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2024 Inaugural Address

Fourth Inaugural Address of Mark Poloncarz

Delivered on December 29, 2023 in Buffalo, New York

Good morning. I am honored to be here as we remember the past and look forward to the future.

There are several people I'd like to thank as we get ready to turn this page into an exciting new chapter.

Thank you to NYS Court of Claims Judge and former Erie County Attorney Michael Siragusa, for administering the Oath of Office; my friend and Deputy County Executive Lisa Chimera for acting as master of ceremonies; the Superb vocalist who led us in the National Anthem this morning, George Miller; the Erie County Sheriff's Office Color Guard who presented the colors; Pastor Corey Gibson of Calvary Baptist Church for today's invocation and words of wisdom; and to Karen Gambino of Deaf Access Services for being here for ASL interpretation today. Thank you all.

Thank you to my family, especially my parents Charles and Janice, my brothers Robb and Kevin, and all the other extended members who are here. You've all done so much to make this day possible, and I thank you for the support you've given me through the years.

Thank you to Lindsey for your love and support during this past year.

Thanks also to my partners in local, state and federal government here today, as well as the members of my administration and many members of the Erie County workforce who are instrumental in doing good work for our constituents every day.

Thanks also to my mentor, Len Lenihan, who encouraged me to run for office years ago, and to my friend and Erie County Democratic Chair Jeremy Zellner for your support and counsel through the years, as well as to the entire Erie County Democratic and Working Families Parties committees for your support.

Thank you also to my friends in organized labor for your support and friendship.

And thank you to the thousands of voters who exercised their constitutional rights in November, enthusiastically and overwhelmingly returning me to this office for an unprecedented fourth term.

I will never forget the support you have shown me through the years. I truly appreciate it and understand it is a privilege to serve on your behalf. Thank you.

This morning, we are living in an Erie County that is vastly different than the one when I took my initial Oath of Office as executive in this very room in January 2012.

If you remember, prior to my election, county government had been run like a business, abandoning its true owners, the people, when they needed it most, and putting at risk this great community we call home.

There was much work to do to create the community we know today, but we did it.

Decade after decade, Erie County lost population and many viewed our best days as being behind us. Today, our population is growing, our economy is the strongest it has been in decades, and people worldwide know of the comeback of Buffalo and Erie County.

In the past, regular annual county budget struggles resulted in dramatic budgetary brinkmanship, and loss of services for the public. Today, we have annual balanced budgets passed on time and without drama. Thank you to my partners in the legislature for working with me in a bipartisan manner to do so.

Erie County's debt load was stifling future investment and dragging down our credit rating. Today that debt load has been reduced by nearly fifty percent and our credit rating is the best it's ever been.

Speaking of the best it's ever been, the county's property tax rate is at its lowest rate ever, as we have continually delivered on our promise to hold the line on taxes.

Erie County's Parks faced a dark future. They were in poor condition from years of disinvestment. Today, our Parks are thriving year-round with new programs, inclusive playgrounds, easier access, and tens of millions of dollars in investments systemwide.

The Buffalo Bills had been playing regular-season games in Toronto and were in real danger of leaving after the former administration had done nothing to keep them here. In 2012 we secured a fair lease extension, and today a new stadium is being built to keep the Bills here for another thirty years, which will also bring more than 100 million dollars of benefits to the community.

When our poorest and often our youngest citizens needed access to quality affordable health care, health clinics were closed and programs cut. Today, the Department of Health's Office of Health Equity, along with the rest of the Department of Health and Mental Health Department, are active participants in the lives of many, improving health outcomes one person at a time.

The former Bethlehem Steel site sat vacant, rusting away, because many believed revitalizing it "couldn't be done," a deep seeded belief that pervaded our region in other areas, as well.

Today, hundreds of acres have been transformed to the Renaissance Commerce Park, the result of government ignoring the naysayers, rolling up our sleeves, and partnering with the private sector for the betterment of all.

And there are many other examples of the way we were, and how we are now.

This was all possible because people voted for a government that worked for them. They put their faith in county government to do the right thing, govern appropriately, and create a community that is fair, equitable and accessible to all.

We understand the people are our bosses, and we are here to serve the public's needs, in good times and in bad.

We've come together as a community to face adversity many times over, whether that adversity took the form of a winter storm, a virus, or a mass shooting.

At my first inauguration I said that if my administration is to succeed it must be guided by partnership, not partisanship, and that we must seek cooperation over conflict.

We've done that and our community has benefitted as a result. Thank you to all our partners for your good work to help make this happen!

As we embark on 2024 and my final term as your County Executive, significant work continues across Erie County to create the best community we can be, and as always, we will get the work done together.

Yes, we will build the stadium, finish Erie NET, continue to strengthen health and mental health programs for all residents, but we will not stop there.

We will continue to invest in our roads, parks and libraries, make our community more climate-resilient and our water cleaner. We do it not only for today, but for the generations yet to come so they can enjoy this place we call home.

All of the things that build a better Erie County for the next generation, and make it a beacon of a responsible government to the rest of the nation, we will continue to do.


