Thank you, Muhtar, for your very kind introduction. You are an exemplar of business excellence, civic leadership and a friend to all citizens of Atlanta and of the world. I would also like to thank my friend Phil Kent and Turner Broadcasting, Inc. for the irreplaceable leadership that you give on a number of initiatives which make our city better.
I appreciate the partnership the City and Coca-Cola has forged over these so many years, and the efforts you have made personally to make this State of the City Breakfast possible. It is an outstanding annual event, and I look forward to returning next year to report the tremendous progress we have made to make the City of Atlanta, safer, financially sound, environmentally conscious, and a place of opportunity for its children, workforce and businesses.
To City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, the distinguished members of the Atlanta City Council, Chief Judge Deborah Greene and the members of the City’s judiciary, other elected officials and honored guests - - to you - - I say welcome. I thank you all for being here today. It is always a great occasion when our community’s leading lights can convene in solidarity and support of the common tie which binds us all - - the City of Atlanta. The future of which is quite literally in our hands.
I understand that the nature of this forum calls upon the Mayor to essentially “characterize” the overall condition in which the City finds itself - - to share an informed assessment of the strength of its institutions and collective will - - and, finding any room for improvement, to lay out a plan of action which leads us to a resurgent path.
100 days as Mayor is but a brief period; however, it has afforded me more than enough time to share the very distinct impressions I have gained since taking the oath of office.
All things considered, an appropriate mantra at the outset of my administration would be to simply, yet accurately say, “This is a time for strength.”
We are all in this together. Be you from the business or faith community, representing an educational or government institution, we must repair the breach that has resulted from the shifting economic tides.
Certainly there are loftier and more philosophical benchmarks that could be offered; but now is not the time for abstractions. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves, stand shoulder to shoulder and do the hard work, under austere conditions, that it will take to get our City off its knees and standing tall once again.
Are there more exciting roles to play in history? Certainly. Are there any - - more lasting in their significance or admirable in their success? Absolutely not.
History always remembers those principled individuals who turn into the adverse winds and forge ahead, undeterred.
In a recent article by Financial Times contributor John Kay, he drew an insightful distinction between leaders who demonstrate political courage, speaking hard truths to the people and acting decisively on their behalf in order to achieve a greater good - - and those with their finger to the wind, ill-suited for the inevitable challenges of public office.
He contends, and I agree, that Winston Churchill was one of the most admired political figures of the 20th century. Not because Churchill gave the public what they said they wanted - - for example, his call for blood, toil, sweat and tears was far from political pandering. Instead, we remember the leader because he gave the people what they really wanted, which was genuine leadership in a time of crisis.
Kay then draws contrast, saying that Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlin was roundly vilified because in giving the public what it said it wanted and avoiding confrontation, he failed to provide the real leadership his people needed.
On this point, Atlanta’s history is instructive. Mayor Ivan Allen turned into the tide when he was one of the few major Southern elected officials who testified in favor of the Civil Rights Act. A decision that almost surely ended his political career beyond the office of mayor. Mayor Sam Massell made the decision that Atlanta would be the center of commerce in the Southeast at a time when the Hyatt Regency was on its way to being the tallest building in the city. Look outside of the window now. Ambassador Andrew Young said Atlanta was going to be an international city and was pilloried for traveling to the world’s foreign capital in search of investment for Atlanta. When he was done, Atlanta had captured the Olympics in 1996 and he left a legacy of $80 billion in investment to the City and the region. Mayor Maynard Jackson charted a path of inclusion for women and minority owned-businesses that made Atlanta the center of African-American entrepreneurship in the United States. The reward for his courage was an environment in the City that was so difficult that his first job after being mayor of Atlanta was in Chicago. But on Tuesday of this week we had the topping off ceremony for the international terminal named in his honor. I know with complete certainty that when Mayor Franklin sought the office in 2000, that she did not know that she would be faced with the challenge of finding $3.2 billion to fund a complete overhaul of the water and sewer system of the City of Atlanta or risk of having to turn the City’s water system over the federal government and place it in receivership. The decision to do the hard thing resulted in $18 billion in economic development that was able to move forward because she did not turn away.
Atlanta, we have been given a similar test in our time - - and I am absolutely certain we will prove more than equal to it.
So where are we now? As you know, our nation and our city finds itself in the midst of very challenging economic times - - the breadth of which has not been experienced in many generations. Our citizens wrestle with genuine fear and uncertainty about their futures, as those with jobs face the risk of losing them as businesses have been forced to tighten their belts - - and those in search of jobs face an uphill struggle right now . Times are tight and many Atlantans lives reflect that. Yet, they are not alone. Government is in many ways the aggregate of these individual experiences. We too are facing sobering financial realities and, like those we serve, are equally compelled to do much more with far less.
Fortunately, the first, small, discernable signs of a national and regional recovery are emerging. Key sectors of Atlanta’s economy are regaining a pulse. As that pulse quickens, new businesses, new jobs and many new possibilities for capital will present themselves. But the degree and scope of this promising trend is all contingent on the groundwork we lay today.
