Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. began his eighth annual State of the Borough Address with a call to “reunify the neighborhood.”
He did so because the auditorium at John F. Kennedy Campus also happens to sit on the dividing line between Bronx County and Manhattan.
“The county line that separates Manhattan from the Bronx runs through the middle of this room,” Diaz said. “Today, we bridge that divide.”
The 46-minute speech mostly focused on that, with Diaz repeatedly commenting on citywide issues, and calling for the Bronx to become a greater focus of a citywide agenda.
In particular, Diaz called for greater transportation and education equity, noting that while city graduations rates reached their highest numbers in history at 79.4 percent, the Bronx lagged behind with a high school graduation rate of 63 percent.
“Many of these graduates are unprepared for college,” he said. “Did you know that just 37 percent of high school students citywide meet CUNY’s college readiness standards in English and math? This disparity must end.”
Diaz also threw his support behind plans to expand Citi Bike services to the Bronx. The bicycle sharing system is already in place in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and parts of New Jersey.
“The administration has stated publicly that Citi Bike must be expanded to the Bronx and yet we still lack this service,” he said.
Diaz also echoed one of his longtime beliefs that in addition to building affordable housing for the very poor, middle class housing should also be a main concern for development throughout the Bronx. He said young professionals from the Bronx should feel like they can come back to their home borough as adults.
“What bar are we setting when we tell our city’s youth to go out, get a good education, graduate and get a professional job, when we do not have appropriate housing for them to return to?” he said. “We have to encourage economic diversity in our communities, and keep our growing class of young professionals, and their employment and income status, in the Bronx.”
The borough president also tacked himself onto some key policy issues at the state level, such as the ongoing effort by state senators in the Independent Democratic Conference to raise the age of criminal liability.
The “Raise the Age” movement is one of the headline policy issues state Sen. Jeff Klein, who leads the group of breakaway Democrats. Diaz also took time to criticize a plan in City Hall to send $170 million in funding to a juvenile detention center in the Bronx.
“How can we in good conscience look parents in the eye and tell them we’re going to put tens of millions of dollars into the expansions of a detention center without parity for their neighborhood schools?” he asked.
However, despite discussing a range of local and citywide issues, Diaz made no mention of whether or not he planned to run for re-election or pursue a much-rumored bid to replace Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The borough president, however, directly criticized the mayor on one occasion, alleging de Blasio had failed to act on school overcrowding in the Bronx.
“In August, I wrote a letter to Mayor de Blasio requesting that he convene a commission to examine the issue,” he said. “We still await his response.”
In a reference to President Trump’s immigration policies in Washington, Diaz ended his speech with a celebration of immigrants throughout the Bronx, and a call for unity in the face of adversity.
“We are at our best when we work together,” he said. “We will flourish together. And our success is that of the Bronx and of the city.”