Thank you all for coming to the beautiful Brooklyn Museum of Art this morning.
Most of you know that I spent more than half my life aspiring to become Brooklyn's Borough President. Then, of course, my luck, I arrived in office during the worst economic slump in decades. But I have no doubt that the city's economy will bounce back - and bounce back soon. Meanwhile, I am grateful to have many wonderful partners in my efforts to do my utmost for Brooklyn residents.
The five borough presidents are the only elected officials with borough-wide constituencies. We are the only individuals whose job is to advocate unequivocally for all the residents of a particular borough. And the ability of each borough president to advocate for his or her borough is critical to the well being of the people who live there.
I believe my job is to be active and creative in organizing the power of Brooklyn's residents. My job is to build an excellent and fruitful relationship with our mayor and our commissioners. And my job is to help unify Brooklyn's district representatives at the city council, state, and federal levels to maximize the public benefit to Brooklyn.
I agree with our mayor on many issues.
I think he's doing an outstanding job under very difficult circumstances, which he had no role in creating, by the way.
But when I differ with Mayor Bloomberg over issues that affect Brooklyn, I am not shy about it. Being shy is not my job. It's not my personality. And it's not Brooklyn's personality.
I fought to keep the Department of Education in Brooklyn, which I think made much more sense than putting it on government row - also known as Chambers Street -- where it is now.
I can tell you from my decades of experience as a public servant, that constant scrutiny and challenge are needed to bring out the best in government. The borough presidents are essential to having a government of checks and balances in New York City. But we're having a tough time because our budgets have been gutted, in effect strangling the voice of our residents.
I believe my job as Brooklyn's advocate is to say, "hey - let's look at this," because we need a government that is robust and that encourages different ideas and different points of view.
Michael Gecan, the community organizer who helped start one of Brooklyn's most powerful and accomplished citizens' groups - East Brooklyn Congregations - recently wrote that power is, the ability to act - on a whole range of issues, in a variety of ways. That is how I see the power of my office - acting creatively on many fronts, with a "we'll do whatever it takes" attitude for the benefit of Brooklynites.
Because the office is not about me - nor should it be.
It's about all of you - your families, schools, organizations, houses of worship, and neighborhoods.
It's about boosting civic pride, improving key areas of residents' health and well being, and generating more resources for our borough.
I believe the borough president's job is a balance between the spirit of Brooklyn and the service of Brooklyn.
When I came into office, I said that those of you who want substance from me would get substance. And those of you who know me better, wouldn't be disappointed either. I hope you will agree that I've kept my word during my first year at Borough Hall.
The spirit of Brooklyn is about creating a great atmosphere in Brooklyn. Every Brooklynite should be proud to live here - and I know we are. Every visitor to Brooklyn should be so delighted that they can't wait to come back.
I firmly believe that every resident has something to contribute to a better quality of life in Brooklyn, so I have created a Brooklyn volunteer service. Anyone interested in volunteering can call or e-mail my office, and we will match you with a Brooklyn organization that can use your help. Whether it's gardening or grant-writing, street cleaning or accounting, cooking, shopping or visiting an elderly person - everyone has something they can give.
Brooklyn is a borough of block associations. If you don't believe me, just visit Sunset Park, Marine Park, Bedford Stuyvesant, Bensonhurst, Brownsville, Bay Ridge, Canarsie, or Flatlands on any Saturday during the summer -- and try to drive your car down the street. Believe me -- you won't be able to do it.
These block associations have thousands of members who are on the front lines of improving our neighborhoods, one block at a time. I recently formed a Federation of Brooklyn Block and Neighborhood Associations to help address quality of life issues. I believe that by organizing this tremendous human resource to work together, we can accomplish even more for Brooklyn.
My office is also about to launch Respect - It's A Brooklyn Attitude, a campaign to encourage greater civility, common courtesy, and good manners in daily life. That includes things like not littering,and cleaning up after our pets. It means keeping your music inside your own car or your own apartment -- instead of making everyone listen to it for miles around. It means giving up your seat on the subway to someone who needs it more than you do. And it means things like holding open the door for the person following you, instead of letting it slam in their face. Just think - it could be your mother. Another way to create a great civic atmosphere is to celebrate what is unique and most special about Brooklyn, whether that means holding an egg cream contest, as we did last year, or a Brooklyn gospel festival, which I will host at Borough Hall next month. The festival will feature some of the world's greatest gospel sounds, which originated right here in Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn boosting part of my job also means communicating Brooklyn's wonderful attributes to a wider audience, and drawing new people and new industries to our neighborhoods. Brooklyn's cultural and business organizations are working with my office, and with the City's convention and visitors bureau, to spread the word about the fabulous things that are here to enjoy.