Accordingly, 2010 is a vital year. The course of action we take over the next twelve months will have far-reaching implications on how the next decade will unfold in the city of Atlanta. Will we fall behind the times through imprudence and inaction? - - or will we rise to the occasion and reconstruct the foundation on which we stand - - and on which Atlanta has been built
As I promised during my campaign, I embrace the responsibility of leadership in tough times with all that I have. . I was aware of our city’s challenges when I announced my intent to hold this office - - and 100 days in, I am no less confident that the talented team of women and men we have assembled in my administration, and the committed members of the Atlanta City Council and the Atlanta judiciary can rectify it.
Since taking office, my administration has been out front in this transformational effort - - leading by example in the following ways:
The foundation of my campaign was built on my promise to bring down crime in this city. The foundation of my administration is being built on the fulfillment of that promise.
Thus far, we have hired 103 new police officers.
Crime between January and April 2010 is down 19% over the same period in 2009.
Violent crime between January and April 2010 is down 21% over the same period in 2009.
Average time to answer 911 calls between January and April 2010 has dropped from 16 seconds to 9 seconds. This is a decrease from over 60 seconds in September 2009.
Despite the progress we have made, we must remember that behind each crime statistic, there is a person who has been impacted in ways that hurt our sense of community. That is why in the 2011 budget, I will ask the Atlanta City Council to appropriate funds to hire an additional 100 police officers and for higher pay for our officers so that they can afford to live in the city they have sworn to protect.
In the area of public works, the percentage of garbage, recycling and yard trimmings collections being performed on the scheduled day has risen from 85% in January 2010 to over 99% in March 2010, coming even closer to the 100% target.
Before the end of May, we will receive the report from our pension review panel led by John Mellott. Upon receipt of that report, we must take every step which is within the power of the City of Atlanta’s government to reduce the rapidly expanding pension obligation. An obligation which has grown between and 9 and 14% every year for the last 6 years - - and now 1 out of every 5 dollars of the city’s general fund budget goes the meet this debt. This risk jeopardizes the financial solvency of our city and must be addressed through responsible action right now.
Another issue which is very close to my heart is the Centers of Hope initiative. I believe that we must invest our children’s future and prepare them for a better tomorrow. Therefore, next week I will appoint an Advisory Panel to develop recommendations on how to best realize the vision for Atlanta’s Centers of Hope. Members on this panel come from leaders in our city’s youth development community, as well as from corporate and philanthropic interests with a desire to see our young people achieve excellence. The community response to this empowering program has been tremendous - - and really demonstrates the inspiring spirit for which our city is known.
We will build the Atlanta beltline.
We will build the Civil and Human Rights Museum.
We must stand shoulder to shoulder with the Woodruff Arts Center and do everything Atlanta can to ensure their new performance art center is built - - because great cities have great art.
I have said that I plan to wholeheartedly support our downtown businesses and bring conventions back to the City. Therefore, today, I am recommending that we start over and draft a panhandling ordinance that works. What we have now does not stop professional begging and it doesn’t help people who are genuinely in need of services. The facts are in the figures. From 2005-2008, there have been no arrests under the current panhandling law. Let me repeat: ZERO arrests. We need a law that protects our residents and visitors from those who would take advantage of their kindness by aggressively soliciting money for a living. A law with unenforceable provisions doesn’t help anyone, not our residents, not our visitors, not our business, and not those who are trying to rebuild their lives.
In proudly sharing a few of the achievements of my first hundred days in office, I am by no means cutting down the nets before the championship is won. I know there are many major contests yet to come, and candidly I welcome them and I am deeply humbled by all that remains to be done in order to get this city back where I know it can be.
I recently read about how the famed attorney William Kunstler kept a reproduction of Michaelango’s staute of David on his desk. It is unique because it is the only important artistic work of David before he throws the stone to commence the battle with Goliath. The timeless work of art sat there as an admonition against weakness when facing trials some thought unwinnable.
Kunstler pondered the lesson inherent in the pose and thought, “David is standing there thinking . . . Do I dare? Do I dare? He is standing there thinking, if I throw the rock and I miss . . . I am one dead Israelite. If I just wound him, I am in the same position. But if I strike him and defeat him, I have done a great deal for myself and more importantly, for my people.”
David reflects that moment of hesitation that each of us faces before we dare to do something great, something special or unique. Moments when we place ourselves in jeopardy. However, if we lack the will to act on this thought and we just allow it to remain a faint inkling in our minds or in our hearts - - none will be the wiser. No one will know. But there is more often than not, a huge price to be paid in such a personal failing. Each of us must decide whether we will live with the memory that your moment came and went and you did not respond.
Atlanta faces such a moment. Right here, right now. But I know that we are all prepared to dare, to act boldly and do what needs to be done at this critical moment in our history - - to make the hard choices. So to you Atlanta, I ask - - do we dare - - do we dare?
After 100 days in office I stand here certain of one thing, I ran for Mayor not because I wanted to hold the office, but because of the good that could be done with it.
So to you I say - - let’s go! Let’s be great. I know we can. Come with me.
Thank you. God bless you all and God bless the City of Atlanta.