Mayor Dawn Zimmer State of the City Speech – it’s a real humdinger
HOBOKEN STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS
Remarks of Mayor Dawn Zimmer
As Prepared for Delivery
Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
DeBaun Auditorium, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ
Welcome everyone. Thank you all for joining us tonight. I want to thank Stevens and President Farvardin so much for hosting tonight’s 2nd annual State of the City.
I am extremely pleased to announce that under Dr. Farvardin’s leadership, the partnership between Hoboken and Stevens continues to grow stronger than ever.
Most recently, we are partnering on a very exciting project that could make Hoboken the nation’s first truly “smart city.” Through this innovative program, residents would be able to have immediate access and input on the array of services that impact their daily lives.
Thank you to Dr. Ali Mostashari and all of the Stevens staff and students who are working with us on this project, along with the many other essential infrastructure projects by Stevens students.
Thank you again to all of the Stevens students whose volunteerism during Hurricane Irene helped to protect our community, students who volunteered to help beautify our City, and also those who volunteered to help with our many cultural events. Hoboken is so lucky to have the Stevens community as a part of our City.
I also want to say a huge thank you to the City Council, all those who have served and continue to serve on our many boards, and volunteers for our Community Emergency Response Team. We don’t always agree on everything but all of these individuals devote an enormous amount of time and energy to serving our City, and their contributions deserve to be recognized.
A special thank you to my directors, chiefs, and employees for your dedication to our City.
Now I must say, 2011 was one heck of a year! Together we overcame tremendous challenges. At times I feared we could be destroyed financially if the sale of the hospital failed – let alone the challenges we faced from the hurricanes, the blizzards, the shipworms that ate away at our piers, and the unexpected earthquake. I want to give a huge thank you to all of our public safety members who saw us through quite a tumultuous year.
Despite the fact that the challenges have never stopped, we not only survived, but we thrived on many fronts in 2011.
First, we were able to achieve a 10 percent municipal tax reduction, the 6th largest in the State.
Secondly, together we saved our City from financial destruction with the successful sale of Hoboken University Medical Center to the principal owners of Bayonne Medical Center. The sale was crucial for our City both because of the incredibly important role the hospital plays, and also because we had a $52 million bond backing the hospital. The hospital was bankrupt, and had the sale not been completed, we would have lost our hospital and faced a fiscal crisis on a frightening scale.
Saving our hospital consumed more of my time than I could have ever imagined, but the results demonstrate that what seems impossible can be achieved. Thank you so much to everyone who worked tirelessly to save our hospital. In particular, I’d like to thank and recognize Toni Tomarazzo, the Chair of the Hoboken Municipal Hospital Authority board and all of the Authority members. They are the heroes of Hoboken. Without your unwavering support and perseverance we could never have succeeded.
Thank you to the Hoboken Women’s Auxiliary for their tremendous support of the hospital. Over the years they raised more than $1 million dollars for the hospital.
I also want to thank Senator Kenny and Mayor Roberts who are here with us tonight – I called both of them on that exciting Friday afternoon when the sale finally went through. As I told each of them on the phone, while many, including me, questioned the wisdom of the City’s bailout of the hospital in 2007, without that bailout we would not have had a hospital to save in 2011.
Under the strong leadership of Phil Schaengold, the new CEO of HUMC, the hospital’s future is very bright. Just last week, HUMC hired a highly regarded neurosurgeon from New York University. We welcome Dr. Ramesh Babu and look forward to the highest level of care that he and all of the doctors and dedicated staff at HUMC offer to our community.
Another essential achievement of 2011: My Administration worked closely with North Hudson Sewerage Authority to finally get the Observer Highway flood pump online. This essential infrastructure is already helping to alleviate our City’s 100-year old flooding problem. Congratulations to Chairman Richard Wolff, Executive Director Fred Pocci, and the entire board of North Hudson Sewerage Authority. Thank you to John Nastasi, a Stevens professor, architect, and Hoboken resident, for working with the City and North Hudson to design the exterior of the pump.