When I came into office I had many dreams that some folks considered a little far out. Among them was to lose weight and keep it off! Another is a NBA team for Brooklyn. And a third is to see Brooklyn become a port of call for a cruise line carrying tourists from Brooklyn all over the world.
Well, one and two are still in the infancy stage, but number three has moved from a dream to the threshold of reality. I recently met with representatives of Carnival, one of the world's largest cruise lines, who expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for establishing a terminal on the downtown Brooklyn waterfront.
I am very optimistic that a major cruise terminal will be built on Brooklyn's East River waterfront, making Brooklyn a port of call for some of the world's largest cruise ships. This project would bring national and international attention to Brooklyn, and would regularly bring in thousands of tourists from throughout the Northeast. It would generate significant business for Brooklyn retailers, suppliers, and Brooklyn's service industry. It would add hundreds of permanent new jobs - if not more - to our economy, and be another major step in reclaiming our beautiful waterfront. I am working with the Port Authority and the City's Economic Development Corporation with a single goal: to make this happen for Brooklyn. Let's make Brooklyn a vibrant tourist hub for travelers to Bermuda, Europe, and the world.
I am also proud to note that the city's tourism bureau - NYC & Company - now includes Brooklyn. Right now, the city is helping us fund a tourism marketing effort that includes Brooklyn- centered information kiosks at key locations. We are opening a tourist information center right at Borough Hall that will distribute maps, posters, and brochures touting Brooklyn's fabulous restaurants, museums, parks, and galleries, our historic and architectural treasures, and our innovative theaters and arts organizations. And we're looking at ways to attract tourists from across the nation and around the globe.
I want the tourists from everywhere to know that you can tour the world by touring Brooklyn. In Brooklyn you can enjoy the cultures and cuisines of Northern, Central, and Southern Asia, South and Central America, Russia, Poland, Italy, the Middle East. In Brooklyn you can tour the Caribbean -- from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico and all the way to my self proclaimed homeland -- Trinidad and Tobago.
I can envision international travelers taking a day trip to Coney Island to see a Cyclones game, followed by a trip to the New York Aquarium, a ride on the Wonder Wheel, and a trip to Nathan's for a hot dog, capped off by a fireworks show on the beach at Coney Island. And if they're visiting in the summer, they can take in one of my concerts as well. Tourists can visit the Promenade, the world-acclaimed Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and our superb Botanic Garden. They can admire the most beautiful college campus in America, and my alma mater -- Brooklyn College - followed by a trip to beautiful Prospect Park, where the designers got it just right.
By the way, later today the mayor will deliver his State of the City address, right here next door at the Botanic Garden's Palm House. Why? Because the mayor knows that if you can make it in Brooklyn, you can make it anywhere! The Palm House is also a place that will always be dear to my heart, because it's where I finally got married, just a little over three years ago.
Tourists who venture into Brooklyn can also get a great view from the top of the Arch at Grand Army Plaza, and visit the nation's oldest black churches and largest Hasidic community.
Then, of course, they can walk across the most beautiful bridge in the world.
Ethnic food is another area with great potential for Brooklyn tourism. Brooklyn has the best and most varied food in the world. Every Fourth of July, Chicago has a major ethnic food festival - the Taste of Chicago -- that draws tens of thousands of visitors. In Brooklyn we have the makings of a whole series of food festivals that could take place year-round. Everything from a pasta festival in Bensonhurst, to a pierogi festival in Greenpoint; from a roti festival in Flatbush, to a chicken kiev fair at Brighton Beach, a dim sum festival in Sunset Park and a seafood extravaganza in Sheepshead Bay. Great ethnic food is a great attraction, and I would love to see Brooklyn's wonderful restaurant owners and food vendors organize food-related tourist events. More festivals mean more visitors, and more visitors mean more business and more new business opportunities.
This spring, the mayor and I will co-host the first annual Brooklyn Bridge to the World celebration, a two-day festival marking the 120th birthday of our bridge -- the Brooklyn Bridge --which will include free bus tours to some of Brooklyn's great attractions.
Next summer, and every summer, I will continue to host the Seaside and Martin Luther King Junior Concert Series I founded, which are now in their 25th and 21st years. And I would like to repeat another very successful event from last summer - our Brooklyn adult singles beach party.
Now let's talk about the service of Brooklyn. Simply put, this involves my ability to deliver the goods: to provide responsive and effective constituent services, and to help create new services and programs that improve the lives of Brooklyn residents. For example, I recently purchased two new graffiti cleanup trucks for Brooklyn. Graffiti is ugly and, left alone, it degrades the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Now, any Brooklyn resident can call my office to have a truck remove graffiti from a residential or commercial building anywhere in our borough. Just last week, for example, we were able to clean up a garage in Kensington that was covered with graffiti.
