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 Presented on March 26, 2014

City Council Chambers, Mount Vernon, New York

7:00 p.m.


Click on picture to view brochure

City Council, Clergy, Elected and appointed officials – friends, members of this privileged community, good evening and to my family, Bettye and Rene…..

I stand here tonight to report to you the state of our city.

Before I go any further, there are a lot of unsung heroes that helped me produce the information for tonight’s State of the City. However, the heaviest thanks goes to my Special Assistant, Shari Harris, who spent immeasurable hours on this production. I would also like to thank Terry Lowens and Leslie Alpert for their contributions. And the regulars Judy Williams and Oscar Davis.

To all the department heads, you have contributed mightily to the success of the two years and three months. The package you received is designed to, once and all, inform you of our accomplishments and what we intend to do.

My grandma’s sayings spoke volumes that sufficed often complicated conditions. My mom and dad, with the rest of the wise people that I was lucky to have known, also informed my growth.

But my  grandma’s sayings were priceless. When asked how she was doing, she replied, “I’ve had some good days, I’ve had some bad days; but when I look around, my good days outweigh my bad days. I won’t complain.

After two years and three months I am here to relate to you that despite the problems that have many cities searching for solutions, I still believe that our best days are ahead.

Two years ago I reported that the deficit had grown in the four years that this administration was out of office. Over $20 million in surplus was down to $4 million; now it’s a little over $2 million – dangerously low.

Our Fire Department has been under strain with a rash of fires that has been unusual in their severity.

For the first time, four lives were lost to the same fire. This city grieves for the Urena family and their surviving relatives, but I thank former Consul General of the Dominican Republic, Felix Antonio Martinez who came to help the victims and paid expenses to fly them back home.

My heart also cries out for Josie Flax, another fire victim and a very spiritual and committed member of the Mount Vernon community.

The fire’s viciousness claimed yet another life and severely incapacitated another. They were brother and sister – The wife of a very good friend – Horace Biersay. His wife Diedre was severely damaged by the smoke and carbon monoxide. I hope her recovery is swift. She has the blessings and prayers of this city.

While two others who were not consumed by fire, but James Gleason, former Fire Commissioner and my dear friend, succumbed to cancer. His daughter, Caitlin, is here tonight. Please rise.

The other was Emma Gruber, a person of immaculate credentials in helping so many. Her death inspired a vigil led by the influential pastor of Greater Centennial, Reverend Dr. Stephen Pogue, who will help galvanize this community in the coming years.

 May we have a moment of silence for the victims?

The Fire Department is waiting for legislation to be passed that would at least prevent some of the fire possibility. The rest is up to all of us to be much more watchful.

In 2012 Mount Vernon had 12 homicides, an alarmingly unacceptable rate that shook this community to its core. Confidence was further eroded when no building activity; the engine that expands the economy – creating jobs and opportunity in the process, was silenced.

Obviously the morale of the community suffered, allowing the reapers of bad news to step forward with vitriol that visits even some of our elected officials. Leadership – true leadership – does not shirk when the dark clouds of reality is presented.

To illustrate this point; we have examples of that leadership right here on this Council; Roberta Apuzzo, Yuhanna Edwards and newly elected Marcus Griffith, and my old standby’s, Democratic Chair Reggie Lafayette, County Legislator Lyndon Williams Assemblyman Gary Pretlow,  Senator Ruth Thompson, Senator Kirsten Gillabrand, Senior Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Jeff Klein. You all have shown your support for this community by fighting to secure much needed resources. Thank you.

It truly is a tough time to be in politics; especially today. Loyalty is a rare commodity. Selfishness replaces selfless. Leadership is a foreign and alien to many. These factors contribute mightily to intoxicate, excite the less gracious opportunists, those of whom seek only seek to destroy.

But I am reminded by Reverend Peter Wilson, Father Quinn, Rabbi Barzilai and other respected leaders, that God is still in the house and that’s good enough for me.

During this tour of duty I have been given the opportunity to put things into perspective – all things are possible if we believe; we can achieve it if we believe it – and work together.

Many of the elements that have been problematic are being addressed….

The auditors reminded us eight months ago that we had a projected budget deficit that would require a 17 percent tax hike.

I thought, “Wow! This is not good, in fact it is going to be a challenge.” So, I arranged to have the auditors meet with the City Council. The thought was that if everyone had the facts, we could move in a unified way….that was fanciful thinking.

Quickly, political mischievousness raised its head. It was clear not enough heads for leadership would appear to pass the budget, until new blood was pumped into the system.  Much energy was spent on this budget – both positive and negative. More than ever, leadership was necessary to address this very difficult time.