As a Councilperson, I advocated strongly to make certain that this was the first pump to be built. The original 4-pump plan scheduled this most important pump last, meaning the Southwest, the area with the worst flooding would have had to wait in line to receive the relief it needed. This pump is important, but we are going to keep going to solve our City’s flooding problem completely. That’s why I brought in EmNet to install sensors, and now we have data before and after the pump was installed. The data the sensors have provided will save our City millions as we create affordable and effective flooding solutions.
A third important achievement this year was the transition to single stream recycling. Under the leadership of our Recycling Coordinator, David Calamoneri, we have increased our City’s recycling by more than fifty percent! Thank you to David and thank you to everyone that is actively working to recycle! Not only does this save the City money, but it is plain and simply the right thing to do and our community’s responsibility.
In addition to going green, we’ve been working to restore your faith in our City’s government. This year we passed anti-wheeling campaign finance reform, which banned the practice of circumventing our pay-to-play laws and other contribution limits by funneling contributions through third parties. Given Hoboken’s recent history, this reform is a vital step to ensure that the politics of the future do not emulate our unfortunate politics of the past.
Very soon we will be announcing that a world-class company will be coming to Hoboken, creating hundreds of jobs and spurring economic development. Last week was the grand opening of Office Depot. I went over to congratulate, welcome and ask the President of Office Depot why they decided to locate in Hoboken. He confirmed my intuition: major companies such as his recognize that Hoboken is a fantastic place to locate their business with our high quality of life and direct access to New York City.
Last year was also a tough year of evaluation and change for our Police, Fire and other departments. I know it was difficult for everyone, but through it all we were able to reach fair agreements with our Police and Fire Departments. These contracts provide our public safety personnel with the security of agreements going into the future for the first time in many, many years. Thank you to our Police and Fire Departments for protecting our community each and every day.
After years of delay, we were able to complete and open Pier C Park for our community. Thank you to everyone who was involved in developing and bringing this beautiful waterfront park to our City. It is great to see so many residents and visitors enjoying this spectacular addition to our City’s network of parks.
Last year we also added a desperately needed air conditioning and heating system to our Multi-Service center that serves our seniors. This was a long overlooked project, and I am proud that we were able to work together to get this crucial infrastructure upgrade completed.
Parking is always a difficult issue in Hoboken. No matter what we do we won’t have enough supply to meet the demand. However, we need to continue to do everything we can to alleviate the problem. We must make it easier to get around Hoboken with and without a car.
Some headway we have made includes new multi-meters that have added an estimated 150 additional parking spaces and made parking easier now that you do not need to search your pockets for quarters. It has also made our parking meters impossible to steal from, something that we now know was occurring not so long ago.
Corner Cars has been an unambiguous, unbelievable success. Over 2,000 Hoboken residents have taken advantage of this program, and 99 people have surrendered their permits. This program has made it far easier to live in Hoboken without a car. It has without question, made more parking available. Is it a solution by itself? Of course not, but has it helped? Absolutely, without question, and that is why five major cities are looking to Hoboken as a model for car-sharing and part of the reason we received a Sustainable Jersey award this year.
We worked with the business community to provide new discounted parking in our municipal garages. Over 300 businesses have partnered with us, leaving more space for valued customers to park on the street.
An additional 200 cars are off the street thanks to the new “Monthly Limited” parking option – a discounted rate for resident commuters who don’t need to park in the garage during the day.
Last year we also implemented a three-route Hop transportation system, which has had 120,000 passengers since its launch, and is filled to capacity during peak commuter periods. We are looking to update the fleet with modern buses and working on partnering with the business community to expand Hop service on the weekends and evenings this year. After all, we’ve got great shopping here in Hoboken, and we want to make it as easy as possible for you to shop local and enjoy everything that our City has to offer.