Overwhelming auto insurance costs are another crisis - a big crisis -- in Brooklyn. Insurance costs so much, it has placed car ownership out of reach for many Brooklynites. When I came into office last year, I convened a task force to investigate the source of our sky high auto insurance rates. The bottom line is that we've got to be tireless in protesting to the Legislature, the insurance industry, and to the governor that Brooklyn has the highest rates in the state, if not the nation.
We have to tell those who profit and those who regulate, that we're not going to take it anymore. And we've got to put an end to auto insurance fraud -- we all know that. To demand the lowest possible rates, all of us will have to help put an end to this common and very expensive crime. As a first step, I have published a brochure explaining in detail how insurance fraud is carried out, and what every Brooklynite needs to know to stop it.
Other examples of meaningful services include Camp Brooklyn, which arranged fully-paid two-week stays at summer camp for Brooklyn children last year, and the Summer Heat program, which recruited Brooklyn employers to offer summer jobs for our Brooklyn teens.
I have no doubt there are Brooklyn children today who need a chance to go away to camp just as much as I did, as a kid growing up in the 1950s. I was able to have that experience because Brooklynites cared enough to donate money to send kids like me to camp. Camp is great for kids. And it's even better for their parents. Well, those summers saved my life. When I ran for borough president, I promised to create a scholarship program for Brooklyn kids to go away to camp. I'm proud to have kept that promise, and I will continue to do so.
Summer jobs are also crucial for kids. My jobs program - Summer Heat -- helped to make up for some of the shortfall created by cuts to the City's summer jobs program last year. Working teaches kids discipline and direction, and helps them develop habits that will serve them for the rest of their working lives -- as it did for me. Both Camp Brooklyn and Summer Heat provide important opportunities for young Brooklynites, and I am committed to expanding both of these initiatives this year.
Improving the health of Brooklynites is also a major focus of my office, which last year launched weight loss and anti-smoking campaigns. Butt Out Brooklyn targeted all middle schools in the borough. With the assistance of my office, a video was developed by young people for their peers, sharing the real-life consequences of smoking. Lighten Up Brooklyn had a great first year. Almost six thousand Brooklynites lost more than 82,000 excess pounds.
Lighten Up Brooklyn generated national and international headlines, igniting the debate over America's obesity epidemic. At Borough Hall, we got calls from people from Texas to Toronto asking for our help starting their own lighten up programs. One of our Lighten Up Champions is here with us morning. Let's give a big hand to Lorraine Salas, who lost 25 pounds and tied for first place!
Now, some of us kept the weight off and some, like me, gained some back. But we will all have another chance to lighten up this June. And since I never ask anyone to do something that I won't do myself, I will once again be out there sweating the battle of the bulge with the rest of Brooklyn.
Last year, I presented a number of health events at Borough Hall, such as blood drives, and free tests for cancer, hypertension, and other medical conditions that are prevalent in Brooklyn. This year we are going to launch Take Your Man to the Doctor Week, and ask every women in Brooklyn to bring the man in her life, whether it is a son, husband, father, or friend, for colon and prostate cancer screening. When detected early, these two cancers have high survival rates. But many men - like me - are terrible at going to the doctor and, as is so often the case, we need the help of the women in our lives.
And speaking of the women in our lives, my wonderful Deputy Borough President,Yvonne Graham, is working to develop a Brooklyn Health Institute. The institute will seek funding for research, and for the development of model programs to lessen ethnic, socioeconomic, and age-related health disparities among Brooklyn's diverse population.
In October, we joined with the Greater Southern Brooklyn Health Coalition to present Direct from D.C., where 1,000 members of Brooklyn's community organizations learned about federal funding assistance available from the Health and Human Services Administration. I want Brooklynites to be as healthy as possible, so that we can all live as long and as well as two of our most venerable residents, Madeline and Salvatore Vizzini.Mr. and Mrs. Vizzini, with more than 180 years between them, have been married for 71 years. I hope red wine has something to do with the Vizzini's long lifespan. It's my only hope of living as long as they have! Salvatore and I have the same birthday - Valentine's Day - so you know he's a great romantic. In fact, I'm told that, at 95, he still dances the night away with his lovely bride. Please join me in congratulating Madeline and Salvatore Vizzini on their long life together in Brooklyn.
In addition to providing services, my job includes addressing two of the major issues facing Brooklyn: economic development and affordable housing. These are two areas where the focused advocacy of a borough president is absolutely essential.
The population of Brooklyn continues to grow, fueled by immigration from around the world, across the nation and, most especially, from that borough on the other side of our bridge, as folks from Manhattan make their way to the promised land right here in Brooklyn. Brooklyn's housing development has not kept pace with our population growth. And too much of what has been built is unaffordable to many people who live here, or who want to live here.
