David Bohnett Speeches

Remarks by David C. Bohnett at NYU/Wagner Mayoral Forum on Urban Transformation

Thank you Tom … and thank you to Gordon Campbell and Dean Glied – and your team from NYU’s Wagner School for inviting us to participate in this important conversation with you and all of our distinguished Mayors.

As I was riding the subway down here today it reminded me of growing up in the suburbs of Chicago … and how I loved taking the train into the city. As much as I appreciated our suburban community, I knew that the city was the place where the excitement was … where the energy was … where the smartest people with the biggest ideas that would shape the future were … and where my future was.

When I headed off to college, I chose the University of Southern California … sited on a little more than 200 acres smack dab in the heart of Los Angeles … a true urban campus that embraces all that our City of Angels has to offer.

Having lived in Los Angeles for over 40 years, it’s thrilling to see the dramatic urban renaissance happening in downtown, Hollywood and other parts of the city. The moniker ‘DTLA’, a nickname for downtown Los Angeles, was added to The Urban Dictionary just over eight years ago and is a remarkable indication of the renewal in housing, entertainment, and commerce in downtown Los Angeles.

When it came time to start my career, and eventually start my internet company GeoCities.com over 20 years ago, I was proud to be in the vanguard of the tech boom in LA, and, to be an early pioneer in ‘Silicon Beach’. And now I am lucky enough to have homes in two amazing cities … Los Angeles and New York … I take full advantage of everything they have to offer … from arts and culture to amazing food … to mass transit … and, my favorite, riding Citibikes through Central Park as I did just this morning.

It seems appropriate that we are having a conversation tonight about urban transformation at a school named for a true urban transformer … Mayor Robert Wagner.

During Wagner’s tenure as New York City’s mayor, he built public housing and schools, created the City University of New York system, established the right of collective bargaining for city employees, and barred housing discrimination based on race, creed or color. He was the first mayor to hire significant numbers of people of color in city government. His administration also saw the development of the Lincoln Center and brought Shakespeare to Central Park. He re-appointed Robert Moses to the Planning Commission and undertook major investments in the city’s (even back then) contentious mass transit system.

Of course it was under Mayor Wagner’s leadership that New York lost the Dodgers to Los Angeles … proving that even the best Mayors can have a bad day.

Over the past decade, my Foundation has invested nearly $5 million dollars in the David Bohnett Mayoral Fellows program here at NYU Wagner and, in “sister” programs at UCLA and the University of Michigan. This signature program has provided graduate school tuition to nearly 100 Masters Degree students who, in addition to their academic work, are placed working in the office of the Mayors of New York, Los Angeles and Detroit on the substantive policy issues. AND, what I am most proud of is that nearly all of those students have remained in public service to this day.

AND … for the last three years, we have partnered with Tom and his team at the US Conference of Mayors to provide them with a summer Bohnett Fellow intern from UCLA, NYU or the University of Michigan, to work on the critical work of the Conference and it’s member Mayors from coast to coast.

A lot has changed since Mayor Wagner … but the power of a Mayor to be “an agent of transformation”, has not. That’s why NYU Wagner trains the next generation … why I invest in them … and why you and your fellow Mayors are all here today.

The columnist Herb Caen once wrote, “A city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness of its vision and the height of its dreams.”

Thank you for your vision … your passion and your commitment to urban transformation.