel like we grew up with you. Who was Bella's, you know, cherished friend and admirer and Bella admired you. I want to say this. I have my many students from the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute here.

Raise your hands. There they're. Raise it again. Come on, girls. All right. This organization, the Bella Abzug Leadership Institute, really quickly I know, was formed as a living legacy to my mother that trains young women, mostly low-income women in underserved schools throughout the city in leadership and debate.

This is a passion. I'm so glad that my staff and a lot of our young women are here. What I want to say quickly is, never before is there been a time then now that we as women have to fight back what has happened in the Supreme Court around our reproductive rights.

Just bear with me one minute. I don't want to take up too much time because I told them I wouldn't. But in Bella's spirit, if she were alive, she'd be fighting in the streets and you know her, knew that right up to the White House against, sorry, a presidential candidate who has done terrible things and a Supreme Court to surprise to all of us who've been around the while revoked the law that's been in the land for 50 years forchoice.

I see Carolyn Maloney there, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. We want to rep... A very dear friend and colleague of Bella's who loved her and Bella loved you. I just want to say it is really important. My gang of BALI, the mayor, the deputy mayors, and I want to say, excuse me, one young woman, Ana Almazar. She's in there. Where are you Ana? Ana.

Lewis-Martin: She's our deputy mayor.

Liz Abzug: She's your deputy mayor and she was my student at Barnard College and Columbia University. You picked well. So, I just want to say thank you all for coming. My friends who are here, BALI board members and all you women here who look great and I can see the power in your faces and your eyes. We have to stand together behind this mayor, this gal, the deputy mayors and women who are running this city as he and she said, and fight for our rights in a very rough time. Thank you very much.

Eve Abzug: I'm short winded, but I completely agree and wholeheartedly support everything my sister said and my mother would be deeply proud of her and the work she's doing and the work that I did for many decades.

Just thank you so much, mayor and all of your wonderful staff for this honor. We are deeply pleased. I see pictures of my mother over there. Thank you, Carolyn, Gale Brewer and every one of you incredible women and the BALI students. And we want to thank the other honorees.

Liz Abzug: Who you are going to hear from.Always thank your sisters. Remember sisters? All right. So, thank congratulations to the honorees. Congratulations and thank you very much. And I'm so glad that you're all here.

Mayor Adams: We're going to have Andrea come up for the next honoree.

Andrea Shapiro Davis, Senior Advisor to the Mayor and Director of Public Service Engagement: Good evening. Who runs the world?

Audience: Girls.

Shapiro Davis: Who runs the world?

Audience: Girls.

Shapiro Davis: And who runs City Hall?

Audience: Girls.

Shapiro Davis: Thanks to Mayor Eric Adams. We have the largest number of women in senior positions ever in the history of City Hall. So, let's give it up for our mayor.

I remember when Bella Abzug was out there. I am probably one of the oldest people here, and I remember her out there fighting for equal rights and fighting for abortion rights. She was a force of nature. And I want to introduce you to two women tonight who the mayor is honoring who are also those type of women who are out there fighting for our rights.

Before I get there, I want to say to you, BALI students, look to your left and look to your right, because there are hundreds of women in this room who are running nonprofits, cultural institutions, foundations and senior level jobs and corporations. Here's to you guys, because you are the role models for these young women. So, now, anybody ever hear of this woman, Elizabeth de León Bhargava?

Okay, so Elizabeth is the proud daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Anyone here… 

I was going to ask if there was anyone here from the DR, but I think you just answered my question. She is a proud product of this city, born and raised in Washington Heights. Anyone from the Heights?

Liz has been in public service for more than 30 years: in the city level, the state level, the federal level, New York State Attorney General's Office, New York State Department of Labor, City Small Business Services, City Council, deputy secretary for Labor for the Governor's Office. And now she is the assistant secretary to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Assistant Secretary.

And how many Latinas do you think are in the Biden administration? Not enough. And who is one of the most senior level Latinas and Dominicans in the Biden administration?

Liz is a rockstar. As Liz says, her work as a public servant for more than 30 years is a direct result of her understanding that she lives in the best city on the globe. Liz is a role model. Liz is a rock star. Liz is genuine in her efforts to help others. She really believes in bringing up the next generation of leaders.

She's a shining example of women who are getting things done. And I can't wait to see where she goes from here. Liz is a remarkable woman. And before I start to tear up, Liz, will you please come up and accept this citation from the mayor?

Elizabeth de León Bhargava, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: So, I'm going to start tearing up. I'm a kid, born and raised in the city, significa todo para mi. Thank you Andrea. Andrea is one of my, you know, top tier leaders, but she's the best type of mentor friend that you can have, because she is direct, honest, tough love and says it how it is. And you cannot have too many of those in your life. So, thank you, Andrea.

Thank you, Mayor Adams, for this honor. More importantly, the fact that Mayor Adams has made history in this country by appointing an entire all women staff is not something you can take lightly. And I say that because it is easy to say you're committed to equity, but it is different to actually make it a reality. So, thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving us an example.

