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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Hosts Interfaith Breakfast with Clergy and Faith Leaders

January 5, 2016

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you. Thank you, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us together. This is the right way to start the New Year, isn’t it? In fellowship, in common cause, in unity. And I was reminded, some of you are generationally in tune with Chirlane and me, and you will remember the famous lyric from the song, ‘You Are So Beautiful to Me.’ So, this gathering is beautiful to me. This gathering is beautiful to all of us because it is New York City in all of its glory. It’s New York City in its strength, in its diversity. And it’s something we should cherish. 

I appreciated what several of our colleagues talked about in the beginning – an environment where there are voices of division in this country, in this world. And we, in this city, we are the antidote. We are the antidote. We prove it every day that people can walk together, and that something greater can come of it.

So, this gathering – I almost wish we could beam this all over the world and send a message that all peoples, sitting at a table together, in unity – everyone laughed at Joe Potasnik’s jokes, it didn’t matter what faith you were.


I think we could – we could show the world something it very much needs to learn at this moment. So, I thank you all. I thank you all.

I want to thank all the wonderful faith leaders who spoke earlier. And I want to thank our First Lady. What she’s doing is so important. And what she’s doing is calling us all to arms in the most noble way. And please, when we work out with you when that weekend will be, this is a moment to breakthrough. This is a moment to destigmatize. We all know, and Chirlane’s exactly right – I’m sitting here with a room of experts on the question of mental health because you deal with the challenge frontline every day, and you understand it in a way I would argue many other leaders of our society don’t understand as deeply, because you’ve seen it in all its human totality – we must destigmatize the issue of mental health. We must change the conversation in this city.


And we all know – everyone in this room knows something about leadership because you practice it every day in such a profoundly important way. Well, I can tell you – and I have to express both my love for my wife, but my appreciation for what she’s done. If she had not taken this on and say we are going to destigmatize mental health in this city right now, we probably wouldn’t be having the conversation we needed to have, but we are, thanks to our First Lady.


Now, there are a lot of people here today. And again, I want to tell you, it means so much to us to start the year this way, to start the year with common cause. I like to give credit where credit is due, this is a gathering of a type that was held in the past, but we’ve updated it to make it more about what we do together, about a common mission, but giving credit where credit is due is really Pastor A. R. Bernard, who authored the idea of saying let’s do this again in a new way – and I want to thank him. Let’s give him a round of applause and thank him for his leadership.


And then, as in so many matters of how we continue the positive transformation of this city, Chirlane and I turned to Pastor Michael Walrond, who has done an outstanding job –


– who has done an absolutely outstanding job leading our Clergy Advisory Council. And Pastor Mike, you had plenty to do at First Corinthian, building that extraordinary church. You’ve had plenty to do as a leader locally and nationally on so many issues, but you have, literally, since you took on this new role crisscrossed the city gathering faith leaders for this good work. And I deeply appreciate your commitment to this city. Thank you so much.


And thank you, again, to Tony Marx and New York Public Library, because if you talk about this great city and this city for everyone, you are talking about our libraries. So, Tony, thank you for your leadership.


Now, I’m going to do a quick ministerial item here, because I want you to know – first of all, I want you to know about the elected officials who understand the power of faith and faith leaders, and are part of this gathering today because they know it’s their business to deepen this bond. So, I’m going to name them all, and we’ll clap for them all at the end.

I want to thank from the Congress, Congressman Eliot Engel; I want to thank State Senator Liz Krueger; Borough President Gale Brewer; and then from the City Council, Elizabeth Crowley, Vanessa Gibson, Margaret Chin, Ydanis Rodriguez, Jumaane Williams, and David Greenfield. Let’s give them all a round of applause.


I want you to know all the members of the administration who are here. At the end of this program in a few moments, I look forward to having a chance to visit with a number of you. There’s also a lot of great leaders of this administration here, and if you have thoughts for them or issues for them, it’s a great opportunity to spend a few minutes with them. It is an extraordinary group. I want to thank every member of my administration here for what you’ve done over these last two years. You have a lot to be proud of. I’m going to name them all, but I want to single out one at the beginning because he gave us some very, very good news yesterday. It was a powerful moment to stand with Commissioner Bratton and talk about the fact that over two years since we came into office, overall major crime in this city is down 5.8 percent over the last two years. Where are you, Commissioner Bratton? Thank you. Right there – thank you very much. 


And my friends, we owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Bratton for his leadership, and to all the men and women of the NYPD. But I remind you – and so many people in this room were part of calling for a city that was both safer and fairer. So, you heard me say overall crime down 5.8 percent over two years and stop-and-frisk as we knew it before ended simultaneously, and that is an extraordinary achievement. 


