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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at Gracie Mansion's Catholic Charities and UJA-Federation Centennial Celebration - NYC.gov

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Well, welcome, everybody. Welcome to Gracie Mansion. This tonight is an example of why this the people house, because everyone is here in unity. Everyone is welcome here. And, I have to tell you, there's something joyous about every time that Rabbi Joe Potasnik speaks. If you, if you spend time with Rabbi Potasnik, he is one of the people who I think exemplifies all that's good about New York City. By the way, his humor is universal, wouldn't we all agree?

Audience: Yes

Mayor: And his warmth is outstanding. He told me this is classic Potasnikism, he told me – the first thing he said when I walked up to him today, he said "you know, I was trying to get over to the kosher table, but there were many gentiles in the way".

[Laughter]

But, I want – I want to give him a true, true compliment, because this beautiful city – 8.5 million people of all faiths, all backgrounds, the most diverse city in the world – when we meet times of trouble, one of the people who is called in to help, one of the go to spiritual leaders in this city, is Rabbi Joe Polanski.

[Applause]

And I want to thank Sister Julia Suarez for her beautiful invocation as we start this evening, lets thank Sister Suarez for all she does as well.

[Applause]

I want to just quickly thank the members of this administration are here, I have to say I'm very, very proud of the people that serve this city. I imagine a lot of people in this room have spent time working with different city agencies, and you see what I see every day, extraordinarily devoted hard working group of people. It's a beautiful thing to watch, the call of public service being played out every single day with these leaders. So let's thank them all, our Commissioner for the Office of Emergency Management, Joe Esposito.

[Applause]

Our Chief Service Officer for New York City, Paula Gavin.

[Applause]

Our DCAS Commissioner, Lisette Camilo.

[Applause]

The Executive Director of the People House here are the Gracie Mansion Conservancy, Paul Gunther.
[Applause]

Our Executive Director for Special Events, who makes these wonderful events happen, Carla Matero.

[Applause]

Now, if you happen to be from a non-profit organization you'll be very interested in applauding the Director of the Mayor's Office of Contract Services, Michael Owh.

[Applause]

And you heard from him a moment ago, he is the director of our wonderful new center for faith and community partnerships, Jonathan Soto. We thank him.

[Applause]

Also we have an elected official here, who like Rabbi Potasnik reaches across the aisle if you will, in faith terms, and, is beloved by his Christian communities just as much as by his Jewish community, Councilmember David Greenfield. Thank you so much for being here.

[Applause]

And a former councilman who left elective office, and definitely spiritually uplifted himself by going to Catholic Charities, former Councilmember Vinny Ignizio, thank you so much for being here.

[Applause]

Alright, so this is one of these beautiful New York moments. It did not to anyone; to anyone seem strange for a moment, that Catholic Charities and the UJA would celebrate together, right? I mean think about that, in a lot of other places in this country, around the world. People might have said, well wait a minute, those are two very different groups, different celebrations – here we think it is normal, it is every day, it's a great thing to do. And that's part of what makes this city so strong. And what's also amazing is that these two organizations – I didn't fully grasp this until today. These two iconic organizations that have done so much good, literally touched the lives of millions of people for the better over the last hundred years. They both started organically, 100 years ago. Their chapters in New York City just happened to spring up in 1917, in a time of great doubt in the world. Middle of a world war, a time of great concern, and good people got together – people of faith, people who cared deeply for the community. Visionaries who realized that there was so much need that was going unmet, and something different had to be built, something had to be created. And I like to remind people, today there is an organization for everything, there is a government for everything. We think that's normal, because that's the world we inherited, but once upon a time, there was just a vast amount of human need. That wasn't addressed anywhere. It was too great, there was too many challenges, and some individuals had to have the vision to say, no, wait, we can do something better. And so it was, a small group of people on each case who got together, and said we're going to build something. I don't think in a million years they could have imagined how important, how strong, how big these organizations would become. How much they would become a part of our consciences, a part of our assumption that this wonderful humane safety net that each organization creates, is there for so many people. I don't that I ever could have imagined the growth and the strength – I don't think they would have assumed, I think we can say this for sure, 1917 I don't think they would have assumed we'd be celebrating together a hundred years later. So we consider that progress, but what happened after, because Catholic Charities was there because UJA was there. 

All of the challenges that came thereafter were a little less challenging for those millions of people. Remember it was just a few years later in the scheme of things that the great depression hit. And World War II, and all the challenges after these extraordinary organization were there lifting up families, helping them to keep going, no matter what was thrown at them. And that's been true in recent years. No one ever could have imagined 9/11. And how many people were hurt, how many people were dislocated, how many lives were lost, how many families were torn apart. No one could have imagined that. Catholic Charities was there to help. UJA was there to help. No one could've imagined Sandy super storm. No one could've imagined the impact that Mother Nature could've had here in the biggest city in the country. Again, these extraordinary organizations were there to help.

So, we in government humbly embrace our partners. These are our brother and sister organizations. These are organizations that make the work we do so much stronger. And we could not reach the people we reach without them. So it's something to be very, very proud of, and it's an indication of the power of faith. Faith to call out in people something greater, and to ask them to do the things they might not have thought they would do on their own but to help them to be their best selves. That's what the UJA has done. That's what Catholic Charities has done. I am struck as we reflect on these anniversaries and what our city means as a result. I had an experience in the last year at a moment where obviously there was a lot of confusion in this city, in this country about where things were going, and I happen to be at a mosque in Manhattan, in Midtown for Friday evening services. And as is customary I went to visit as I would with all clergy of all faiths, I went to visit the imam in his office before going out to speak.

