Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. delivered his seventh annual ‘State of the Borough’ speech on Thursday, February 18.
In the hopeful address he announced that $10 million of his capital budget would go to renovating the Orchard Beach Pavilion, goals for the Bronx to become “the next Silicon Valley”, and hinted at a possible run for mayor.
As he spoke to an audience laden with movers and shakers, Diaz expressed his love and appreciation for the borough.
He began the annual speech by listing areas that have seen intense progress in the past year; millions of new funding into business projects, 23,000 new units of housing, an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent.
“Our workforce participation rate has never been higher,” Diaz boasted.
The borough president stressed the importance of the growing tech industry in the borough, pointing to software testing firm Doran Jones, which opened in September, and the Code/Bronx initiative which began in December, which aims to bring a computer science program to every Bronx school.
Diaz committed to authoring a tech report in 2016 which will “guide the expansion of the industry”.
He brought to light many new proposals, the most remarkable economic pledge being the funds dedicated to the Orchard Beach Pavilion.
Diaz made it clear that he hopes to bring the structure back to it’s glory days, complete with performance and events, making it a must-see tourist attraction, and the economic engine that it once was.
He announced a $10 million down payment for the rebuild, and explained that colleagues would be joining him in the endeavor, although he did not name them.
“This proposal is ambitious,” said Diaz, “But when have we ever lacked ambition?”
He also committed to developing a plan in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Protection that would grant permanent access to the Jerome Park Reservoir.
He also pledged to create a bike lane on the Grand Concourse.
The leader’s wink at a mayoral run came after criticizing the educational system of the state.
“The mayor and the governor are correct to call for an extension of mayoral control…that accountability should be available to this mayor and all future mayors…whoever that may be,” said Diaz, to laughter, applause and cheers from the audience.
The borough president continued his assessment of education, and called for the city to absorb the cost of remedial classes taken at CUNY by a high percentage of public school graduates.
“We cannot give diplomas to unprepared students and pass along the costs to them,” said Diaz with conviction, “The city should take responsibility.”
Diaz spoke at length about the homeless shelter system, and presented a strong message to those who oppose homeless shelters being built in their neighborhoods, in the wake of what is being called a ‘homeless epidemic’ citywide.
“Nearly 40 percent [of the homeless population] are children,” said Diaz, “This is the face of homelessness.. NIMBYism must give way to compassion.”
“There was a time when developers turned away from us. That is changing,” said Diaz, “We are leading the way in job creation… all of this is happening because of all of you…the friends family and neighbors that make up the fabric of the Bronx.”
More photos of the State of the Borough are on page 38.