Regardless, the fact is that citizens are strapped economically and the burden is real. This past year was really difficult. It required all the creativity and ingenuity we could muster. With this energy we were able to shave 9 percentage points off of the original budget proposal.

Still, I knew to shave more would endanger the city’s ability to deliver services. Without the services our strong middle class will find this city untenable.

On my grandparents farm in Glen Springs, SC, where I eagerly spent my summers basking in the love and security that they provided, I watched as they worked the land and took care of the farm – the mules, cows, pigs.

Life was simple and hard – but mama and papa had pride in the 88 acre farm they had purchased – a rarity.

One morning I observed grandma sweeping the yard with a broom she made with twigs. There was no grass growing in the yard as the two giant trees prevented sun to penetrate. So she was rearranging dirt.

“Grandma what are you doing,” I said. She looked at me through her blue green eyes and said, “Son, you may be poor, but you don’t have to be dirty – you don’t have to be dirty.”

Many people overgeneralize when they see litter, but there needs to be better recognition and resolution in some areas where there is a lack of care. Especially in parts of the downtown where some merchants ignore trash right in front of their stores; others think that plastering signs all over the windows will encourage more sales. Wrong…gotta stop that! We must restore the dignity of the 4th Avenue strip.

The city is trying to take the lead in the beautification effort. City Hall is bountiful in the spring. The park will once again be the center of attraction flanked by the majesty of the roundabout. As we wave goodbye to the brutality of this past winter, we are preparing for a spring that will make us forget nature’s punishment.

A safe city is most critical, no crime against the community can be tolerated – stronger leadership had to be instituted. This change was challenged by some in leadership and some activists.

I knew regardless of what some may opine, that new leadership was necessary to send the criminals in our community packing.

Never stay with a losing game. The new leadership of the Police Department, Commissioners Raynor and Burke, along with the fine men and women of the Police Department, have contributed mightily to the drop in crime.

With 2 murders in 2013, Mount Vernon saw an 80 percent drop in homicides and a decrease in all other aggressive crimes.  We have taken a  much needed no nonsense approach. If you commit crime in Mount Vernon, we will hunt you, day and night, until justice prevails.

We are a nation of laws, however, it is necessary to defend every action brought against the city by the public, whether real or imagined. Unless a competent staff exists to combat the litigiousness of this nation’s actions, our city can go broke.

Our Law Department, under the watchful eyes of Nichelle Johnson, our Corporation Counsel, and Hina Shirwani, Assistant Corporation Counsel, along with a staff of talented attorneys, have saved Mount Vernon millions of dollars and ensure that the City’s best interests are protected both in and outside of the court of law.

Much of the unrest in the community comes from some of our youth. We must find ways to engage them in meaningful and productive activity. The Youth Bureau, under the direction of Damia Harris, who has made herculean efforts to help our youth to overcome very strong odds in so many cases.

To reduce recidivism and curb anti-social behavior, the Youth Bureau, besides running programs in eleven public schools, through its Communities That Care Coalition, finds success in bringing families together with initiatives such as:

  • Family Day funded through a grant from Drug Free Communities Grant where young people and their parents are encouraged to share a meal together in order to strengthen family ties;
  •  MVCTC Sticker Shock Campaign partners the City with local vendors of alcoholic beverages to curb the sale of alcohol to underage youth by placing brightly colored stickers on refrigerators and counters of participating retailers;
  • Girls Embracing Maturity (GEM) is encouraging young women to explore their full potential through its highly effective program that helps our young ladies mature and develop positive attitudes about themselves and their community;
  • Working with WestCop, in partnership with Westchester/Putnam Workforce Investment Board, the Youth Bureau encourages high school dropouts to learn a trade in a construction and trades program offered through the National Youth Build program. This program offers training and hope to young people who can easily be lost.

Our Recreation Department, under the leadership of Commissioner Darren Morton and Deputy Commissioner Diane Atkins has been one of our most diversified. Supervising the Doles Community Center, construction work at Memorial Field and the YMCA,  playground equipment for parks renovations, along with countless other activities.

Under the department’s initiation, a grant was secured that enabled us to hire over ninety (90) hard to employ workers. Although not permanently, it gave them hope and in some instances, their first job. Most will use this experience to start to build their lives.

On that note, over three hundred (300) other jobs were secured through our jobs development team led by Commissioner Judy Williams. We know that when people are employed, they not only feel good about themselves, they feel good about how and where they live.

We have partnered with over fifty private sector businesses to develop jobs and fill open positions. We hosted three job fairs, offered job readiness workshops, training and orientation to the job market and re-entry workshops for ex-offenders.