I’ll let you know about all the other great leaders of the administration who are here. And again, what they do every day is absolutely extraordinary. They reach so many people so positively. I want to thank the chair of our New York City Housing Authority, Shola Olatoye. I want to thank our commissioner for housing, Vicki Been. I want to thank our commissioner for immigrant affairs, Nisha Agarwal; our aging commissioner, Donna Corrado; our Administration for Children Services Commissioner Gladys Carrion; our Emergency Management commissioner, Joe Esposito; our Community Affairs commissioner, Marco Carrion; our commissioner for the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, Cecile Noel; commissioner for the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, Fidel del Valle; commissioner for Consumer Affairs, Julie Menin; and my counsel, and also the leader of our M/WBE efforts, Maya Wiley. Let’s thanks them all for all they do. 


You saw just before the glory of having all the different voices of all different faiths together – again, something so particularly emblematic of this city. And one thing we do in this city that I talk about wherever I go is in common cause we reject bias, we reject discrimination, we reject hate. And we have a lesson in that also to teach some other places in this world, because when we see an act of hate towards anyone – be they Christian, be they Jewish, be they Sikh, be they Muslim, or any faith – we have a common response. It’s not one type of response for one faith and a different response for another faith. It doesn’t matter which faith is affronted. When we see a bias crime in this city, it becomes our civic responsibility to address it. When we see a bias crime in this city, we often see faith leaders of different faiths gathered together at the site to commonly reject the discrimination. We see the NYPD swing into action. And one of the things that makes us great as a city is we talk about it, we acknowledge it, we don’t sweep it under the rug. If we see it, we call out the cancer so we can eradicate it. And that makes us stronger. And that gives people on the ground in all our neighborhoods faith that we have that commitment to them, that whatever their background they are equally honored and embraced here – and we mean to deepen that work. We’re very proud of the first two years of our work, but we have only just begun and the deepening of that work involves all of you.

I want to express to you a deeply-held value that Chirlane and I have – and it’s one that should not be controversial but in some ways, I think, unfortunately, has become so over the years. You may have heard from time to time, we consider ourselves progressives. As progressives, we believe in changing people’s lives. You can’t change people’s lives if you don’t engage and work deeply with faith communities – it is as simple as that.


And some people – and I don’t, in any way belittle them for this, but some people have come to see quote-unquote “separation of church and state” as a reason to keep some distance from faith communities. Well, our interpretation is very different. Separation of church and state indicates a government that will perform its roles fairly and equally towards all communities, towards people who have a particular faith background and people who don’t choose any faith, equally – and it means that each part of our society plays different roles, but it does not suggest for a moment that we shouldn’t fully and deeply stand shoulder to shoulder to do this work, because we can’t do it well enough without you. We just can’t – and that’s why this gathering is so important. If we’re going to keep taking on income inequality, if we’re going to keep driving down crime, if we’re going to keep eradicating bias, you are the necessary allies in that struggle – and I don’t believe in the past, the government of this city, or probably any other, has fully tapped into the extraordinary energy and insight and capacity of our faith leaders. So, we aim to do better. We aim to go farther in that effort.

There’s a lot that we need to do – and I’ll be very quick – but I want you to know – and I appreciate, deeply, the definition of faith that Reverend Sharpton offered – we believe that part of how we get somewhere is to declare the goal, even if we don’t always know every piece of the equation that will get us there – declare the goal and believe that together we can find the path.

I will admit to you that on the first day of this administration, when we said that were going to get close to 70,000 kids in full-day pre-k within two years, there were some doubting Thomases in my own ranks. From time to time, I found myself doubting but we said – we said there is no more important and noble goal, if we’re going to build a future better city – and if we’re actually going create equality and opportunity.

And we had faith – and so many of you, so many of you became our partners in that endeavor – and let the record show that Pre-k for All worked, and it worked, in part, because we worked so closely with faith communities and religious schools – we had common cause. Well, brothers and sisters, today in New York City, every single child who needs pre-k, gets it for free – and thank you for all you did to make it possible.


We said we would show an embrace of immigrants against, again, a backdrop of a discussion that has gone awfully awry.

By the way, we are a nation of immigrants – we are a city of immigrants. All our greatness derives from being a place of immigrants for generations upon generations.

Who missed that formula?

Who didn’t get the memo that immigration made us great?


So, here we said one of the ways that we will express our embrace and our support for all immigrants is to give them the same respect, the same acknowledgment that folks have who happen not to be immigrants. We wanted to show the same respect for people who are undocumented human beings as those who were documented – and we said, well, let’s get everyone documented – and we called it IDNYC.