Most recently we worked with Councilman Cunningham and our public safety officials to pass legislation that will allow parking close to some curbs, bringing 850 new parking spaces to the City without compromising on pedestrian safety.
Hoboken is also becoming more bike-friendly every year. We doubled the number of bike racks near the PATH, installed our first bike repair station, and passed a plan for ten miles of new bike lanes, which we’ll be striping in the year ahead.
As a result of our many pedestrian safety measures, pedestrian-car collisions are down nearly 30 percent since I took office. Bicycle-car collisions are down by more than 60 percent.
This year we want to work with the community to create a parking master plan, and we look forward to hearing all your ideas on this very important issue.
In addition to all that we have achieved in 2011, we’ve also got a tremendous number of important projects that we will complete this year.
This week our Chinese community is celebrating the New Year – the Year of the Dragon. I believe in Hoboken, 2012 will be known as the Year of Parks. We will be opening a new park in North Hoboken, currently known as 1600 Park and Hoboken Cove. The plans are being finalized now, and this long awaited park will be a fantastic addition to our community.
We finally have the approvals we need, and Frank Sinatra Park and Castle Point will be reopened in 2012. We will be bidding out Frank Sinatra Cafe to transform it and make it a go-to destination for our residents and visitors.
We have a contractor in place to upgrade the playgrounds at Jackson Street Park, Jefferson Park, and Legion Park on Willow Avenue. At Stevens Park, we’re looking to resurface the little league field, upgrade the playground, and install an indoor batting cage. Church Square Park, Mamma Johnson Field, and all our dog runs will all be upgraded this year.
Thank you to all the community members who have helped to make this happen, and particularly thanks to the moms from Project Play and the Hoboken Family Alliance who raised $50,000 for the renovation of Church Square Park.
Many of you know that I started my political career fighting for a park in Southwest Hoboken where I live. So I am particularly happy that in 2012 we will be making a down payment on that Southwest Park by acquiring a substantial piece of property using a $3 million county grant and a portion of the $20 million park bond approved by the City Council.
As you know, the most important role of government is maintaining the public safety. This is something that must be focused on each and every day and can never be characterized as something which has been fully achieved.
The total crime rate in Hoboken declined once again in 2011. Since I took office in 2009, total crime is down by 16 percent. Crime is now at its lowest in a generation, and I want to congratulate Chief Falco and thank the hard work of the members of the Hoboken Police Department.
But we’re ever mindful that decreasing crime is not good enough. As long as there is any crime, we still have hard work to do.
It is never possible for our law enforcement officers to be everywhere at all times. But as we all know, quality of life offenses are most common during late night hours on weekends and in places where large numbers of people tend to congregate.
In response to this, Police Chief Falco has reassigned and redeployed his personnel in more close alignment with the time and days of these offenses. We will also be adding more eyes on the streets with Class II officers during peak activity hours on weekends and events.
Maintaining the public safety sometimes involves making difficult choices. Unfortunately the public safety problems that have arisen in connection with the events surrounding Hoboken’s St. Patrick’s Day in recent years have resulted in the City’s decision that the parade would have to be held on a weekday, and the parade committee’s decision to cancel the parade all together.
The loss of the parade is a loss for Hoboken, but at the end of the day, the safety and quality of life of our residents is more important than scheduling a parade on a particular day. Even with the parade cancelled, our public safety department will be fully mobilized. Our zero tolerance policy will be in full effect, and this year disorderly people will not merely be ticketed, but when appropriate will be arrested and detained immediately.
The City is also moving ahead with planning an event that honors Hoboken’s Irish heritage.
We’ve talked about the past, and now it is time to look to the future of Hoboken.
Hoboken has great public transportation. Thousands of Hobokenites and other commuters take the PATH train or the ferry every day. We have more residents per capita using public transportation than any other City in the country. But if our City is to grow in a sustainable way, we need more public transportation.
As some of you may have heard, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed extending New York’s Number 7 train into New Jersey, most likely with a direct stop in Secaucus.
