In a festive ceremony, the new councilman for its 13th District was inaugurated in an auditorium packed with family, friends and well wishers.
Councilman Mark Gjonaj, the city’s first Albanian-American council member, had a community swearing-in ceremony at the Herbert H. Lehman Educational Campus on Sunday, January 21, with an array of community leaders and guest speakers.
These included international representatives from Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo who attended and offered messages of congratulations from their heads of state.
Gjonaj was sworn in earlier at a council function on Wednesday, January 3.
At Lehman, NY Civil Court Judge Llinet Rosado administered the oath, with his wife Roberta and two sons by his side.
The gala event gave the councilman a chance to address his constituents after his election and talk about some priorities in a speech immediately following the inauguration.
“God has been good to me and my family, this country has given me so much,” said Gjonaj, adding public service has been a humbling and rewarding experience.
The councilman, a successful real estate broker, who was elected to the assembly in 2012 in the 80th District, pledged to stand up and address issues including the rising cost of living, opioid crisis, and virtual transportation ‘deserts.’
“These and other challenges are real and serious. They require that we work together to meet them head on, but meet them we will,” said Gjonaj to the crowd. “It starts with making sure the Bronx gets its fair share.”
Gjonaj said he wanted to work for “common sense solutions” to ease traffic and make commutes easier for Bronxites, saying it is often easier for someone in Newark, NJ to commute to Wall Street than for his constituents to make the same commute.
He proposed expanding ferry service into the 13th District, putting a two percent cap on real estate tax increases and curbing “out of control” water and sewer rates.
The councilman’s remark about investing to meet the needs of transit-starved communities at a time when investments are being made in a rail system linking Brooklyn and Queens and elsewhere, drew applause, as did his commitment to affordable housing.
In a strong articulation of the what the councilman termed an ‘opioid crisis,’ Gjonaj said that in the borough overdoses now claim more lives than car accidents, suicides and gun violence combined.
“We can no longer afford to be quiet in the face of this crisis. It is an epidemic that is hitting all of us, regardless of your background, your education, your success in life,” Gjonaj said.
He proposed increasing investment in treatment programs and a crackdown on those selling illegal drugs, as well as supporting drug prevention programs.
He also informed the crowd that he’s been appointed chairman of the council’s Committee on Small Business.
The councilman concluded by saying he believes he can make sure that we leave behind a better Bronx and city for future generations.
An array of speakers, including several elected officials spoke of the councilman’s previous accomplishments in the NYS Assembly and spoke of a strong work ethic during the inauguration’s program.
Senator Jeff Klein said that he worked harder on Gjonaj’s recent campaign for the Council then on any other, except maybe his own.
Klein said that Gjonaj’s immigrant roots are something that we should be proud of, and that the councilman is someone who will get up each morning and fight for the residents of the 13th District.
Public Advocate Letitia James said that Gjonaj had shown his commitment to listening to women’s issues and to tenants needing assistance, citing specific instances of his capacity to listen to their concerns.
Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, county leader for the Bronx Democratic party, said that during the campaign Gjonaj won a “dignified victory,” and that he was someone who had the ability to represent his constituents while working with others who may hold different views.
“He is always moving and always doing, trying to find something that is going to help his constituents,” said Assemblyman Michael Benedetto of Gjonaj’s work in public life,
Benedetto added: “We are used to having exemplary representation…and Mark is going to continue that tradition.”
Crespo added that Gjonaj was a successful businessman prior to entering public service, who didn’t need to take on “the headaches of public life.”
During the ceremony, a color guard presented colors from NYPD Post 1824 and Post 2436.
Students from Renaissance High School led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the National Anthem, and Jessica Raja sang the Albanian National Anthem.
More than a dozen young people from the Rozafati Dance Group performed traditional Albanian folk dancing for the crowd.
Among the dignitaries wishing the new councilman well were Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Deputy Borough President Marricka Scott-McFadden, Councilman Andy King, Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda, former Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, Councilman Andrew Cohen, former Assemblyman Steve Kaufman, and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz.