Byrd’s speech on El Paso past and future
Text of city Rep. Susie Byrd’s speech at the inauguration Monday night can be seen below. Video can be found here at the Newman Park Blog.
“I want to start off by thanking my husband, Eddie Holland. He lets me be who I want me to be, a city council representative for the neighborhoods that raised me. He doesn’t always quite get why I want this job, but he knows I love it so he does whatever he can to make it work. My kids, Hannah, John and Eddie, are right there with him, cheering me on. And then there is my dad and my mom and my brother John who are always there to pitch in when we can’t quite manage the avalanche of community meetings and baseball practices and soccer games and flamenco and cello lessons.
“I love you guys.
“There were many people–friends, neighborhood leaders, business leaders–who helped me during this election. Ester Perez, my campaign treasurer, made endless phone calls to rally the troops. Mr. Jorge Almada, the president of the Central Neighborhood Association, campaigned full time. He called me often with this advice: don’t take the election for granted and please, Susie, please, quit putting wood on the fire. Judy Gutierrez and Rene Leon managed one of the busiest political offices in town while I was out stumping and knocking on doors.
“There is one person who has always been at my side that I can never thank enough—Commissioner Veronica Escobar. Since our wild ride during the Caballero administration, Vero and I have braved the strange waters of El Paso politics together. Whether it was digging through campaign finance reports, harassing reporters about the stories that need to be told, brainstorming about the best way to build momentum for an important issue or knocking on hundreds and hundreds of doors in support of a great cause or a great candidate, Vero has always been front and center, not just for me, but for many others, ready to give her time and willing to lend her tremendous leadership and inexhaustible talents to make this city great. I am lucky to have her as a friend, and I am proud to call her my county commissioner.
“A couple weeks ago, I walked to Ruli’s for lunch from the museum. Rulis is a café just across from the plazita downtown. Out walks Paul Foster. We say hello, ask how things are going. I have to put this moment in context: the national and global economy is recovering–we hope–from a nerve-wracking tailspin; our sister city Juarez is threatened by overwhelming violence and instability. But it is in this moment that Paul responds to my greeting by gesturing across the park to the Anson Mills Building and saying, ‘We open this fall.’
“The Anson Mills Building was built in a moment of audacious city building. Gorgeous, towering buildings came charging out of the ground, defining El Paso as a major metropolis with greatness on the mind. Built in 1911, the building was only the second concrete-frame skyscraper in the United States and one of the largest all-concrete buildings. The nation took note of an El Paso on the move.
“Somewhere in the last half century, we lost our way. We began to bleed talent and optimism. Our daring and confidence began to wane. Poverty defeated us and created a feast for a business and governance model built on cheap labor and little or no competition. Our place on the U.S./Mexico border and the culture, the language and people of this place began to weigh on us as a burden. The buildings and the neighborhoods that defined us as exuberant and fearless in the early 1990s became boarded up and abandoned, replaced with nameless, placeless miles and miles of anywhere USA.
“But sure enough, steady enough, today, we reclaim our heritage and the confidence that built this city. And we do this even in the midst of great economic uncertainty.
“Two young Karam brothers claim a 1920s cold storage warehouse on Florence, risking a small fortune on building Downtown lofts. TVO and La Fe claim two vacant downtown city blocks to build 90 units of new housing, willing to fight decades of government policy and business culture that make it easy and cheap to build at the fringes and pretty painful and expensive to build in the center city. A small non profit called Preservation Alliance claims a small broken down historic home on Portland Avenue that had been vacant and burned out and occupied by vagrants, willing to bet that they can breathe new life into our most enduring neighborhoods, one home at a time.
“I am more and more convinced that we will only find a new El Paso, a stronger El Paso, a more prosperous El Paso, in the wisdom and audaciousness of old El Paso. Yes, sure, this means investing in old buildings and old neighborhoods, but it is more than that. It means investing in a different path. It means shedding decades of policies, practices and business models that got us where we are today. It meanscccthat we should no longer accept “but we are a poor city” as an excuse to do nothing or as an excuse to just keep on doing things the way we have always done them. It means that timid, half steps are no way to defeat poverty and create in El Paso a magnet for talent and economic dynamism.
“Each of us, in ways in big and small, have a role to play, but we have to commit ourselves to audacity and reckless aspiration. We have to believe that our city–this piece of land in the desert, captured by borders and sliced in half by rugged mountain—is worth loving and fighting for.”