In June, I convened Brooklyn's first-ever Housing Summit, because this is such a crucial issue. The idea was to jumpstart a productive dialogue between government agencies, developers, local housing organizations, and financial institutions. I believe that despite the budget crisis we face today, we must create an ambitious housing agenda - one that envisions a great and prosperous tomorrow. The lack of affordable housing has most drastically affected Brooklyn's low, moderate, and middle-income residents, including City employees on whom we depend for essential services, and the many workers earning at or near the minimum wage. It also affects lifelong Brooklynites who can no longer afford to live in the neighborhoods where they grew up, and residents with special needs. We need to create more affordable housing for Brooklynites with large families and for young people who want to start new families. We need affordable housing for single mature adults who want to live among their peers.
If Brooklyn is to continue down the proud path of community revitalization, we must create a great deal more affordable housing. I believe we are extremely fortunate to have a mayor who shares these goals. Under Mayor Bloomberg's leadership, New York City is about to embark on a broad and ambitious plan to create more affordable housing. One of the strategies that will benefit Brooklyn over the next few years is seizing the opportunity to redevelop sites that are underutilized under their current zoning, while using the public review process to negotiate affordable housing into market rate housing plans.
For example, in the redevelopment planned for a City owned parking garage at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street, I asked the developer to find a way to include a defined percentage of affordable housing. Two Trees Management agreed, and David and Jed Walentas worked with the City and State on financing to achieve this objective. As a result, 20 percent of the 254 new housing units planned for this site will be affordable to Brooklyn residents of moderate income. That's 50 new affordable homes in a prime location.
I also worked with Community Board 1 and local elected officials to persuade the developer of 540 condominiums in Williamsburg to set aside 10 percent of these new units as affordable housing. That's another 54 units of affordable housing - and this will be affordable home ownership - in another desirable Brooklyn neighborhood.
I fully support the proposed zoning changes for Park Slope -- where I live, by the way -- which will allow more residential development along Fourth Avenue while maintaining the neighborhood's historic residential character.
And, speaking of Fourth Avenue, I would like Brooklynites to propose a new name for what I hope will become Brooklyn's next grand boulevard. From downtown Brooklyn to Bay Ridge, Fourth Avenue has a great deal of unused and underutilized property, which could be transformed into attractive residential and retail development. Perhaps we'll have a contest to rename it.
As some of you know, I have created a Brooklyn Housing Development Fund, allocating capital funds from my budget to reduce the cost of construction for proposed projects, make them more affordable, and to help attract other funding sources.
At present, the fund is supporting the development of more than 500 affordable housing units in Red Hook, Bedford Stuyvesant, Ccean Hill, and Brownsville.
Affordable housing for Brooklynites is my foremost priority. I will continue to pursue agreements to include affordable housing units each time a proposal for market rate housing comes across my desk, and I will advocate for the construction of affordable housing in any other way that I can make a difference.
I will also be a loud voice - as I have been my whole career - on behalf of strong rent regulation, code enforcement, and the repeal of the unfair and destructive vacancy decontrol rules. When we talk about the need for housing, we're not just talking about new construction. Preservation of existing housing is crucial as well, and that's why vacancy decontrol must go. These rules have no justification. They were designed with one purpose in mind - to remove all rent regulation from the City of New York. They are despicable and they must be repealed.
Now let's talk about jobs. Economic development that will create more jobs is the other crucial issue we face in Brooklyn. Dr. Martin Luther King once said that if a man has no job, he has neither life nor liberty, nor the possibility of the pursuit of happiness. Well, everyone understands that. Today, unemployment is way too high in Brooklyn. And even when it was much lower, not too long ago, Brooklyn still had far too many residents struggling to afford the basic necessities of a decent life. We've got to attract new businesses throughout Brooklyn, and there's no good reason why we shouldn't succeed at that.
Brooklyn is a fabulous place to do business. Brooklyn is convenient, with excellent transportation, including the City's third largest transit hub. We have great services, an outstanding sense of community, and a diverse, well-qualified workforce. Unlike many cities, we have a downtown that you can actually live in - downtown Brooklyn has wonderful residential areas, as we all know. And we have all the ambiance, nightlife, and cultural attractions you would expect in a city our size. We need to communicate Brooklyn's tremendous advantages to small, large and mid-size businesses looking to relocate to the Northeast. We also have to help businesses that are here already to grow.
In November, we organized a city-wide conference in downtown Brooklyn, which some of you here today attended, that focused on neighborhood economic development. A positive part of the economic development picture in Brooklyn, is that we have a City administration that understands Brooklyn's importance to the City's economy, and which is enthusiastic about Brooklyn's accomplishments and our future. There is a tremendous "can do" attitude, and a spirit of unity among Brooklyn's civic, business, and community leaders, and an optimism that is truly inspiring given the terrible budgetary restraints we are suffering through. And there's no doubt that we are suffering.
