David Bohnett Speeches

David Bohnett Introduction Remarks at Second Annual Urban Transportation Forum: Mayors Changing Cities

NYU Wagner, NYC

Thank you Tom … and it is an honor to be again here with you all.

At this same event last year, I was introduced to a nice guy … a young man … who just happened to be the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. A lot can happen in the space of a year !

Seriously though, I had a really wonderful conversation with Mayor Pete. As we were chatting, I mentioned to him a family in South Bend I’ve known for a long time. Well, it turned out that Mayor Pete knew the family, and my first reaction was “what are the odds?” … but then I thought … of course he does … HE is the mayor and that is what mayors do. They, YOU, know the names and stories of those you serve … you know their history … the good and the bad … you know their struggles and their success stories. And you strive everyday to make their lives better and their world more safe and secure, even if only within the city limits.

And those are the very reasons why, back in 2006, our foundation began our Mayoral Fellows program … so that the best and brightest public policy graduate students … those who are passionate about cities … could graduate from NYU, UCLA and the University of Michigan with that all important degree, and, because we funded their tuition and provided a stipend so that they could work in City Hall … these students would be prepared to hit the ground running .. unencumbered by student debt … to work alongside mayors … on the biggest issues and challenges facing our nation’s cities.

And because all good schooling should involve a “field trip” … each January we take that year’s crop of Fellows to the US Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C. – so that they can meet you … and your fellow mayors from across our entire country.

You know, the motto at our foundation is “improving society through social activism”. And perhaps we all have a different take on exactly what that phrase means.

To me, social activism is when those who depend on public transportation come together with city planners to make sure that buses and subways run on time and serve every corner of our city.

Social activism is when affordable housing advocates join forces with urban planners to make sure that not another night goes by where one of our own … our brother or our sister … is left to sleep on a cold sidewalk or under the interstate.

Social activism is when public school teachers and environmental activists and city hall insiders find common cause in getting the lead out of our drinking water so that our children … and our children’s children … can engage and learn and thrive without the long list of harms that leaded water can cause.

AND, in my case, … being a social activist … and a philanthropist … means bringing together world class schools of public policy, deserving students and you, our mayors.

It’s an honor to support this important conversation tonight … and a true joy to be with all of you.

Thank you.