by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
“The way we do things is to begin” is a quote attributed to “Go West” Horace Greeley, the 19th-century publisher of the New York Tribune whose statue by John Quincy Adams Ward adorns City Hall Park, across the street from where the Tribune was published. The base of the statue is by AIA co-founder Richard Morris Hunt. Until 1941, another City Hall Park statue called “Civic Virtue,” by Frederick William MacMonnies, attracted more attention and controversy; it was sent to Queens by Mayor LaGuardia and now finds its home in Green-Wood Cemetery, where Greeley is also buried. Horace Greeley was a phrasemaker, social activist, vegetarian, anti-slavery progressive Republican, and, amazingly, the Democratic Party’s candidate for president in 1872. His frozen gaze was directed toward the steps of City Hall on New Year’s Day for the first inauguration of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Despite the cold temperature, spirits were high and the rhetoric flowed freely. The juxtaposition of the 1812 City Hall by architect Joseph François Mangin and the encircling towers by McKim Mead & White, Cass Gilbert, and Frank Gehry gave context to a series of short speeches that were about New York’s character, aspirations, and future. Here are some excerpts that resonated with architects, New Yorkers, and what, in the Clinton Administration, were called Friends of Bill.
Ramya Ramana, NYC Youth Poet Laureate:
“This we call tough skin, thick-boned. This is New York…This city always will be the foundation of this country.”
Hon. Scott Stringer, Comptroller
“We can educate every child with the skills needed to compete in the 21st-century economy. And yes, we can shelter every family in safe, affordable homes… There’s a reason why E.B. White once called New York ‘A visible symbol of aspiration.’… And just as America has historically looked to New York for inspiration, so the country once again turns its eyes toward us today, to this city, to our people, for a blueprint of a thriving, hopeful future, to a city that puts people above politics.”
Hon. Letitia James, Public Advocate
“I never expected to be a city-wide elected official or to make history as the first woman of color to hold city-wide office. …Elections are never the culmination of creating change, but simply a first step. New Yorkers should judge their government by whether we make improvements in the education system our children rely on, whether we improve healthcare access for our patients, whether we help create jobs that pay more than the minimum wage, whether we make our city one that is safer even as we respect the civil rights of all New Yorkers, and whether we focus more on building sports arenas or affordable housing.”
Hon. Bill Clinton, 42nd U.S. President
“I strongly endorse Bill de Blasio’s core campaign commitment that we have to have a city of shared opportunities, shared prosperity, shared responsibilities….“I also want to thank Mayor Bloomberg who has committed so much of his life to this city. He leaves the city stronger and healthier than he found it.”
Hon. Bill de Blasio, Mayor
“Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg. To say the least, you led our city through some extremely difficult times. And for that, we are all grateful. Your passion on issues such as environmental protection and public health has built a noble legacy. We pledge today to continue that great progress you made in these critically important areas. Thank you, Mayor Bloomberg.
“We need a dramatic new approach – rebuilding our communities from the bottom up, from the neighborhoods up. And just like before, the world will watch as we succeed. All along the way, we will remember what makes New York, New York. A city that fights injustice and inequality – not just because it honors our values, but because it strengthens our people. A city of five boroughs – all created equal.Black, white, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, old, young, rich, middle class, and poor. A city that remembers our responsibility to each other – our common cause – is to leave no New Yorker behind. That’s the city that you and I believe in.”
While people were waiting for the ceremony to start, one of the songs played by DJ M.O.S. (also known as Masud Semple) was the Talking Heads classic Once in a Lifetime, which contains, among other notable rhetorical questions, the line: “You may ask yourself, how do I work this?” The challenge of the de Blasio Administration will be to continue the positive initiatives of Mayor Bloomberg and his team of deputy mayors and commissioners, while delivering on the new ideas enunciated during the election that garnered a record-setting voter mandate. Certainly this inauguration was not the same as it ever was.