Leadership works like a compass in the woods. During good weather, most people glance at it occasionally as they wander among the trees. But in a storm, it becomes very important, the only thing that can get you out safely as the wind and rain pound down and hide the path.
Like the compass, strong leadership is the only thing that will help us weather this downturn in our country’s fortune. It is during tough times we look to our leaders to regain the confidence that we are headed in the right direction. We need leaders willing to make tough choices to steer this country back to long-term prosperity.
Recently we marked the first 100 days of President Obama’s term in the White House. Perhaps it is an artificial marker, but it shows how much progress strong leadership can make in a short amount of time. Already President Obama has taken real steps toward creating more jobs and improving America’s infrastructure. Banks have started to stabilize from their historic collapse. The first stimulus dollars are reaching the coffers of our state and city governments.
We look for strong leadership from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose support we seek in our fight to reach a fair and equitable contract for our New York City Housing Authority employees. In our latest round of talks, the Housing Authority continued to ask for more givebacks from employees who are already working harder and longer than ever.
I have asked for hard numbers showing how many staff members we have lost through attrition, which would clearly demonstrate that we have been forced to do more with less.
Hopefully then, NYCHA will give our members the contract they deserve. This sort of transparency and understanding are exactly what we need to inspire faith in our leaders, and I pray NYCHA management and the mayor recognize that these difficult times call for them to set a notable example.
The mayor did take a bold step recently by appointing John Rhea, a successful investment banker, as the chairman of NYCHA. As I said in The New York Times, I am initially impressed by Mr. Rhea’s background, managing thousands of employees and billions of dollars at some of the country’s largest financial institutions.
He takes on a mighty responsibility at a difficult time, being charged with overseeing the country’s largest public housing system and its employees. His resume, he acknowledges, is short on housing experience, but I believe he will bring innovative ideas that are badly needed to improve the state of public housing. I am as eager for Mr. Rhea to provide strong leadership as he is to prove himself, and I look forward to working with him for the best interests of all the people who live and work in the NYCHA system.
As Mr. Rhea takes the helm, he has one thing going for him: $423 million in longawaited stimulus dollars NYCHA received in April. We led the fight to get that money, holding rallies and purchasing radio ads during last season’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game. That money will help us fix and replace the elevators that have troubled so many of NYCHA’s residents and employees. It will also upgrade the living conditions of thousands of families in many developments.
While I am delighted with this capital funding, we must now start work to acquire much needed federal operation funding to improve conditions for our members. We have proven our ability to influence funding once, and if we put our minds and hearts to it, we will succeed again.
As the leader of this union, I will fight to gain funding and other resources for our members. I take the responsibilities of leadership very seriously, and I take the words of this monthly letter to heart. I know many of you have concerns in these difficult days, but take solace in the knowledge that I am steadfastly devoted to protecting your interests. Remember that we have been through grim times before, and no matter how dark it gets, I will continue to do my best, serving as a compass to direct our union through the storm and back into the sun.
National Police Week
In closing, this month we pay our respects to all the peace officers that have sacrificed their lives while protecting the citizens of this city and others. In May, we commemorate the brave actions of law enforcement officers during National Police Week, but we should be thankful to these men and women 365 days a year. Their job is not easy, and they rarely receive the credit they deserve, but our peace officers are the lifeblood of New York. They protect us from crime and are on the front lines of defense against terrorism. Too often, these officers pay the ultimate price for their service.
To all these fallen heroes, Local 237 members in law enforcement and their families, on behalf of the union I offer my heartfelt gratitude and continued support.