Modified: December 31, 2019 1:07pm
2020 Inaugural Address
Mark C. Poloncarz
Erie County Executive
Good morning and thank you all for being here.
Today, we join in this beautiful hall of justice to affirm the promise I made to the people of Erie County eight years ago to build the best Erie County it can be. We did that by returning county government to its rightful owners – the people of Erie County – and by embracing diversity and encouraging inclusivity for all. A county government that understands it not only works for the people of the community but is a true representation of the people.
Before discussing where we have been and what I hope to accomplish going forward I have to thank many for providing me the privilege, once again, to serve as your executive.
Thank you to Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul for your kind words today, friendship and the work you do to make all of New York the best it can be.
Thank you to Attorney General Lettia James for joining us today and for the work you do to protect the men and women of our state from those who would do us harm.
To Judge Jerry Whalen, thank you for administering the oath of office and the friendship both you and your wife Nora have provided through the years. Additionally, congratulations on your own reelection this past year. The people chose very well by sending Judge Whalen back to the bench to serve us.
Thank you to Maria Whyte, William Geary and Minister Tim Hogues for your inspiring words and the work you do every day to promote a stronger county for all.
To my family, thank you for all you have done to help me through the years. Thank you to Heather Novak for your love, support and counsel these past years. With you and Nadia in my life I know I am a better man and a better executive for the people of Erie County.
Thank you to Chairman Jeremy Zellner and the members of the Democratic Party for your continuing support of my efforts as your county executive.
To the members of my administration, county employees, partners in government and others we’ve worked with these past years, thank you for all you have done to create the New Erie County.
Finally, thank you to my bosses, the 925,000 or so people of Erie County for giving me the privilege to serve you. As I have pledged before, I will work very hard on your behalf and I will not let you down.
Eight years ago, we, the people of our community, took back our government and restored it to its rightful purpose: to serve the needs and create a better life for our citizens.
We proved you can run a responsible government in a progressive manner, meeting the needs of our community, while maintaining fiscal discipline. We also proved government can lead the way forward when others won’t, or can’t, to create a better community for all.
For example, working together we successfully returned health care to one of the poorest neighborhoods in our region by opening up the Erie County Health Mall, proving that you can deliver high-quality health care to impoverished areas.
Since then other health care providers, like Jericho Road and GBHAUN, have invested millions in health care facilities in the inner city, returning high quality health care to neighborhoods that for years had been abandoned.
Additionally, we’ve worked with our partners at ECMC to ensure the region’s only level one trauma center is the best it can be, and very soon we will all join together to open the brand new state of the art emergency department there.
This is a legacy investment in our community we all can be proud to have made happen.
Together, we rolled up our sleeves to address the scourge of the opioid epidemic. While we haven’t finished our work yet, because of the work of so many, led by our Departments of Health and Mental Health, I am proud to say the U.S. Department of Justice considers Erie County to be the national model on how to combat the opioid crisis. Thank you to all who played a role in responding to the opioid crisis.
Our Health Department also took the lead to address the risk our community’s homes pose to our children from exposure to lead. As we all know, lead poisoning is an insidious disease that can steal a child’s future. We could not wait for others to act. We had to act.
That’s why in 2016 I pledged $750,000 for five years - $3.75 million in total - to increase our county’s efforts to reduce the threat posed by lead poisoning. We have made great strides in addressing the problem but there is more to do. That’s why today I pledge to continue this critical funding throughout my next term.
This past year we announced our most ambitious effort yet to ensure everyone leads as healthy a life as possible and has an opportunity to succeed in the New Erie County – Live Well Erie.
Working with nearly 100 community partners, Live Well Erie is addressing the social determinants of health to ensure we leave no one behind in the economic turnaround that is the New Buffalo – the New Erie County.
This effort will not come easy, and will take many years to accomplish, but I know we can succeed because when we, the people of our great community, come together we can accomplish anything.
Speaking of our economy, when I ran for executive I said my primary focus would be on rebuilding our economy. That is exactly what we have done. We have gone from the highest unemployment rate the county had in decades to the lowest with the highest job count in nearly 50 years.
County government has played a role in making this a reality by investing in new business parks in Tonawanda and Lackawanna, with successes at each in a very short period of time. However, we are not done yet; we are continuing to invest in the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, and very soon we will take ownership of a site in Angola which will be the location of a new, much needed agricultural industrial park in southern Erie County.
Against much criticism from the business community, we proved you can grow your economy through progressive means. We were the first county in New York State to implement a strong recapture policy at our industrial development agency to ensure companies delivered on their promises of job growth.
Moreover, we implemented local labor, pay equity and payment of taxes policies to guarantee that our community truly does benefit from the tax breaks we provide.
Many criticized our efforts – from both the right and left – saying we would either hurt our economy or did not go far enough in stopping all corporate welfare. While we never satisfy everyone, the proof of our success is the strongest economy we’ve had in decades, thousands upon thousands of new jobs created, and now our IDA’s tax recapture policy is the norm for across the state.
However, our job is not done. That is why we will build on these investments and policies to ensure this great renaissance does not benefit just a few.
I have no interest in leading our county if only the wealthiest among us succeed. As FDR said, “the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
We must ensure all benefit from our recent success by giving those struggling to get by the tools they need to climb higher and provide for their families.
We will do this by continuing to invest in day-care assistance for working families so parents can go to work or school to better provide for their children, and in the coming year we will increase the rate paid to day-care providers so their employees can make a more livable wage.
We will continue to invest in programs to alleviate the poverty that exists across our county – from the inner city to rural America – because our county can only be strong when all of us are strong.
We will continue to support our newest Americans, refugees and immigrants from all across the globe, who are revitalizing previously abandoned neighborhoods and proving when we build bridges between our fellow man, not walls to separate us, we are all stronger for it.
Additionally, we will continue to invest in our village, town and city centers to fight the sprawl that wastes resources and instead promote the advancement of clean energy, and the return of walkable, livable communities built to withstand the growing challenges of climate change.
Furthermore, we will invest in the creation of ErieNET to improve broadband access and choice in our community so Erie County is not left behind in the global, technologically rich economy of today.
And we will face head-on other important issues to our community, like the future of the convention center and a new lease with the Buffalo Bills, so we can continue to grow, yet still have the high quality of life we enjoy here.
We can and will lift all boats as Erie County’s tide continues to rise by investing in our neighborhoods, our communities, our people, through our government.
Too many people look at government as being the problem. They say government is incapable of solving any issue.
They believe government should only provide the bare minimum of services. They don’t believe government can be a force for good.
I reject that notion because when you say government is incapable of solving problems, you are actually saying people are incapable of solving problems, because a government is the collective embodiment of its people.
I believe that government, when run effectively, can be a force of good. It must lead when others will not. Moreover, it has to lead to address the issues we face.
We have proven that a government built on the principles of compassion, inclusion, service to others, and fiscal stability can succeed.
So today, I ask you to go forth with a renewed sense of dedication to the ideals of what our county can be and with a purpose to create the best Erie County it can be for all.
If we do, I know the best is yet to come.
Thank you. Happy New Year to all and may God bless Erie County and the United States of America.