At the end of this week, after serving over 12 marvelous years as your Bronx Borough President, and after 26 years of public service, I will leave elected office. Having the opportunity to be the Chief Executive of my hometown has been the most challenging and rewarding job, and I am deeply thankful to all of you for allowing me to serve.
As my final term comes to a close, it is with great pride that I reflect on the transformative agenda we built and executed, that has elevated every neighborhood and community in this great borough.
Right before we were hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw unemployment numbers fall below five percent, reaching the lowest levels in the history of The Bronx. We brought new businesses to the borough, and not only did we see unprecedented job growth, but these jobs paid living wages, thanks to the fight for the $15 minimum wage that began right here in our borough.
We have invested over $65 million in housing, giving thousands of families affordable units to call home. We turned empty, dilapidated lots into residential oases while making it clear to anyone who wanted to build here that if they want to do business in The Bronx, they must do business with The Bronx.
Since I became Borough President, my office has invested close to $100 million in capital funding into education, across 637 school improvement projects in every corner of The Bronx. We have made technological improvements, built new school yards, upgraded multi-purpose spaces, funded the creation of a hydroponic science lab and more. Our communities depend on public schools to provide our children with a quality education and I am proud that my office has played a role in ensuring the growth of our leaders of tomorrow.
In addition to the upgrades in our schools, we have also made changes for our youth outside of the classroom. In the wake of the tragic death of Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, also known as Junior, we came together not only to mourn this great loss, but to instill hope for a brighter future for our youth. We used our pain as a push to establish Camp Junior, a place for Bronx kids to go and not only experience nature and the outdoors, but also create their own networks while participating in free recreation and educational opportunities, including an anti-violence curriculum.
Growing up here in The Bronx, I remember not having adequate playgrounds and knowing that needed to change. We invested over $83 million in parks and green spaces, giving Bronx residents outdoor amenities, improving the quality of life in our borough.
Time and again, we proved our commitment to rebuilding and modernizing our borough’s infrastructure. We’ve made tremendous progress in transportation, both with our roads and public transit. We were able to restore ferry service, which reduced travel times for many Bronxites and created an alternative way of getting from point a to point b. After years of advocacy, we were able to secure funding to upgrade the Bruckner Sheridan Interchange. This project transformed an outdated interstate highway into a boulevard giving residents and visitors a direct connection to the Bronx waterfront and parks. We also made sure the state heard us out, and soon there will be four new Metro North stations, bringing Penn Station access to the East Bronx, which will come with job opportunities and reduced congestion for residents and visitors alike.
Despite our progress, I know life is not perfect here, but Bronxites are resilient and in hard times, we always come together and show strength, creativity and compassion. When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the spirit of The Bronx was on national display as people from all different backgrounds came together and donated over 300,000 pounds of goods for affected Puerto Ricans.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our borough was devastated; however, we saw neighbors helping neighbors all around The Bronx. Through the generosity of numerous partners, my office was able to distribute food and PPE in every area of the borough. Through a public-private partnership, my office was able to work with the schools to distribute almost 1,000 laptops to help students with remote learning.
As we recover from the pandemic, we have made great progress on projects that will help make The Bronx a global destination and give our residents the amenities we deserve. We were able to break ground on the renovations of Orchard Beach, towards which my office allocated $30 million dollars, that will give The Bronx Riviera a new look and attract people to the borough year-round. We cut the ribbon on a brand-new state-of-the-art YMCA in Edenwald, and now the Northeast Bronx has a much-needed space filled with a variety of programming that is truly a transformative addition to the neighborhood. We broke ground on the Universal Hip Hop Museum, which will ensure that we honor hip-hop in its rightful home as well as serve as a tourist attraction.
No matter who you are or what part of our borough you call home, I want you to know that each day I woke up and gave everything I had to fighting for you. Once again, to all of my constituents and supporters, I say thank you. The Bronx is where I was born, grew up and raised my own family. I bleed this borough and the opportunity to serve as the president of my hometown has been the honor of a lifetime. I wish you all good health and a Happy New Year. I won’t say goodbye but I will say, “see you soon.”
Ruben Diaz Jr.