I have strongly advocated, both with Governor Christie and Mayor Bloomberg’s staff, for a Number 7 train stop in north Hoboken. South Hoboken has both the PATH and the beautiful new ferry terminal, and a stop there is extremely unlikely due to the enormous cost of extending the tunnel in that direction.
A north Hoboken stop would be more cost effective and better for Hoboken. It could be combined with a proposed light rail stop to make it an even stronger transportation connection.
I have had productive discussions with Governor Christie and Mayor Bloomberg’s staff, and I am fully committed to doing everything I can to make this a reality for our City.
In addition to improving our transportation infrastructure, we are working to improve our communications infrastructure to make our City government more effective and user friendly. For example, starting this month, you can now get your parking permits online.
We are also launching an online service request system so residents can report and get updates on everything from pot holes to graffiti to flooding. In addition to a one-stop informational website, we will also be launching an iPhone app to let you report problems from wherever you are. And we look forward to launching a 311 call center to support this system once the rewiring of City Hall is completed.
We also recently added a Reverse 911 system so we can reach Hoboken residents during emergencies such as snow storms and hurricanes.
Finally, perhaps the most important issue pertaining to Hoboken’s future is the question of development. Unlike many other places, we do not need new development to “transform our City” into something new and better. Our City is already a great City and developers are privileged to have the opportunity to build here. My Administration will always do everything it can to ensure that new development is done in a way that does not put unacceptable additional strain on our infrastructure or transform our City from the one we love into somebody else’s development dream.
New development can bring and has brought important benefits to our community. For example, my Administration worked closely to ensure that the artists’ community in the Monroe Center was protected through a bankruptcy process and sale to a new owner. Many of us would not live here without the development that has occurred over the past 20 years. However, Hoboken today has more choices and more leverage than we did 20 years ago, and we need to use that leverage and make our choices wisely to protect the character of our community.
We also have to make sure that the commitments that are made to our City and its residents, when development is approved, are real commitments that will be kept.
Currently, there are applications for approvals pending for a developer to build two eleven story buildings on a pier where that same developer had promised to build tennis courts as a condition of a prior approval.
I have recused myself from the Planning Board process because I do not want to create any confusion between the independent role of the Planning Board and my responsibility to protect the interests of Hoboken residents as mayor.
My Administration will continue to fully use the power of its office and exercise all of the legal tools available to ensure that this developers’ commitment and all other commitments, past, present, and future, made to the people of Hoboken, are kept. That is why, without hesitation, we are appealing the DEP’s approval of this pier project in north Hoboken.
This speech is about the State of our City, but I want to say a few words about the State of our State. Over the last two years, Governor Christie, working in a bipartisan way with many Democrats, has accomplished some important things that will go a long way to help stabilize the finances of our City. When I have agreed with the Governor, as I did with the 2 percent tax cap, and pension and healthcare reform, I have not hesitated to make my voice heard.
When I do not agree, it is my responsibility to voice my views.
While I applaud Governor Christie for nominating the first openly gay judge to the state Supreme Court, I strongly urge him to change his mind and sign the Marriage Equality Act when it is passed by the legislature. It is simply the right thing to do.
Now I’ve done a lot of talking tonight about government, but the true strength of our City lies not in the halls of government but in its people, a wonderful generous community. Whether it was volunteering during emergencies, helping neighbors pump out a basement after Hurricane Irene, or fundraising for the victims of a fire, our community is the foundation upon which our great City flourishes.
I want to thank all of you, and all of our residents for the important work that you do. I urge you to stay involved in our community.
Join our Community Emergency Response Team, adopt a park, join the PTSO, volunteer at the homeless shelter, volunteer for a board, organize around an issue that you care about, participate in a neighborhood cleanup, tutor a student at the Jubilee Center, participate in community meetings, and most importantly, be informed about what is happening in our town.
With your help, Hoboken will always thrive as a community that we are proud to call our home.