And I like to make fun of Commissioner Nisha Agarwal because she thought about 100,000 people would take advantage of it in the first year, but it’s over 700,000 people have an IDNYC right now.


Now, this – I’m going to be quick – but this is one of the examples I want to give of not only the big changes we can make together, but very practical things you can help us with as well, because I will be honest with you, until I had the honor of serving in this office, I did not fully understand that not only was an ID card crucial to getting a lease or a bank account, but it was Bill Bratton who helped me understand that an ID card makes the work of our police so much better. And if someone has an ID, it allows the police to handle them so much more positively and easily than if someone doesn’t.

So, brothers and sisters, here’s an easy mandate for 2016 – it’s available, it’s free, anybody can get it. Please tell all the members of your congregations, tell everyone that you reach – if they do not have an ID card, if they don’t walk around with an ID card, take a few minutes, get an IDNYC. And it will make their lives better – it will make all our lives better. That’s something we can do together. 

And I mentioned – I’ll just make one more point on police because it’s so important. We, again – we together, all of us driving down crime is first and foremost something we look to the men and women of the NYPD to do, but we also know that neighborhood residents, that block patrols and tenant patrols make a difference – that this is all of us together driving down crime. The police precinct councils make a difference. It is a communal effort. The police are the guardians of the community just like, I always say, in the villages we all came from once back in our ancestry, guardians were chosen in each village to protect the village. The police are the guardians of our very large village that is New York City. We have an opportunity in 2016 – now that we have shown what can be done – that we can drive down crime, we can bring the police and community closer together – we are on the dawn of a whole new age now with neighborhood-policing. And the plan that Commissioner Bratton and Chief O’Neill are putting in place, we’re going to see the thing that so many of us have dreamed of, literally, for decades – neighborhood-policing, the cop on the beat who knows the clergy, who knows the neighborhood leaders, who knows the shopkeepers, and the connection and the deep flow of information, the respect, the partnership that can grow out of that. That is beginning as we speak, and it will go farther with you.

So, in 2016, I’m asking you to get to know the new leaders of the NYPD in your communities; to get to know the folks who are driving neighborhood-policing in each of your precincts; to invite clergy into your houses of worship – excuse me, clergy, you are clergy – to invite police.


I figured that one out. You should also invite clergy.


To invite police – to invite police leadership and the police officers that serve the community into your houses of worship, so they get to meet your congregants, so they get to know your faith, and how crucial it is to the wellness of your community. That’s the kind of thing we can deepen in 2016.

I will just say a couple other quick things – you’ve heard from some of the previous speakers what we’re trying to do with affordable housing. A lot of you played a crucial role in that effort. And a lot of you have organizations that build affordable housing – and I want you to know, if you haven’t heard it from me before, I’ll say it again, we are open for business. We want to build and build and build. We want to preserve affordable housing and we need you to do it. So, anyone in this room who is in the affordable housing business as part of your ministry, come see us because there’s so much we can do together.

We need to reach people and help them to better their lives. 

The fight against income inequality is about raising wages and benefits; it’s about reducing the costs that people are burdened by, like housing. We together, many people in this room, fought for paid sick leave. Half-a-million more people got paid sick leave in the last two years because of you great efforts. And that makes a lot of difference in their lives.


We need to fight together for a $15-dollar minimum wage.


We need to change the assumptions about what people deserve. 

And I’m very proud, by the way, of the announcement we made in the last week or two that starting with 20,000 of our city workers, and hopefully someday soon all of our city workers, will have paid parental leave, so family can truly be respected.


So, those are a number of the things where we know we’re making a difference, and with you we’re going to make a deeper difference in 2016.

I want to spend a moment on one more issue because it’s one that I know everyone feels deeply. We know we have a challenge with affordable housing. We know we have a challenge, also, with homelessness and the two go together.