Chanese Coleman along with Pastor Carlton Spruill of Allen Memorial Church is owed a debt of gratitude  for helping to show the community that our churches can step up to play an active role in improving the life conditions of our residents.

Our public works department, led by Commissioner Curtis Woods and Deputy Commissioner Ray Copeland, are the work horse in any government. Charged with removing rubbish, cleaning streets, planting trees and shrubs. They also repair street lights, provide sewer maintenance, car pool repair and do special construction projects, to name a few.

But between last year’s Hurricane Sandy and this year’s brutal weather, an already fractured inventory of equipment became exposed. Although we limped through winters’ challenge, the department will still need a minimum of $4 million to replace aging and unreliable trucks and other equipment. This is long overdue.

Some necessary purchases must be:

  • Payloader –  $ 225 Thousand
  • Garbage/Recyclable Trucks –  $ 760 Thousand
  • Sewer Truck – $190 Thousand
  • Plow/Sanders – $ 360 Thousand
  • Sweepers – $  340 Thousand

…and the list is not complete. I have convened the Capital Projects Board that will comprehensively access our capital projects need.

Despite all of this, our DPW continues to rise to the occasion. They have joined with me in moving this city forward. This year many of them will be working with us to replace the roof on the Public Works garage. They will also use their skills that have been underutilized, working on projects throughout the city, such as in our parks.

While these workers have an opportunity to earn, the taxpayers will reap the benefit of in-house expertise and realize overall savings of taxpayer dollars.

The city’s future will depend on our ability to attract and develop new business and maintain existing ones. Our Planning Department is key to achieving that mission.

Our Water Department, under the leadership of Commissioner Anthony Bove, in addition to tending to water main breaks and overseeing our precious commodity, water, took the city’s water to first place in taste for Westchester County and second place in the state.

Although two key players left the city’s employ, they have been replaced by equal talent. Under the leadership of Jaime Martinez, who is joined by Suzanne Moreno, William Long and Steve Lawrence, a new spirit and energy will assure that the city is open for business.

But, brick and mortar is not the only focus that’s under Planning and Community Development. CDBG (Community Block Grants), Construction Trades Program, Continuum of Care are among the great programs that do much for people and the city.

When you have your health, you have your wealth, so the saying goes. Nothing can be more true. The President of the united States, Barack Obama, on a conference call, urged mayors to inform our constituents of the Affordable Care Act. We did.

But there is other good news on the local level. Montifiore has taken over the former Mount Vernon Hospital. The officials have assured me that this signals a vast change in the delivery of health care for our citizens.

Wartburg, Mount Vernon’s best kept secret, under the leadership of David Gentner. The Wartburg continues to shine and make enormous contribution to the lives of so many. I applaud your efforts.

The Buildings Department is a good and industrious department charged with oversight of the city’s existing, proposed and new structures. But, equally important is record keeping. The department institute a new filing and storage system that offers quick document retrieval and minimizes the chances of documents becoming lost or misplaced.

The department has become more responsive and welcoming under the leadership of Commissioner Mark Warren and his Deputy Kindra Dolman.

As repeated earlier, we cannot cut our way to prosperity. Expanding the economy has proven to reap the greatest rewards. We are sending a message to all investors that this city Is open for business. That message echoes in our Buildings Department as those interested in investing in Mount Vernon conduct business.

In addition, I would like to enumerate that many initiatives that have happened in just 2 plus years:

  • Renovating the Doles Center
  • Initiated store front renovation on 4th Avenue as well as other store fronts

such as Maggie Spillane’s in the Fleetwood

  • Installing new playground equipment in Hartley Park
  • Installed new Veterans Pool at Hartley Park and improving the Veterans Park on Stevens and Lincoln Avenues
  • Planned monument for Gold Star Mothers at Hartley Park
  • Revived the Atlantic Project on Gramatan Avenue for 159 units that will include the renovation of the Third Avenue Garage with construction, scheduled to start this coming June
  • The Modern building on MacQuesten Parkway will break ground this spring
  • Selected the location and beginning rehab of building located at 70 West First Street which will be the site of the Mount Vernon Public Access Studio
  • Purchased the former YMCA on Second Avenue which is currently under renovation
  • Over $1 Million spent on street paving

With just two years in office, developers know what we have always known, this city is ripe for business.

Want proof?