To my tribe, and so many of you are here, and I'm not... You never get here alone. And so many of you have answered my calls at all times of the night and have been there through difficult and challenging times. Going through Senate confirmation as a Latina was not easy. So, thank you for all of you.

And this proclamation, I am dedicating to my mother, who is in the Dominican Republic now because that's where all Latinos who are elderly in the winter go. So, she was a single mom who raised three girls by herself who worked at a supermarket, who was a home attendant. So, for all the workers that are here that are, you know, immigrants and have done it all, thank you for all of you.

And in preparing, I think about, so what Andrea told me before I walked on the stage, she said, you have to give a message. What are you going to say? And I'm like, of course, because a esta hora she's giving me tarea.

So my message to you is that every single woman here will be given an opportunity. They will come to you. But what's important is what you do with that opportunity. Leverage it all the way. Thank you.

Shapiro Davis: Thank you. She's a rock star, right? I get to say she's my friend. Did you know that the head of HUD has announced that she's leaving, and do you know who I think should be the next secretary of HUD? I'm just saying. Just saying. Has anybody heard of a woman, Diahann Billings?

Okay. Brooklyn native. Anyone from Brooklyn in the house? She is one of those... Okay. She's one of those amazing women. She has had a varied career. She's worked in the public sector, the private sector, the philanthropic sector. She's worked as a college prep school counselor. She threatened me if I go on too long, that's why she's coming up here right now. A corporate attorney, a head of philanthropy, a time warner and she played field hockey at Poly Prep.

She was, and many of you may or may not know this, Diahann was the first city's...chief service officer for the city. She created NYC Service that millions of people, right?

Stop reading my cards. She's impacted a lot of people. She helped create something called the Women's City Network and help me to help others get together and network and meet each other and move people up and elevate. And that's what women should be doing for each other. Am I right?

She's now leading a nonprofit... Seriously? Go. She's running a nonprofit called RISE, a national nonprofit that educates, empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations. But let me say this about my friend Diahann. She is the person you want to have as your friend, much like Liz. She answers that phone. If you need something, she is there. I remember calling her after a tough day and she said, Andrea, stand in your power. And I did. And I did. I did okay. I did okay.

But Diahann is more than what she's done, right? There's a quote that really moves her and says a lot about who she is. I'm going to read it now.

This is Diahann. And the quote is, your purpose is not the thing you do. It is the thing that happens in others when you do what you do. Am I right?

So, please join me in welcoming up Diahann Billings.

Diahann Billings-Burford, CEO, RISE: Thank you. Well, thank you guys. I don't know why they saved me for last, because Liz has a federal position. I'm not sure what that was. And there are a lot of people in the room, so I will not start calling names. I need you all to just know that if you know me, if you rock with me, I love you.

I love you guys. And listen, it was just February, people were calling me to speak because I'm Black. It's March. People are calling me to speak because I'm a woman, so I have my talking points. We're going to be like this. We're going to be like this.

First thing I want to do is give gratitude to my ancestors, the people who are not here in person, but without them, I would be nothing. So I thank them.

My grandmother, [Emily Lucille Sullivan,] my mother, [Emily Sullivan Billings,] my great aunts, my mentors and friends. 2022 was a hard year for me guys. I took a lot of hits. I lost a lot of people whose shoulders I stand on. And so to my mentors, Jill Iscol, who was the mayor, was smart enough, one of the few men he appointed Zach Iscol, her son.

Jill was a wonderful mentor to me. Sheila Saunders, Judith Joseph. So many that have gone on, but my ancestors, that's whose shoulders I stand on. For those in the room, what I would say is keep pushing. We have so much to do. And we can't afford to give up hope, and it's just time to get to work.

I want to point out my auntie Gretch, Dr. Jay, as we call her. Where's Dr. Jay? Some of you all are looking at her and you think maybe I've seen her. At 60 years of age when you get on any social media, when you turn on the television, she's talking about how she's overcome cancer and how Governor Hochul needs to fully fund Medicaid. We have work to do, ladies.

We have work to do, women. Now is the time to do what each of us was called to do. And everyone in here... I'm happy to be honored, but literally, everyone in here was called to do work. It is time to get to work.

Lastly, I'm going to ask everyone in this room, I love the diversity and inclusion in this room. Now is the time for us to reject divisions. Those that are used to me know that I am just pretty blunt. I'm eloquent, but I'm blunt.

So I'm going to hit you with this because I'm just a girl from Brooklyn.

Now is the time for my sisters of color. It is time for us to stop being aggravated with our white sisters because of their privilege. We do not have time for that S right now. Now is the time for my white sisters stand up, be allies, and be accomplices and get at it and step out of that privilege.

It is time for us to reject all divisions that would take our eyes off the prize, reject every single one of them. And lastly, I want everyone in here to just keep dreaming. Tomorrow can be and will be better than today. What will we tell our granddaughters? What will we tell our great granddaughters if we lose hope now?

I look at my niece [Dantea Joy-Bob], and that is how I know already tomorrow will be better than today. And so I hope you all join me, and I don't have to say my quote because Andrea just said it for me.

I'll finish with all of you all, but especially Brooklyn, stand up.

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