There’s no other way to start this out but with gratitude for those that have supported me all of the way through this endeavor. It’s possible that in several minutes you will wish that I had been made speechless by this honor, but please bear with me.
First, thank you to Executive Director Peter Baynes and the most accomplished and gifted staff I’ve ever encountered. Your team exemplifies excellence in every application of the word. Thank you for cultivating an organization that cares for the individual needs of each community and is the motivating force for the aggregate. Thank you for accepting me, for nurturing me, and being patient with me.
Thank you to outgoing President Dick Donovan, and those that came before you, that set the tone and direction of this organization. Dick, your energy and resolute integrity have inspired all of us. You have carried our message to every corner of this great state. You teach us to never back down from our conviction that the state MUST respond to the needs of local government in order to forge a bountiful and sustainable future for all.
Thank you to my fellow executive board members for your warmth and welcome. I look forward to our regular meetings throughout the year much like children look forward to the holidays. I no longer think of my relationship with you as one of service. I think of you all in a very real way as family.
Which leads me to my Amsterdam family. To Congressman Paul Tonko, thank you for never forgetting your hometown while fighting in Washington DC for a stronger nation. I aspire to follow your example, with your ceaseless passion for public service and your vision for a revitalized Amsterdam through waterfront rehabilitation and heritage expression.
To Mary and Gerry DeCusatis, thank you for your years of friendship. To Mary, thank you for creating a loving haven for my children when I had nowhere else to turn and for your incredibly giving nature. Your home is a reflection of your generous heart and I love you for it.
To Gerry, my Corporation Counsel and my best friend, thank you, thank you, thank you. Years before the decision to run for office, we spent hours in the living room weaving the tale of how our city would thrive if we ruled our small world. You are the reason my administration works and the reason I can make it through the toughest hours. I love your resolve, your zany humor and your endless tolerance of my quirkiness. You are doing a fantastic job and are the best thing that ever happened to Amsterdam. If our local media pundits don’t know it, now 200 new people in this room do.
And now for the wellspring from which I emerged, my real family, people that are eloquent, hard headed and fun. With me today are several of the women in my family that sport the same obsessive drive to perform well, the same vibrant interest in politics, and the same easy laughter. My aunt, Mary Lou Andersen, was a true feminist in the 60’s. She showed us that women not only belonged in a world dominated by men, but that we would flourish there. My attraction to public service began as I watched my aunt’s weekly commute from Delaware to Washington DC. Thank you Aunt Mary Lou.
To her daughter, Joan, thank you for being here. You know you are much more a sister to me than a cousin and that the bonds we share probably flow deeper than this corporeal reality. I love you. To my cousin, Caroline, that religiously follows me and fights for me on Facebook from Florida despite the 50 years since we last met, thank you! I love that you are here!
To my mother, Peg Tigue, I am so glad that God chose you as the vessel that gave me life. You’ve taught me to be strong in impossibly difficult times, to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us, and that if everyone else can’t see that beauty, we do and we will make it so. My mother’s presence is felt across the City of Wilmington, Delaware – from its tall ship and waterfront redevelopment to the preservation of its most valued historical properties to the restoration of neighborhoods one house at a time through Habitat for Humanity. My mother is a crusader for urban revitalization. I don’t fall far from her loving branches and am so grateful for her particular genes. I love you, Mom.
To my husband, Peter, thank you so much for the life you’ve given to me and for the home you sustain. You are my harbor, my balance, my boxing partner and my hero. You provide me a safety net when I fall, constancy when the political world shreds at my will, and quiet dignity through every difficult bump in the road. You teach our beautiful children and me that honesty and loyalty are all that matter, and that family come before all else. Thank you, Pete, for staying the course through all of the toil, turmoil and sudden smiles. I love you.
To all of you in this audience, I love you for sitting through this speech so far!
It’s such a pleasure to look out over all of the faces gathered here today at our annual meeting. Yours are the faces of true leaders: intelligent, creative and committed to your communities in ways that few can understand until they’ve walked in your shoes… until they’ve received the call at 2am about a factory fire that’s consuming an entire city block in one night and will smolder for a month, or the call that the river is rising by several feet an hour and that you’ve got to evacuate several thousands of people before the devastation hits, or the call that two teenagers have been murdered in an inexplicably violent manner by two kids of the same age and the community is on the verge of rioting, or the half hour phone call describing the six-inch pot hole in front of an elderly constituent’s driveway.
Your commitment is astounding. You patiently endure council meetings that are contentious, labor negotiations that are highly challenging, lengthy budget sessions that are taxing in more ways than one, and manage to steadfastly oversee the ins and outs of daily departmental operations. You gracefully persist despite the biases of local newspapers, uninformed radio hosts, bloggers and Facebook hot shots.