  • The Atlantic, Gramatan Avenue – 159 units of housing,  $  65 Million
  • The Modern, MacQuesten Parkway – 81 units of housing,  $  30 Million
  • Grace Plaza, South 5th Avenue –  65units of housing,   $  20 Million
  • Fleetwood, Luxury Apartments, 300 units of housing,   $  90 Million
  • Westchester Community College, South 5th Avenue, 40 units of housing
  • Bronxville Glens, 4 Units of housing,  $ 2 Million
  • Munrod Furniture and commercial space, Sandford Boulevard, $ 5 Million

We have additionally secured grants to make much need improvements , such as:

  • Hartley park Playground –  $ 240 Thousand was invested in this state of the art handicap accessible playground
  • Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at 3rd Street Firehouse – $ 1.5 Million to construct and equip a new state of the art EOC where our emergency services personnel can collaborate on saving lives and property during an emergency or natural disaster
  • Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) – $ 34 Thousand to master plan the Canal Village and Hutchinson River watershed
  • Park and Ride Renovation Grants for the Fleetwood Garage – $ 750 Thousand
  • In negotiations with NYS Department of Transportation for $ 2 Million award to improve the railway cut

Mount Vernon Is moving forward! We also have projects in the planning stages that will breathe life into:

  • 4th Avenue and 3rd Street – This proposed development will bring in over 150 units of housing with commercial space and a parking structure.
  • Qwest Village, MacQuesten Parkway – 180 mixed income residential units, laundry room, community meeting room, parking, open space and garden
  • North Fulton Avenue Assisted living – 93 units of senior housing will be constructed in Phase 1, One hundred (100) units of assisted living will be constructed in Phase 1 and 74 units of active senior housing will be constructed in Phase 3.

And, the much talked about – much publicized project and tennis center is being readied for construction by this year’s end. We will be keeping the iconic Memorial Field Stadium, thus preserving our history.

In addition, the stadium will have a turf six (6) land track, skate board park and eight (8) UTSA approved tennis courts. When we speak about preserving our history, we must look at the home of this city’s founder, John Stevens. Work has been progressing on the house by a loyal team of construction trainees who lovingly toil to ready it for period furnishings.

We also acquired the former home of Dr. Betty Shabazz and U.S. Representative Bella Abzug. We have formed a committee who has been meeting to formulate a planned used for the Betty and Bella House. They will also raise funds so that the home can operate independently. We will once again use trainees under the guidance of skilled workers to get the job done.

The education of our children is increasingly on the lips of many who have children. They realize that without education, our children are relegated to a life that is severely compromised.

As the world turns, this country is far behind many industrialized nations. Clearly this country cannot maintain its leadership in the world without the education of the coming generation.

Education is too important to just leave to the educators. The community has to buy into the education, making it cause celeb.

Currently, 65 percent of taxpayer dollars go into educating our children, yet the mayor has no input into any aspect of the spending of these dollars. Truly, this governing formation is not in the interest of the community.

I will convene a panel to discuss ways that the city and the school district can legislatively devise a reliable partnership for the assessment of:

  • Models that can be studied for a complete takeover of the schools similar to that of former Mayor Bloomberg; and
  • A mayoral influenced system where the Mayor and City Council would appoint some or all members of the Board of Education, similar to that of the Yonkers school system;

At any rate, it is apparent that some movement needs to be made towards a city/schools relationship.

Let me just take a moment to thank Interim Superintendent Judith johnson, who helped to provide the excellent leadership for our education effort at the right time. More cooperation with the city was evident under her stewardship than any other Superintendent in recent time. She stepped up when our basketball team was disrespected.

Thanks, Superintendent Johnson. This city will never forget the inspirational leadership you provided.

On that note:

This administration realizes that our Mount Vernon students are, for the most part, good – and many rise to educational standards despite long odds. I have visited, observed, witnessed them up close and personal.

We, as adults, must help them over the challenges that any youth may face.

My congratulations go to the honor roll students and basketball team, who continually astound me with their play and sportsmanship. The football, track and field and, to the students who toil at their studies day in and out – jobs well done.

Last September we convened on Third Street, a mass of 50 thousand, at Arts on Third, the city’s largest event. We came to  enjoy the arts and culture. We came to meet old friends, reminisce and meet new acquaintances.

Arts on Third originated to breathe life into Third Street. It has now come to symbolize and celebrate who we are, what we are – proud Mount Vernonites who keep on believing – in ourselves and our community.   

And so, my friends, as we leave this Chamber, I hope that you will understand the efforts that have been made and some of the challenges that still lie before us. I am reminded of a prayer that says, ‘Lord, don’t move mountains, give me the strength to climb.”

With your continued support, we will continue to climb those mountains and the city will be better for it.

Thank you and good night.


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