And I said, Imam, I'm struck that I notice on the same block or very nearby there was a catholic church and synagogue. Imam, how interesting that you have these neighbors and what a great symbol of New York. And he says oh that's not the half of it. He said we get together all the time. I said what do you mean? He said well sometimes you know we're dealing with a problem in the congregation or a family that has a problem, and sometimes I don't know what to do, so I'll go meet with the rabbi or go meet with the priest and compare notes, and talk about well what would you do in this situation.

And I thought what an amazing example to the world of our faith leaders and we see it all the time in New York City. Our faith leaders modeling the very best in a sense of solidarity, a sense of common humanity and helping all the rest of us to reach that in a way that is sadly too rare in so much of the world. Little vignette that typifies the kind of leaders that over years and years made these organization great, and also helped them to work with each other and so many others who wanted to make life better for New Yorkers. So there's a lot to be proud of today. There's a lot of be proud in all of the young people who have been reached; the after school programs; the senior centers; all the efforts on behalf of immigrants that these two organizations have achieved. When we thought about the center that I mentioned earlier – the center for faith and community partnerships – this exactly the kind of thing we were thinking about.

We already knew that government had a symbiotic relationship with so many wonderful nonprofits in the faith community. We wanted to deepen it. We wanted to reach farther. We wanted to make sure that we were really doing all we could for each other because any day there is someone out there who needs help, and isn't being reached, and all of us have a little bit more to do on our mission. But we can do more together, and that's why we created this center. We've also very proud that we heard the strong and honest pleas of so many in the nonprofit sector in this city who over the last months as we reached a moment of passing the city budget I heard so many really powerful arguments about the challenges the nonprofit sector had faced – the fact that over years and years the nonprofit community, which is so much a part of new York city, which we depend on in so many ways , which is such a big part of our economy was losing ground because city contracts really weren't reflecting the honest needs of so many organizations. We with the city council took some major steps forward in this budget to right that wrong, to provide more money in nonprofit contracts to help you to pay a little bit more to the folks who work for you in so many cases. We understand that we can't get along without each other and government has an opportunity now to step up a little more and you see that in this city budget. We look forward to doing a lot more in the years ahead.

So with that, I want to state the obvious before I bring forward our two guests of honor. One hundred year – a century. This is not a small achievement. This is something that everyone who is a part of these organizations should be profoundly proud of, and it's my great honor to bring forward each of the leaders.

I want you to hear from them because they have carried on this tradition so beautifully in each case. First of all, a man I've had the honor of working with for many, many years. The director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan.

[Applause]

[…]

Well, I want to thank you Monsignor because I have had the occasion many times to hear you talk about how we address the challenges of the city and the challenges of this world, and that spirit that you just evinced – I know it's such a personal and strong passion to reach out across boundaries, real and imagined, and to find that common humanity. And I want to affirm before I bring up our next special guest that we always say as New Yorkers that we have a special obligation to model to others what it looks like to live in harmony. We're far from perfect. I'm not alleging that we're perfect. I am saying that we have an everyday harmony, an everyday live-and-let-live dynamic, which is so admirable, and it is the kind of views that you just expressed. New Yorkers in their own way find the common humanity – even grudgingly – but we find the common humanity, and it's part of what makes this place great; and makes us strong; and makes us resilient. I always say in times of crisis the NYPD and the FDNY don't stop to ask you your country of origin, your faith, where you were born, or anything like that. It's just an understanding we're all here for each other.

I would also note that there have been some challenges certainly in the last couple of years facing the Jewish community. Obviously there's been an uptick in anti-Semitic instances – incident, I should say – that have been very unsettling to the community. I've spoken to many Jewish leaders who feel that it's a particularly uncertain time in the world, and they worry about what it means, but they also are quick to say that one of the most extraordinary things in New York is how whenever God forbid there is a challenge, people of other community immediately come together in solidarity, and that is something that can be counted on – that sense of mutual defense. And the UJA, I think, has created a tremendous sense over the years of connection not only within the Jewish community, but between the Jewish community and other communities. It's one of the singular organizations in this city. And the mantle of it is not an easy thing to take on. To lead this organization you have to be both a visionary and a peacemaker of so many different interest and so many different pushes and pulls, and I remember when EG got the job, and I could tell immediately just meeting him that he had that strength and that wonderful warmth that he could actually achieve this mission. And I want to commend him for all he's done. Let's welcome EG, CEO of UJA Federation.

[Applause]

[…]

So now we have a special moment to declare this day, which is so powerful, something official in the history of New York City. So each of you will get one of these – I think we should just give each one the other one's just as a symbol of unity.

[Laughter]

Just to create a little mischief. There we are.

So these proclamations are the City of New York's way of adding to the historical record what this moment means, and they each describe the extraordinary achievements of each organization, but the part I like is the last sentences, which say – "now I, Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City due hereby proclaim" – I want to be sure I get the date right – "June 13th"

[Laughter]

"Tuesday, June 13th, 2017 in the City of New York as Catholic Charities and UJA Centennial Day."

[Applause]

And I will conclude with a profound thanks to the board members, to the donors and supports, to the staff – everyone who makes these organizations great. I want to say in case – not only do you may not hear 'thank you' often enough – but I want you to hear from the government we couldn't do our work without you. We couldn't serve the people of the city without you. If it weren't for you, so many people would not be able to make their way, but you make it possible. So my profound thanks to all of you, and the last thing that must be said is congratulations to 100 years, and here is to 100 more.

[Applause]

Joe Polanski will be here to officiate at the 200th anniversary event.

[Laughter]

Thank you, everyone.

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