We meet this evening to welcome a new friend who happens to run one of the greatest cities in the world. I would say the greatest, but, Mr. Mayor, as a fellow Red Sox fan, you understand why I find that impossible.
Mr. Mayor, it is a supreme honor for me to introduce you to ambassadors to the United Nations and the senior brass who run the organization – the many dedicated public servants who fight every day here to promote the interests of their people back home. I wish I could say that hosting this event was my bright idea, but it was an act of self-determination by the countries of the UN. Believe it or not, many UN ambassadors approached me unbidden, completely intrigued and inspired by your message, asking if there was some way they could meet the man who runs the city that hosts the world’s most important international body. So here we are.
I want to say a word about the “cool factor” tonight. We have some pretty amazing people here this evening – Ambassadors from all around the world, leaders in media, and non-profit innovators. But with respect, Mr. Mayor, nobody in this room has anything on the new First Lady of this great city. While diplomats in this room were editing cables, or writing legalistic UN resolutions, Chirlane was performing spoken word poetry and writing groundbreaking prose. She is a progressive writer, an accomplished strategist, and a fierce activist on behalf of those who need champions with loud, strong, and clear voices. We are lucky to have her as a champion of our city and our values, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the First Lady of the City of New York to the United Nations.
Before saying a few words about the Mayor, I would like to convey to the Mayor that all of us gathered here tonight – no matter how far away anybody here comes from – are as one in our grief because of yesterday morning’s terrible explosion in East Harlem. Our thoughts are with you, Mr. Mayor, as you seek to comfort the loved ones of those who died or who have been injured or who are missing and who have a claim on all our prayers tonight. As you said yesterday, this was a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no warning, no chance to intervene and save the people who were in those buildings. It is devastating, and we are grateful you are where you are in helping New Yorkers grapple in this time of pain.
The responsibility of governing a city, like the responsibility of helping to manage world affairs, is not for the faint-hearted. Both demand the ability to cope effectively with unforeseen events. And the mayor has drawn a short straw even with the gods – with eight snow storms since he took office, including five major ones. Both require the capacity to articulate strongly-held views even in the face of energetic opposition. And both call upon us to demonstrate each day a willingness to listen. I have been in my job just over seven months, and I have come to say that the two most under-rated qualities in diplomacy – but also in geopolitics – are seeing and listening. Seeing what lies beneath the surface – the potential in a child who just needs an opportunity, the suffering behind the headlines that often capture only statistics.
And by listening, I don’t mean just to the loudest, most prominent, and best known. No special talent is required to hear the voices that are most accustomed to being heard and heeded. A mayor’s duty, and that of a true leader in any field, is to listen also to the other voices – those that are often made less audible by poverty, age, discrimination, disability, or differences of ethnicity and tongue.
It is in this dimension of leadership – leadership on behalf of all New Yorkers – that Mayor de Blasio excels, bringing to City Hall a commitment to inclusiveness and, above all, to the old fashioned idea of dignity – the inherent dignity of every person living in this great city. .
Mayor de Blasio has offered a vision for this city in which people will be measured by the actions they take, the good that they do, and, again, the dignity that is their inherent right.
At the risk of being presumptuous, I believe that what the Mayor is striving to do on the urban level is parallel to what the UN is striving to accomplish on the global level. Because we know that the UN at its best is a symbol of hope and inspiration to people in all walks of life in every corner of every continent. Part of this is because of the ideals laid down in the Charter. Part of it is because – when their governments can’t or won’t deliver – people around the world often have no place else to go but the UN.
The truth is that a large part of the agenda that the United States and its allies and friends have here at the UN looks like yours – to advance the status of women and girls, to speak up for the rights of civil society, to ensure that access to justice is not just something for people with means, to enable members of the LGBT community and other minorities to live in dignity and security, and to ensure a fair and healthy start in life for every child. As the working mother of a four year old pre-k student, I have seen my boy literally transformed by what Pre-K has given him since September. Your leadership on Pre-K education is critical. This education and nurturing is something all children deserve.
Mr. Mayor, when we first spoke, you told me you saw the UN as one of New York’s most wonderful features and one you take great pride in. While living in this city, we may sometimes forget that the world is not New York and that New York is not the world. But if the basic principles of fairness, justice, and caring can make a difference here – and under Mayor de Blasio, we know that they can and will – they can make a difference anywhere.
So Mr. Mayor, here at the UN, we will be watching and learning as you and your team get to work in the Big Apple. We look forward to working with you, but right now, we are pleased simply to welcome and applaud you. My colleagues, I am privileged to present to you the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio.
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