While I don't have the power to raise revenue, I do have a bully pulpit, and I will use that pulpit to fight for fair sharing of the City and State's economic burden. I don't think there is any doubt that we're going to see more taxes imposed before our economy improves.
As I've said before, I believe the commuter tax must be reinstated. And upper income New Yorkers should be taxed in proportion to their wealth. It's only fair.
We cannot simply balance the budget by cutting the vital services that low, moderate, and middle income Brooklynites rely upon every single day. The libraries, senior centers, and firehouses -- as well as our token booths -- must remain open. We cannot balance our budget by cutting crucial health care and educational services. On that subject, we expect our legislators to say no, to the outlandish proposal for a 41 percent tuition hike for SUNY. Nor can we accept tolls on our East River Bridges, which amount to an additional tax on Brooklyn residents. It's typical Manhattan-centric thinking. Many areas of Brooklyn are not served by mass transit, leaving many Brooklyn residents dependent upon cars in order to do their jobs, to get to city services that are located only in Manhattan, or to go to their health care providers. Given those facts, it is blatantly unfair to toll the East River Bridges, of which three of the four are in Brooklyn. So I differ with the mayor on this issue.
As an alternative, a tax could be imposed on anyone in Manhattan who owns a car. In truth, you don't need a car to live in Manhattan, but you do need one in many parts of Brooklyn. The State should help the City, and help its own budget, by investing in auditors to track down businesses and individuals who fail to pay their taxes. And the city should save money by making sure we pay the least - not the most - for the huge amount of goods and services purchased by the City.
In addition, particularly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the federal government owes us big time! I fully support the longstanding efforts of Senators Schumer and Clinton to bring more federal money home to New York. In fact, I look forward to the day when New York, like many other states, receives back more than it sends to the federal coffers.
Now, despite our current economic crisis, we have tremendous resources in Brooklyn that we must make the most of. When it comes to business acumen, good citizenship, and committed public servants, we've got the cream of the crop in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce, and the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation provide extraordinary leadership and support for business development in the borough. We have outstanding industrial development groups. And we have many active merchants' associations and BIDS. The City's newly revamped Department of Small Business Services - headed by Brooklyn's own Commissioner Robert Walsh - offers tremendous technical resources that can help fuel economic growth.
In downtown Brooklyn, we're working with the City to develop plans for substantially increasing office and residential space, expanding the draw of our downtown as a great place to live and do business. Careful planning is essential. I'm all for more development downtown, as long as the quality of life for downtown residents is preserved and enhanced.
With the 65 million-dollar redevelopment of Atlantic Terminal, 1,500 Bank of New York employees will soon sit atop this new retail, restaurant, and office complex - along with Brooklyn's 2nd Red Lobster. And more Brooklyn residents will find jobs in the many new retail and service businesses I expect to result from this growth.
Industrial jobs are also vitally important. Brooklyn's industrial development groupsare doing an incredible job. Thanks to public investment in infrastructure, the Brooklyn Navy Yard - which during World War II employed more than 70,000 workers -- has had great success in attracting new commercial tenants. And I am hopeful that the proposed cross harbor rail freight tunnel will be approved and constructed, increasing Brooklyn's industrial viability while significantly reducing truck traffic on our residential streets.
Brooklyn's waterfront is another key area for development - but that development must be done wisely and fairly, with careful and sustained planning and active community input. Our waterfront is a great untapped resource, not only for economic growth, but also for the open space that is so important to our residents'quality of life. Our waterfront is so inaccessible, that many Brooklyn children, sad to say, don't even realize that Brooklyn is surrounded by water!
We need to reclaim it for them, and for future generations. And let me say this clearly - what we do not envision for our waterfront is more power plants.
The master plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park envisions more than 1,000 new jobs and over 60 acres of new recreational space for the enjoyment of residents and visitors. And just as we must move beyond downtown to create jobs throughout the borough, we must move beyond the downtown waterfront to reclaim languishing shoreline in neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Sunset Park. So I am delighted to be working with the City on a plan that will result in thousands of new housing units, more open space, and retail and community use districts along extensive areas of the Brooklyn shoreline.
The revitalization of Brooklyn's retail streets must be accelerated. Healthy retail streets lie at the heart of every prosperous urban neighborhood. And Brooklyn - unlike Albany - is defined by the diversity and personality of our mom and pop stores.
The City has simplified the process of developing bids, and has created an array of user-friendly services for small businesses. We must take full advantage of these services.
To continue improving the quality of life in Brooklyn, we must also maintain and even plan to expand our public spaces, despite today's tough fiscal climate.