The two go together and it’s so important that we look this truth in the face. We know – there was a moment in our history three or four decades ago where we started to see people living on the streets. And we hadn’t seen that for a while in any appreciable number – go back to the 1930s, you had the Hoovervilles during the Great Depression. Then there was a period of relative prosperity and people didn’t live on the streets, thank God. But starting in the 70s and 80s, it started to happen. And then it was mainly single men, and it was mainly people with mental health challenges and substance abuse challenges. And there were a lot of them, and it was a problem. And we all worked together to do something about it, and we made some progress, but never enough. But then, the Great Recession happened. And the Great Recession changed everything, and we need to look this in the face because the Great Recession changed the rules of the game for so many New Yorkers, and wages and benefits just didn’t keep up with the cost of living. And somehow, simultaneously, the cost of housing kept going up and up and up. Think about the [inaudible] that people found themselves in where wages and benefits were stagnant, where jobs were lost, but the cost of housing just kept escalating. That’s what happened in the last five or ten years in this city. So, the fact is, today – and I want to make clear people have these numbers right – we have 58,000 people in shelter – 58,000 – that’s 58,000 too many. But they’re in shelter, and they do have a place to go at night. Unlike so many other cities sadly that are dealing with a homelessness challenge and don’t have the shelter capacity we do. We have a bed for anyone who wants it on any given night. There are still, however, 3,000 or 4,000 people who are on the streets 24/7. Again, with that group of people, that is more of what we’ve seen in the past – folks with mental health challenges, folks with substance abuse challenges, folks who aren’t comfortable coming in off the streets.

Now, you’ve probably heard in the last month, we announced a new initiative called HOME-STAT. It will be the single biggest homeless outreach effort in the history of this country by any city. We will be crisscrossing this city with outreach workers, working closely with NYPD to make sure that literally we contact each and every homeless person every day, and with a simple common message – come in off the streets. We have help for you. We have a safe place for you. We have mental health services for you. We have the cure to substance abuse. You know that no one will be better at spreading that message than all of you. 

And we need you to participate in particular in our Safe Haven initiative. And a lot of you are already, and I want to thank in particular the archdiocese, which has played a leadership role. But we have more to do – Safe Havens – Safe Havens are the smaller, often faith-led facilities in a house of worship – or associated with a house of worship, or a nonprofit – that give folks who are on the street a small, intimate, supportive environment to come into. A lot of folks on the street are not willing to go to a larger shelter, but they are willing to go to you, because they trust you – they trust you. 

Cardinal Dolan and I visited a Safe Haven in the Bronx a few months ago, and I spoke to one of the Franciscan brothers who ran it, and he said the reason people come in is because we respect their humanity – we see them as individuals. We know that each person had an individual path where they went from some life that we would describe as normal to a life on the streets. Each one had an individual path, and we respect that, and we explain to them that we will work with them as an individual to get them right again, to get them to a better place – and that’s what HOME-STAT is all about. But HOME-STAT will work in particular if all of you are a part of it – if we have the right place for each person, if they know they will reach the warm embrace, the supportive environment that you have to offer. So, we need you to make the Safe Havens work. We need you to remember that each additional bed we provide is a chance to break that cycle of homelessness for one more person – one more person, who, once we get them off the streets, can find their way forward. We’re investing in supportive housing. We’re investing in Safe Havens. We’re investing in all of the tools that work.

And, by the way, you heard, I hope – and we’re very proud of the fact – that we took President Obama’s challenge to end chronic veteran homelessness. We met that challenge. We achieved that challenge.


But we also know there are veterans in need all the time. So, here’s my very clear call to action – if you have part of your house of worship, or part of your facilities, that you could can help us to be a Safe Haven for homeless folks – if you have apartments, or you know of apartments that can be rented to the homeless, or to our homeless veterans in particular – we need to know about it. And you know the great people that we have working on our team, like Marco Carrion, and Harold Miller, and Pinny Ringel, and Sarah Sayeed – all the great folks who – Jonathan Soto – all of the people who work with faith communities. Let them know if you can help us. And tell anyone you know if they have a Safe Haven to offer us, if they have an apartment to rent, all they have to do is call 3-1-1 and tell us, and we will be right there to work with you. 

One other note, we know last night was a very cold night in New York City. We all felt it. And there are all those folks on the street – 3,000 to 4,000, I said, typically, on a night in New York City living out there. Well, I want you to know there was a fantastic effort last night, as there is any time there’s a cold emergency or a heat emergency. The NYPD swung into action, EMS swung into action, Homeless Services swung into action – crisscrossed the city, reaching homeless folks, telling them they had a place to go that was safe and warm. And lots of our homeless brothers and sisters took advantage of that last night. So, I want to thank all of the agencies who did a great job last night, reaching out to people in need.


So, I conclude by saying this partnership – this partnership is going to deepen a lot in 2016. We’re going to keep making this a safer city, a fairer city, a more inclusive city, a city of greater opportunity – and opportunity that reaches people regardless of what zip code they live in. That’s the mission – we can make progress. We can go farther with you. And I can’t thank you enough for your love for this city, your commitment to this city, your partnership, your ability to get things done for the people we serve. 

Thank you all, and God bless you.

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