The fight for a “greener” borough, better living wages, economic development and elimination of PCBs in schools are only a few issues the borough president plans to tackle in 2011.
Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. made the second state of the borough speech of his term at Dewitt Clinton High School on Thursday, February 24, and spoke for over an hour, highlighting both his office’s accomplishments over the past year, such as parks reconstruction and gun confiscations and also addressing his plans for the coming year.
The theme of the speech was “One Bronx,” or “Un Solo Bronx”, a message that emphasized Bronxites working together for a common goal of jobs, safety and a better environment.
Diaz first focused on the city-wide “Living Wage” legislation that he is championing and feels must go hand-in-hand with the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory and any other government-subsidized development.
Diaz also wants to require certain businesses to pay wages above the national minimum wage, an idea that has been criticized for potentially scaring away employers, and the Bloomberg administration has not supported.
“Fiscal conservatives should join me in support of this legislation,” Diaz said, citing a UMass study of cities that had passed similar laws. “Wage standards reduce reliance on food stamps, welfare and other government assistance.”
Diaz addressed the Bronx’s poverty rate at 28.5 percent, the highest of any urban county in the country, and said he hoped to address the issue through the living wage act by protecting existing retail on Fordham Road and by attracting a high-end hotel that would keep out-of-town tourists in the borough when they attend events at Yankee Stadium.
Education was also a focal point of the speech and Diaz touted the $12 million in funding he secured for Bronx schools’ physical improvements, saying that the Bronx was lagging behind the rest of the nation in its state assessment tests and that test score inflation has been an issue in local schools.
He also announced the convening of an “education summit,” in the Bronx that is going to be held in the Bronx this fall, with guests joining from across the nation.
“Through this summit we will develop strong new ideas on curriculum, on overcrowding and on expanding charter schools,” said Diaz, who pledged to support the public schools of the borough. “We will put forward new ideas to make sure that all students are being served by our public school system.”
PCBs, a chemical that was banned for building construction in 1979 by U.S. Congress, has been found in high amounts in schools in the Bronx and Diaz has made the elimination of these chemicals a high priority of his.
According to Diaz, the Bloomberg administration has pledged $700 million to remove the PCBs from 800 schools over the next decade, but he criticized the plan for not addressing the issue fast enough.
“We need a faster response, the health of our children is at stake,” Diaz said. “My hope is that our schools can one day be measured not only by using test scores, but also by the health and physical fitness of their students.
Diaz also cited Pelham Parkway, Van Nest Park, Belden Point and Rocks & Roots Park in Highbridge as green areas he is working to either preserve or improve, and also mentioned one national issue: the recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
“I am happy to report that many members of the borough’s LGBT community including my niece, are planning to re-enlist in the military thanks to this courageous act,” Diaz said.