Right now we are working with other local elected officials and the City on an exciting proposal to redevelop the Park Slope Armory, a huge space that is centrally located and that has a great deal of potential. I have allocated funds for this project, as well as for key projects in Brooklyn's parks and cultural institutions. We can look forward in the not too distant future to improvements to facilities of South Oxford Park, the Narrows Botanic Garden, and Brooklyn's best meeting place at this time of year - the Prospect Park skating rink.
We are also looking forward to the expansion of the Brooklyn Children's Museum, the world's very first museum dedicated to children. I want to congratulate Carol Enseki and her dedicated staff on the tremendous job they have done planning the expansion and raising the funds to make it possible. I am delighted to be able to use my capital budget to support the Children's Museum, as well as one of our nation's most significant sites - the historic houses of Weeksville, where we broke ground for a major restoration in October.
While I'm on the subject of Weeksville, I'd like to recognize the person most responsible for the preservation and restoration of this very important Brooklyn landmark. It isn't often in life that you meet a true visionary. It's even more rare to find someone who, over the course of a lifetime, is able to realize their vision. Joan Maynard, founder of the weeksville society, is such a person. She is here with us this morning.
By the way, I'm also delighted to note that America's very first Jewish Children's Museum will soon open -- where else? In Brooklyn!
Other developments in the borough include SUNY-Downstate's Biotechnology Incubator. Over the next decade, this exciting venture will lead to the creation of new scientific and medical discoveries, spawn new businesses, and enhance the reputation of Brooklyn's academic, scientific, and medical communities.
Speaking of medicine, health care is the largest non-retail employer in Brooklyn, and I want everyone to know that the best medical care to be found in New York City is right here in Brooklyn. Last year we created Brooklyn Healthlink - a telephone- and internet-based information and referral service that connects Brooklyn residents with the outstanding medical services located in their neighborhoods.
I believe, as borough president, that I should be Brooklyn's number one salesman, while forging strong relationships with other public officials. Shortly after arriving at Borough Hall, I made it a point to escort Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff on a tour of Brooklyn sites that are ripe for economic development. I believe the conversations we've been having ever since will benefit Brooklyn in many ways as the city pursues its economic development goals.
In that same spirit of building public relationships, last year I co-hosted, with Brooklyn College, a conference on Brooklyn's future, bringing together business leaders, city planners, academic experts, and elected officials. And I am constantly reaching out to Brooklyn's city council, state assembly, state senate, and congressional representatives.
I also believe there is great potential in similar organizations sharing ideas and information, and even forming a common agenda. So I like to bring together people from institutions with common goals and concerns. For example, last year I hosted an interfaith clergy breakfast to strengthen ties among Brooklyn's extremely diverse faith-based groups and institutions. And I hosted a tea for African American women leaders in Brooklyn, to discuss issues of importance impacting their communities.
Brooklyn is also a great college town, but not enough people understand that. Brooklyn has 12 major colleges and universities. If you looked at every great city on this planet, you would not find more than a few that could boast of such riches. Our colleges are Brooklyn's intellectual capital, and they are a multi-million dollar part of Brooklyn's economy. Their graduates will provide a talented workforce that will encourage businesses to move to and stay in Brooklyn. To help leverage the great resource that our colleges represent, I created the Brooklyn Council on Higher Education. The council brings together presidents and other top officers from each of Brooklyn's colleges to unify their efforts and maximize their opportunities. I would like to see our colleges work together to obtain federal funds that would mean further development for Brooklyn and help students come here from around the country.
While I'm on the subject of education, I want to say that, despite the challenges of our public school system, there are many high performing public schools in Brooklyn of which we are very proud. Now we must work with the chancellor and the mayor to make that true across the board for every school in Brooklyn. The mayor has staked his reputation on improving our schools, which are charged with serving more than 1 million students. We all certainly hope he succeeds. But everyone needs help, especially when we are talking about running 1,200 schools. We need educator accountability and parental governance. Our education system needs to flow from the top down and from the bottom up in order to succeed. And the only way to encourage real parental involvement in the schools is to empower parents with real responsibilities.
I truly believe that all things are possible in Brooklyn, as long as our crime rate continues to decline. For that, I want to thank -- in the strongest possible terms, Brooklyn's police officers - our men and women in blue. We could not have made the progress we have in Brooklyn without their bravery and willingness to carry out one of the world's most difficult jobs. The outstanding work of Brooklyn's police force - under the leadership of Chief Joseph Fox and Chief Joseph Cuneen - has been essential to the revitalization of our borough.
