I cherished a family filled holiday season to wrap up a very challenging year. Electoral success doesn’t wipe out a year of stress, but by the end of a New Year’s Day filled with the inauguration ceremony, OFD swearing in, and hours of celebrating with friends, family and supporters, I’m feeling exhilarated. (Do you recognize those curls? I asked Ossining Town Supervisor Dana Levenberg to administer the oath of office.) Copied below is my inauguration speech. Click here to view inauguration ceremony, queued up at the start of my speech.
“Start your day with optimism, end your day with forgiveness, and love will always be in your heart.”
These words of wisdom are from Gramma Judy. Last week this is how she closed her speech to a full room of family and friends who had gathered to celebrate her 97th birthday. Few people reach this age. Fewer still grow wiser and kinder each day, and maintain the ability to enjoy and share that wisdom. In a moment when so many of us sometimes lose our sense of optimism, and forget the importance of forgiveness—this advice is well taken.
Thankfully, Ossining has much to be optimistic about.
One thing this most recent election accomplished was clarity of vision for the village—voters in every election district want a village government guided by an engaged community and informed by experts.
In 2019, the Village of Ossining will build on our strengths as a diverse and historic Hudson River village, with a burgeoning entrepreneurial community. We have a strong foundation of knowledge from recent studies, as well as the expertise on staff, and the political will in elected office, to establish and implement a clear roadmap for the future of our village.
One of those studies was the Housing Needs Assessment that we undertook in 2017. It’s time to return to this list of recommendations, and to follow it, in order, as it was designed to serve us best. The recommendations include:
increasing leadership on economic development;
proactive building code enforcement;
expanding opportunities for mixed-use mixed-income development;
a more progressive affordable housing policy;
updating the comprehensive plan; and
improving transit options.
This is a holistic approach to addressing the greatest challenges we must overcome in our quest for a thriving community. (Click here to read the full report of recommendations from the Housing Needs Assessment.)
I am now entering my third term as mayor. With each term I have implemented new initiatives to improve connections between local government and residents. In my first term, I created Open Office Hours, and kept cameras rolling for public comments. With this most recent term, I began the Monday Mayor’s Message and embarked on a journey of Weekly Walks to explore every block of the village. (To sign up to receive the Monday Mayor’s Message each week, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.)
These efforts have established a more open and transparent government than has ever existed in our village. But these initiatives aren’t good enough. The people I am connecting with too often look too much like me.
Sometimes anger and divisiveness can be a reason for optimism… In this moment when our nation is more polarized than ever with a president who foments xenophobia, racism and isolationism, people are motivated to engage with their community in ways they never have. Right here in Ossining, this recent election shined a light on groups of people who feel underserved and disenfranchised. A goal for any municipal government should be to help its residents attain an equitable quality of life. That can only be accomplished if we find a way to bring everyone to the table, especially those who have not traditionally felt welcomed and included.
For years I have been told by experts, and colleagues, and even friends that it’s simply an unfortunate reality that the people who are going to engage with local government are going to be whiter, wealthier and older than most of the residents of our community. Every time we seek community involvement, we in government make a sincere effort to reach out in innovative ways to groups throughout the community. Time and again we make only marginal improvements. And that is not good enough.
Now is the time to try a new approach. I am proposing to my colleagues on the Village Board that we establish a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. Fortunately, we would not be the first community to undertake this kind of initiative. This week I will be sharing with village trustees examples of approaches taken in other communities. Once we have a clear goal for what we are asking of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, we will turn to you, the community and ask for you to help us become a genuinely inclusive community so that we can celebrate our diversity and experience an equitable quality of life throughout Ossining.
Ossining has many reasons to be optimistic. We are in a moment when people are investing in our community. We have leadership in the village, town, and schools that all want to work together to balance our challenges and goals. We have a clear set of recommendations to set us on our path to a thriving community for all.
The Comprehensive Plan is a major component of this undertaking. It is multi-year task that will demand significant resources from village staff and elected officials. And it all starts with you. The Village is creating a Comprehensive Plan Committee to be comprised of community members with a diversity of skills, cultures and life experiences. This Committee will work to establish the vision of who Ossining wants to be in the next 5, 10 and 20 years.
So tell me, are we all feeling optimistic? YES, and with good reason.
So, now it’s time to seek and offer forgiveness. And that begins with expressing gratitude. When you take a moment to be grateful for all of the people in your life, forgiveness comes easily.
I will begin by expressing deep gratitude to my husband and sons for supporting my reelection campaign. Four years ago we had no real idea of what to expect. We went into this campaign with our eyes open—and I think we are a little less battered this time around. During this wild year Eric opened a brewery. And Paxton and Levon learned to make their own dinner and put themselves to bed. I can’t say anything further or I’ll start crying. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for their support.
Any time I run for office in Ossining there is one very important person to have on my side, our Democratic Chairwoman Thomasina Laidley-Brown. Madam Chairwoman, thank you for believing in me. You’re a woman who likes to win. For some folks that means always playing it safe. You took a chance on me four years ago, and here we are celebrating victory again.
I’d like to thank every district leader who endorsed me, every volunteer who knocked on doors, wrote letters, called voters, wrote a check, engaged in sometimes uncomfortable conversations with friends, and ultimately all those who voted.
At the core of those volunteers was a campaign team I could not have predicted, and can never thank enough. I can only hope to be judged by the company I keep. Thank you Jen Benson, Lisa Chang, Matt Curtin, Eric Gearity, Julie Johnson, Ro Moran, Christina Picciano, Suzie Ross, Dana White, and Ben Zebelman for tirelessly sharing your talents, intelligence and dedication to make the campaign a success.
As my village and town board colleagues can attest, serving in local elected office is profoundly rewarding. We know the people we are serving. We see the results of our work, and how the programs that we have fought for have improved the lives of our neighbors. In fact, all of us here today are walking on a new gym floor and lit by new LED lighting—projects that we spent hours discussing the best way to fund and implement. I am grateful to serve the people of Ossining with so many impressive elected officials in village, town, county and state government—many of whom are here today. And I am grateful to serve in village government with so many dedicated and talented employees who make this village tick year after year, regardless of who is in elected office.
And finally, I am grateful to the people of Ossining. Those who voted for me, those who voted for my opponent, those who couldn’t vote but encouraged others to. Thank you to everyone who has visited me during Open Office Hours or sent an email. Thank you to everyone who has spoken at a public meeting or responded to a survey. Special thank you to all the volunteers who serve the village in the fire department, the auxiliary police, and all of the appointed boards and committees. It takes a village to make a village run.
I will close with a final word on optimism as a way of introducing the upcoming musical selection. When Louis Armstrong recorded What a Wonderful World in the 60s he was asked what he meant by “a wonderful world” given all the wars, hunger, and pollution. Mr. Armstrong replied,
“It seems to me it ain’t the world that is so bad, but what we’re doing to it. And all I’m saying is what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.”
Ossining, thank you for giving me a chance to serve another term as your mayor. Together we are accomplishing wonderful things.
Please join me in welcoming Christina Picciano performing What a Wonderful World.