THE BRONX — Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. sharply criticized the city’s response to the summer’s deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak and hinted that he might one day run the city himself in his 2016 State of the Borough address, delivered on Thursday at Cardinal Hayes High School.
Diaz suggested he had ambitions to hold the city's top office, when he stressed that mayoral control of the city’s schools needs to be extended to improve public school system.
“That accountability should be available to this mayor and all future mayors, whoever they might be,” Diaz said, to applause and laughter from the audience.
Diaz had very harsh words for Mayor Bill de Blasio's response to the fatal Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that gripped the South Bronx over the summer, bluntly stating, “The city failed us during this outbreak.”
He was also sharply critical of two issues that have recently plagued de Blasio’s administration: homelessness and affordable housing.
Diaz described them as two closely related issues that have come to dominate discussion in the city, claiming that New York was undoubtedly in the midst of a homeless crisis.
He said the city had been unable to effectively deal with homelessness so far and characterized repairing its shelter system as an effort that would go beyond fixing building code violations, arguing that the city also needs to provide mental health and job counseling services.
The city should also mandate that apartments in new developments go to homeless people who are employed, he added.
“This is a call to conscience,” he said. “NIMBYism must give way to compassion.”
Diaz continued his severe criticism of de Blasio’s affordable housing zoning proposals as well, saying they would dramatically change the city and were not an effective way of accomplishing affordable housing for New Yorkers.
He also unveiled several new proposals in his speech, pledging that his office would develop a plan to allow permanent access to the Jerome Park Reservoir and work to bring a bike lane to Grand Concourse, one of the most iconic roads in the borough.
Diaz reiterated his call to develop the rail yard by Lehman College and argued that students who attend public schools should not have to pay for remedial classes at CUNY.
“I propose that the Department of Education absorb the cost of remedial classes at CUNY for public high school graduates,” he said. “We cannot give diplomas to unprepared students and pass along the costs to them.”
He also pledged that his office would commit $10 million to renovating the Orchard Beach Pavilion and launch a Bronx Youth Corps this year, which would consist of middle and high school students working to clean up and beautify Bronx neighborhoods.
“The Bronx is blossoming,” Diaz said. “All of this is happening because of the years of advocacy and dedication of all of you: the elected officials, community activists, community boards, friends, family and neighbors that make up the fabric of The Bronx that 1.4 million New Yorkers so proudly call our home.”