Even with the best police force, all of us must play a role in fighting violence. As borough president, this year I will focus my fight against violence on one of my most important constituencies - Brooklyn's youth. In May, I will bring together a broad coalition of public and community based organizations, social workers, and more than a thousand young people and their parents, to talk about the youth gangs and youth violence in our neighborhoods. No young person should have their life cut short or their future thrown away by violence. Our day-long Silence the Violence conference will look at ways to reduce gang affiliation and other causes of violence by providing positive alternatives. When kids learn to respect themselves they will learn to respect others. It's our job to make sure that happens.
Brooklyn is home to everyone from everywhere. One of my goals is to make the most of Brooklyn's wonderful ethnic mix, by increasing diversity on Brooklyn's community boards, and encouraging members of Brooklyn's many immigrant groups to become more involved in the borough's civic life. I'd like to see every eligible immigrant in Brooklyn apply for U.S. citizenship. And I want to see all our new citizens voting and fully participating in Brooklyn's civic and community life. I strongly encourage Brooklyn's Chinese, Pakistani, Mexican, and Russian residents, among others, to take their place in sharing in the leadership of Brooklyn.
As I have said many times, Brooklyn's diversity is our greatest strength. We have no tolerance for acts of hate in Brooklyn. We will never tolerate bias crime, or acts based on anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, or any-ism. We will root it out wherever and whenever it raises its ugly head.
Right now, I'd like to introduce another special individual, and take the opportunity to thank him once again for his quick response and courageous actions. A few weeks ago, Syed Ali prevented the torching of Young Israel of Kings Bay Synagogue. Mr. Ali, who is a Muslim, called 911 when he saw the gasoline he had just sold to a customer being used to soak a house of worship across the street. When this deranged criminal returned to demand more gasoline, Mr. Ali refused, enduring an attack of rage from the would-be arsonist. Fortunately, the police arrived and arrested the man. Mr. Ali could have stayed out of it - but he chose to get involved. Please join me in thanking Syed Ali, a Brooklynite, by way of Pakistan, whose actions exemplify the very best of Brooklyn!
The name "Brooklyn" is known all over the world today. We need to capitalize on Brooklyn's worldwide reputation for excitement and creativity -- and our world famous chutzpah and attitude. I want to brand Brooklyn -- to develop a "Made in Brooklyn" logo and mindset, which will help sell Brooklyn products throughout the nation and the world. Some examples of Brooklyn products that are already nationally known are Brooklyn Beer, Junior's cheesecake, Nathan's hotdogs, and Bell's Bagels. Now, these are great products, but part of what helps sell them are their Brooklyn mystique. There are many more products that, with a little imagination, could be marketed to a wider audience as, "Made in Brooklyn."
Brooklyn's unique history and character are also an incredible source of inspiration and power. We should look to that history together as we look to our future. I often say that Brooklyn today is America tomorrow. It's true -- Brooklyn has a long history of setting new trends and giving birth to great ideas and legendary people. Legendary Brooklynites include people like Lena Horne, Michael Jordan, Mel Brooks, Frank McCourt, Al Roker, Jimmy Smits, Richard Dryfuss, Chris Rock, Jackie Robinson, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and many, many more. Not many cities can claim such an illustrious bunch.
Likewise, so many of the fabulous things that the world takes for granted started right here. For example, frankfurters, or hotdogs are eaten all over the world. Many people think they came from Germany. Not so! Charles Feltman introduced the very first frankfurter to the world at Coney Island in 1874.
Today, following in his footsteps, the owners of Uncle Louie G's are making their ice cream one of Brooklyn's fastest growing exports. Louie G's John and Ricky Russo are here this morning.
Other things that originated here but now are everywhere are 4-Cs bread products, Brillo, Fox's U-Bet syrup, and the world's very first teddy bear, which was made by a Brooklyn shopkeeper 100 years ago. Even Manhattan Soup is made in Brooklyn! And while some might say it started in Manhattan, I will go to my grave insisting that the egg cream originated in Brooklyn.
On a more substantial note, I wonder how many people know that the first public school in the nation opened right here in Brooklyn, when Erasmus Hall Academy received its charter in 1787. The first children's library in the country opened in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in 1914.
And the roots of baseball can be traced back to Brooklyn. Now, last year, the Cyclones lost to Staten Island -- of all places! - and I lost my bet with Staten Island's Borough President and had to buy him dinner -- in Staten Island, no less! But we are still thrilled to have America's most successful minor league franchise right here in Brooklyn.
But the Cyclones, and Keyspan Park, are just the beginning for the new Coney Island of my dreams. Coney Island should be one of the city's premier recreation and entertainment destinations - as it was when I was a child. I'd like to see attractive commercial development on the western end of the Coney Island boardwalk, similar to what has grown up in Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. Coney Island has fabulous views of the water. Brooklynites should be able to relax along the Coney Island boardwalk in the evening, enjoy dinner and a cosmopolitan or a glass of wine, and dance under the stars with a great ocean view, instead of getting in their cars and driving to Long Island.