Give yourself a hand. It’s the shared experience of the people in this room that give me the courage and inspiration to get up every day and once more do the job of mayoring.
I am extremely grateful to NYCOM for their guidance on this joyous and sometimes difficult journey into local governance. I think my first experiences with this organization were in rooms very similar to this one as I found my way to the ample well of knowledge provided in these training sessions. My first year in office was one of wide-eyed idealism and I burned like phosphorous that first year, soaking up anything and everything I could to bring new light to years of darkness that had plagued the City of Amsterdam. I immersed myself in Internet searches, online tutorials, budget workshops and, of course, regularly scheduled training opportunities through NYCOM.
In 2009, I received a call from now-Assemblyman John McDonald inviting me to serve on NYCOM’s executive board, a prospect that was both enticing and terrifying at the same time. I guess you can say I still had freshman jitters, but a good friend had given me sound advice in the beginning and I continue to chant this to myself to get through any challenge choice may bring me: “Put on your big girl panties and just do it.” It’s great advice and I encourage you all to fall back on it in times of trouble, no matter your gender.
NYCOM Executive Board meetings are generally around an assemblage of tables to accommodate 25 or so very smart, very savvy staff and board members with a combined experience level that spans decades and distance. They are congenial, knowledgeable, brave and amazingly apolitical. It is at that table, both then and now, that I witness some of the highest functioning governance, anywhere. I wish my council or the state legislature could attend to see how effective shared vision, ample research, probing discussion and working toward the common good benefits all involved.
Because that’s what our highest purpose is, in NYCOM and in life, to work collaboratively so that our communities thrive.
Certainly, we here at NYCOM have our work “cut out for us.” Local governments are under siege by a State government that sees us as frivolous and in need of guidance. Rather than make difficult decisions that may cut into campaign coffers, they underfund us year after year and shift the heavy cost of state legislative and budgetary inaction to the backs of counties, cities, towns and villages. This sluggish response to real need at the local level cannot be managed by capping our revenues.
We need the state to cap our costs!
Cap my costs and my budget will take care of itself, thank you very much!
And please, we are quite familiar with sharing services. We’ve been sharing and consolidating and creatively partnering for years. The fact of the matter is that our budgets are not fat and we’ve been balancing delicately constructed budgets with the provision of services without falling back on gimmickry since the inception of public service. At our level, the impact of our decisions about a pothole, a police vehicle, a fire hydrant, a city playground or an abandoned property is immediate and noted by our consumers, the voters that put us in office to properly manage their money. Believe me, if we do not meet the expectations of those voters, the consequences are harshly personal.
It is this personal message that must resonate in both chambers of the legislature and echo down the hallways of the capital building.
In order to make this message heard at the state level, we must redouble our efforts to educate our constituents and our state representatives. The beauty in NYCOM’s reaction to the persistent budgetary problems faced by the state is that, not only can we identify the origins and intricacies of these troubles, but we offer sound, innovative solutions as well. We are here to help!
The difficulty for us is communicating our message of hope effectively. And this is where you all come into play. We need YOU, the representatives of 582 member municipalities, to be the loud and insistent voice for responsible stewardship of our tax dollars.
We need YOU to loudly witness for the 11 million people we represent. We must understand the legitimacy and power that we posses when advocating for 11 million residents. Our interests cannot be ignored. We speak for 11 million of the 19 million people that live in New York State. Let that knowledge empower you when discussing local issues with your state senators and assemblymen. Let that knowledge drive your determination when speaking to the press, labor unions and state agency representatives. Let the destiny of those 11 million souls inform your actions when you return to your hometowns after this conference.
The future of NYS is in each of your hands and here’s a shared service we at NYCOM encourage you to take back to your constituents: Share our message. Be a catalyst for REAL change. Make it your personal responsibility to understand the NYCOM platform. Talk about mandate relief to everyone you can. Build coalitions with your neighboring municipalities, counties and school districts. Utilize our staff and resources, both printed and online. Follow the NYCOM example of setting political partisanship aside for the betterment of our communities. Be the leaders you had promised to be when you sought office.
I read a quote this morning by a very famous fellow named Anonymous which, I think, speaks perfectly to our situation. It said, “Put your future in good hands — your own.” I can’t think of any better advice… Just couple it with the panties.
In closing, own this: WE, the members of NYCOM, are THE force in this state to be reckoned with and we will have this our way.
Thank you again for this great honor. I look forward to working with you over the coming year.