Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd at his annual State of the City Address, Mayor Noam Bramson called on citizens to become more engaged in both local and national challenges in order to address “a moment of unprecedented progress and possibility” for the City of New Rochelle and “of unprecedented concern and division” for the United States.
On the local level, “New Rochelle is making positive strides in every direction,” said Bramson, citing the city’s lowest crime rate in 56 years, best municipal bond rating in more than 80 years, and highest local sales volume in history.
Bramson put a special focus on downtown development, declaring that “New Rochelle has the hottest emerging market in the entire Hudson Valley” and telling his audience that “if the national economy holds, then in just two or three years, you will be astounded by the changes, with more than a dozen projects moving forward.”
Bramson announced that the City’s development efforts will be augmented by a new retail recruitment strategy guided by consumer analytics, and by a renewed focus on the arts and technology, including the Interactive Digital Environments Alliance (or I.D.E.A.), which will combine performance art at our new black box theater with motion capture, virtual reality, and augmented reality technology. “By marrying arts and science, inspiration and innovation, we can build a downtown with a richer wallet and a richer soul,” said Bramson.
Turning to city-wide priorities, Bramson highlighted several environmental accomplishments, including the provision of 100% renewable electricity to residents and businesses, the installation of energy-efficient LED streetlights, the introduction of electric vehicle charging stations, and the enhancement of several local parks. “As we become more safe and prosperous,” continued Bramson, “New Rochelle is also becoming more sustainable.”
In addition to celebrating past progress, Bramson previewed several initiatives that will unfold in 2017, such as the launch of Westchester’s first bike share program and the installation of Verizon’s innovative Palo Kiosks, to increase citizen engagement and also serve as high-speed Wi-Fi hotspots. “A connected community is a strong community,” said Bramson, declaring that New Rochelle is determined “to compete for and win the jobs, the lifestyles, and the opportunities of tomorrow.”
Bramson credited New Rochelle’s “burgeoning sense of optimism and confidence” to three big choices, all of which were made on a unanimous, bipartisan basis by the City Council:
• “First, creating and adopting our downtown plan . . . a unique and innovative framework that is setting the pace for suburbs everywhere.”
• “Second, investing in our infrastructure . . . a 10-year program of capital investments totaling nearly $150 million – the largest in our history.”
• Third, relocating the City’s DPW operations center (or “City Yard”) which will enable New Rochelle to move forward with waterfront development on Echo Bay.
Because of these achievements and plans, said Bramson, “as someone who grew up here, went to school here, dragged my wife here, is raising my kids here, and who has served in municipal government for more than 20 years, I can tell you without equivocation or doubt that I am more optimistic about New Rochelle’s future at this moment than at any other time in my life.”
Turning to national policy, Bramson’s tone turned somber, as he described New Rochelle’s response to recent changes.
“When the young children of immigrants here in New Rochelle are literally reduced to tears . . . when drastic changes in health insurance threaten the medical care and financial security of thousands of our own residents . . . when a city founded by refugees fleeing religious persecution more than three hundred years ago is told to slam the door on refugees today . . . we have a responsibility to speak out,” said Bramson.
“So in case there is any doubt or fear, let it be known that in this community, all of us are valued, respected, and welcomed – whoever we are or wherever we come from,” Bramson affirmed.
Bramson spoke of duties for the municipal government, including affordable housing development and job training, while also applauding community groups that support the vulnerable, volunteer, assist immigrants, and build bridges among New Rochelle’s diverse residents.
“But, above all,” said Bramson, “this is a duty for all of us as individuals, as human beings with an equal stake in a just future . . . Let us together speak out for the marginalized, share truth and deny falsehood, and demonstrate brotherhood and sisterhood, from person to person, from home to home, from block to block, and, one day again, from sea to shining sea.”
Bramson concluded by introducing New Rochelle residents who had made exceptional contributions to the community, and all of whom are foreign-born.
• Mille Radonjic, who has been the driving force behind Amy’s Greenhouse at Barnard School and is now spearheading a volunteer effort to rebuild the greenhouse at Hudson Park. Ms. Radonjic was born in the former Yugoslavia.
• Martin & Blanca Anaya, who came to the United States as undocumented immigrants and are now U.S. citizens. Their daughter, Melanie, is this year the salutatorian at New Rochelle High School and will attend Brown University in the fall.
• Farooq Kathwari, the Chairman of Ethan Allen, named one of the 50 best CEOs in America, a leader in international relations, and a champion of human rights. Mr. Kathwari was born in Kashmir and came to the United States as a political refugee.
• Doug & Mira Webb, who are leading figures in the United National Development Program and the UN Population Fund, respectively, working on issues of global health and women’s empowerment. Mr. Webb was born in Malaysia to Irish and British parents. Mrs. Webb’s father is from Namibia and mother from Finland.
• Benjamin Ferencz, age 97, who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and is the last living prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials. Mr. Ferencz was born in Transylvania.
“These remarkable men and women – from Montenegro, from Mexico, from Kashmir and Pakistan, from Ireland, from Namibia and Finland, from Transylvania – are not visitors to New Rochelle. They are not guests in New Rochelle. They are New Rochelle. They are the best of New Rochelle. They are what makes New Rochelle great. They are what makes America great.” said Bramson.