I would also like to see Coney Island develop into New York City's premier center for volleyball and handball. Coney Island is already home to the national handball championships. I'd like to see that more widely recognized, and have volleyball tournaments there as well. Especially with the great popularity of beach volleyball, Coney Island is a natural for this.
And, some will laugh, but I'll keep on saying it. Brooklyn deserves a sports team on a national stage. Major league sports owes Brooklyn for the great theft of 1957, when the devil O'Malley stole the Dodgers out of Brooklyn in the middle of the night. That's why, until the door is finally slammed in my face, I will continue to fight for a NBA team for Brooklyn.
I also want to see an amphitheater built at Asser Levy Park for seasonal concerts and cultural events. Brooklyn is one of the few major cities in the nation without an amphitheater. We deserve one, and we'll make great use of it.
And, if it makes sense economically and could be done safely, reopening the Parachute Jump would be another step in the right direction. The Parachute Jump is to Brooklyn what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. It may never be what it once was when I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, but that does not mean the Parachute Jump can't be updated for the 21st century as a ride or some other tourist attraction. I am happy that I have been able to fund a feasibility study that will determine whether we can bring the Parachute Jump back to life. Brooklyn is known throughout the world for this historic piece of Americana, and I know even more people would once again flock back to Coney Island to visit it. It would instantly become a national attraction.
In closing, I just want to note a few Brooklyn anniversaries that took place during my very first year in office. Brooklyn's unique institution, the Polar Bear Club, celebrated its 100th birthday on New Year's Day -- I was proud to wade into the water with the polar bears. I enjoyed myself so much, that I promised to be there with them in 2103 to celebrate their 200th birthday! The president of the Polar Bears is here this morning. Let's give Ken Krisses a hand!
Last June, the Mermaid Parade celebrated its 20th anniversary. I was delighted to join in the parade as King Neptune, escorting the lovely Toni Senecal of WB Channel 11 as Queen of the Mermaids. My queen remained faithful to me for just a few hours. What a quick romance that was! Dick Zigun, the official mouthpiece of Coney Island and founder of the Mermaid Parade, is here with us.
The Cyclone roller coaster turned 75 last year. Jerome and Carol Albert are the owners of Astroland Amusement Park - home of the Cyclone.
This year we will also mark the 100th birthday of the Williamsburg Bridge.
And I'm proud to say that we made a little history of our own in December. In celebration of New York State's newest anti-discrimination law, the Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Act, we hoisted the rainbow flag over Brooklyn Borough Hall for the very first time.
When I ran for this office, I said that while the borough presidency may not be the most important job in our City or State government, I would make it the most important public office for Brooklynites. I hope that my first year in office demonstrates that I meant what I said and I said what I meant.
Today Borough Hall is wide open. I even open the front doors whenever I can - the ones that face the plaza that you have to climb that huge flight of steps to reach. For the holidays, we decorated Borough Hall for the first time, inside and out. And we invited all of the couples getting married across the street at the county clerk's office to come inside to take their wedding photos in the beautiful Borough Hall rotunda. Aside from the front steps, we're easy to reach. We even have computers and e-mail!
So, you want to know what Brooklyn is? I'll tell you.
Brooklyn is a woman like Mary Taylor Singleton, retired crossing guard for P.S. 91 in Crown Heights, who, for twenty years, guarded her young students' minds as well as their bodies - counseling them daily about the dangers of drugs.
Brooklyn is someone like Deborah Hanley, of PJ Hanley's Tavern in Carroll Gardens, who, with her partner Kim Esposito, hosts and organizes the Eileen Dugan Memorial Run Against Cancer in Brooklyn each year.
Brooklyn is Elizabeth Yeampierre, of UPROSE in Sunset Park, Brooklyn's oldest Puerto Rican community group, whose work with Brooklyn children empowers them with skills they will use for the rest of their lives.
Anthony Faga is Brooklyn - a young man from Bensonhurst, who attained the status of Eagle Scout in recognition of his leadership and community service.
Brooklyn is Atena and Zbigniew Chalecki, founders of the Europa Club in Greenpoint, who bring the best of polish culture to life in Brooklyn, while generously supporting the many important activities of Brooklyn's vibrant Polish American community.
And Brooklyn is people who volunteer their time and effort to help others - people like Shea Schachter and Abraham Bistritzky - senior member and coordinator of Hatzalah, also known as the largest and best run volunteer ambulance service in Brooklyn and beyond.
All of these fine folks are Brooklyn.
We are the people who are happy to call ourselves proud residents of the two greatest cities in the world - the City of New York and the City of Brooklyn