However, as a community, and as a country, we must never forget our time will pass, and we will be remembered for the legacy we leave behind. A legacy that is not just the projects we build or initiatives we implemented to create a better, healthier community, but one based on protecting the core principles of our democracy.

Every inauguration brings hope for the future. I stand here today because last month, Erie County residents overwhelmingly rejected extremism and cast their votes for the idea of a government that works for them.

However, there are dark clouds on the horizon as the same extremism that exists in our county grows in our country. It is not hyperbole to say our nation is facing some of its most trying days in nearly a century.

In this time, the greatest threat we face as a nation is not from an outside enemy. It comes from within. Just like cancer untreated will eventually kill a person, there is a cancer that is threatening our democratic republic.

Smart, stable governance is ridiculed and defamed to undermine trust in our public offices.

Self-anointed patriots spit upon the core principles of the Constitution they claim to be supporting.

Science and law are dismissed, opinion and slander are considered equally with facts.

Loud, belligerent ignorance has become the modus operandi for political discourse, nurtured by unscrupulous operatives concerned only with gaining personal power or wealth, and aided and abetted by an agenda-driven media and the cesspool that is social media.

We witnessed the culmination of this on January 6, 2021 when the institutions of democracy were brought to a halt, and nearly overthrown, not by a foreign power, but our own fellow Americans.

It is disturbing fact that Erie County and western New York residents were prominent at the January 6th insurrection. Sadly, only Franklin County, Ohio had more residents arrested for participation in the insurrection than Erie County.

On that dark, terrible day we all watched in horror as a deranged mob beat police officers, erected gallows on the Capitol grounds, and smeared feces inside the building itself while searching for public servants to hang. Indeed, one of our residents brought home a Capitol Police officer's badge as some sort of sick trophy from that day, only to cravenly bury it in his backyard.

Just because you call yourself a patriot does not make you one. History will decide whether you are a patriot or a traitor.

The genius of America is it is not based on allegiance to any person or even God. Our nation is one based on laws.

Our forefathers developed a system of government that relies on an informed populace to believe in and collectively enforce the rule of law. As Benjamin Franklin remarked upon the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when asked what form of government was created, he responded, "A Republic, if we can keep it."

Our nation has faced moments where our republic was at risk from within. From the Civil War to the Great Depression, our democracy has been tested to such extremes, nations led by lesser leaders would have failed.

It appears we are once again facing "A Republic, if we can keep it" moment. A point in time where the actions taken will set the course for whether our nation continues on its path to form "a more perfect union" guided by the rule of law or one that disregards truth, science and the core principles of a democracy.

What has always made the United States of America different from almost every other nation is we are not of one race, religion, or language, but we are bound together by a common belief that only in a democratic society can we reach our collective true potential.

We have never been a nation built upon monarchs or ruling classes, but the "wretched refuse" cast off from somewhere else, yearning for a better life in a country founded on principles of democracy.

Our nation has not always lived up to its ideals, but it has persevered because good people have stepped up in times of crisis to ensure a better future for all. And the future before us holds much promise.

However, it is incumbent on all of us to be vigilant and to preserve and protect what our forefathers and mothers built if we want a better country for those that follow us.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. We must all understand the urgency of the task before us if our republic is to survive and the promise of the coming days to flourish.

And so, to each of you, I urge you to stay involved, stay observant, be active in your community, discuss the issues with others, and most importantly VOTE.

The forces that would drag us down, destroy our cherished community and strip away our rights are out there. Their misinformation and smear campaigns are ready to defame good candidates, stop others from running for office, and erode our government.

They do not rest. They are hoping you will get despondent and give up.

We cannot and will not give them that satisfaction.

The future is ours if we are brave and strong enough to claim it. There are many ways in which you can do so. Join a community organization, work with neighbors on a common project, attend Town Board meetings and make your voice heard.

Be active at your children's school, get involved in voter registration efforts, take part in efforts to beautify our natural assets, help the poor, volunteer your time with a community group, even run for office yourself.

Talk to people about the promise and potential our community and country has, not the poison spread by others. Remind them we have faced difficult times in the past and have come out stronger.

Don't be afraid to stand up and call out bigotry, hatred and other forms of intolerance when you encounter it. It exists in our community like it exists in every community across the country. While the First Amendment may protect their right to believe in and say such filth, those that would spew it cannot succeed unless we stand idly by and do nothing.

Let people see that you believe in the common good, a shared future that includes people of all colors and creeds, ages and abilities. A community we are proud to call the New Erie County.

Friends, our time on this stage is passing. Let it not be a time of inaction, of dismissing the very real peril that is at our doorstep.

Instead let it be a time of common purpose to strengthen the democratic values and institutions that tie us together as Americans.

Our nation was built upon the earth-shattering concept of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The next generation who will inherit this incredible land are watching, waiting to see if we will protect the fundamental freedoms and rights that mark us all, as different as we are, as Americans. We cannot let them down.

Thank you for all that you do to make our county, community, and country a better place and thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve as your County Executive.

May God bless you, and may God bless Erie County and the United States of America.