The following is the full transcript, as seen in the video and post commentary, of the interview of Binghamton, New York Mayor Matt Ryan and Michael Vass.
It’s Matt Ryan, how are you doing?
MV : Oh, how are you Mayor Ryan?
Matt Ryan: Pretty good.
MV: I know you don’t have a whole lot of time so I want to thank you first of all for giving me the time to speak with you today, I know that you have a lot going on with your duties at work and also the re-election campaign. So I’ll try not to take too much of your time here. Basically let me just jump right into it… One of the things I wanted to speak to you about is as you remember back in April we had the incident [shooting] in Binghamton. This was for a lot of people across the nation the introduction of Binghamton to the rest of the world. That we joined places like Seattle and Virginia Tech in dealing with this kind of tragedy. What would you say has changed… that you’ve noticed has changed since that time and more importantly perhaps is what hasn’t?
Matt Ryan: I think a lot more hasn’t changed, this was a total aberration from what Binghamton is really like. Binghamton is a community that’s honored its immigrants for many many years and it’s why the Civic Association existed for so many years. And to have this happen was unfortunately something you would never expect to happen in this community and once it happens you realize it could happen anywhere. but you know we got through this. Obviously one of the things that’s changes is that we have tried to reach out to our immigrant population to try to figure out ways to make sure that there are ways that people who are having problems in those populations how we can reach them, how we can offer them better services.
Matt Ryan: Because Mr. Wong was a mentally ill person who slipped through the cracks and if we had better ways to deal with those with mental health problems in the immigrant population we may have been able to prevent something like this.
MV: No, I agree. I agree with everything that you said. And that’s part of the reason why I want to do this. To revisit this 6 months later, is because I think that to a certain extent people have gotten the wrong impression of Binghamton. Having been here now 5 years, I know you been here all your life, it doesn’t give a accurate reflection. And I think there should be another view, another look at who we are and what places like Binghamton, Columbine, everywhere these events have happened, we’re not just that event. there’s more to the people beyond that.
Matt Ryan: Right.
MV: Let me ask you, in terms of … and this is going, this might be slightly different. Looking at, since the Obama stimulus has taken effect, looking at all the laws that have been coming out, has there been anything that addresses this kind of situation; where maybe there funding for catastrophic events? Is there additional funding out there for helping people, the immigrants or anyone, who has this kind of stress? Is there anything that we see out there?
Matt Ryan: There been some money flowing in the State [NY] at the time of the incident that gave us an influx of money for help, and professionals to deal… dealing directly with the tragedy with the family and friends. But out of the stimulus money I’m not aware of any money that would have addressed these issues. Certainly any time something like this happens you try to redirect your services to make sure the crime victims assistance and all those things were very helpful in reaching out to the families and to continue to be helpful to those who suffered through this tragedy. But as far as stimulus money I can’t think of money that came available because of a tragedy like this. The State, like I said, stepped up. [State] Senator Malcolm Smith made sure we got the money to bolster our capabilities in that regard.
MV: ok, that’s a good thing. It’s just interesting that its a question that no one asks. So its worth asking to find out if there is something there.
I notice that you did a lot and i don’t think a lot of people understand what it is to be a Mayor in such a situation. i know we spoke shortly after that event. I could see the stress that you were going through at the time as anyone and everyone was. For the city to have gone from that moment, which i think was a critical point; it could have a turning point for the city, negatively, and in fact had not been that. As you said, and I agree, life has returned essentially, in most aspects in almost every major aspect, to normal for the entire population. That has a lot to do with the Mayor, with you and your guidance and the people as well. How is that? how do you deal with that? how do you get thru that? how did you bring everyone in the city past that?
Matt Ryan: As soon as it started to happen we got together some people and said, ‘We cannot let ourselves be defined by this because this is not who we are. And was gratifying by Monday morning we had put out all the accolades that had already been put on Binghamton the last couple years – nice greenest city, real estate values actually going up instead of down like most of the country. Just all the different things that’s been said nice about Binghamton, the University, all these different things.
When I went on Montel Williams, I was the first one to appear on his radio show that Monday morning after the tragedy after and he said, “are you there” and I said “yeah”, and he said I got to do a little lead in and I’ll get back to you in a minute. he said that there is a city in the United States that and he read of the whole litany of things we had put out that, he said “You know what city that is? Binghamton NY.”
It was so gratifying to see that was the message that was getting out about our community. So I think it was just a conscious decision to say “this is not going to define us. We are not going to. We’re going to show a calmness and strength that this community has even in this difficult time. We’ll move on and we will get past this.”
MV: I think that’s really a defining moment . It’s a definition of leadership. Rudy Guilliani is a great example with 9/11 where he was that rock for the city to lean upon or look towards as everyone tried to sort through that. In all the interviews I saw with you, in speaking to the nation, I think you provided a lot of that for us.
Matt Ryan: I think the police Chief did a great job too. he was rock solid. Everybody stepped up to the plate and portrayed our community the way I think we really are. we had 2 historic floods, and now this in my first term, so unfortunately I’m time-tested and understand how you can never be sure of anything and you have to be ready for everything.
MV: That’s for sure. Let segue slightly and ask you… I know you’re up for re-election right now. It’s true you’ve have a very difficult time as a Mayor for any location but especially in Binghamton. As you mentioned there was the 2 floods, which were once in a hundred years floods. There was obviously the incident at the Civic Center. But there’s also the fact that prior to the Civic Center there was only 1 in the year prior. crime has gone and I say that not only because of the statistics but I’ve actually, before speaking to you I’ve been speaking to people throughout the city and I know in the 5 years I’ve been here it’s gone down. We’ve seen businesses come in, slowly but steadily and as you mentioned in the second quarter of this year, I believe Binghamton was one of the top 10 cities of the entire nation with property values going up instead of down.
MV: That has a lot to do with what you’ve gone through. So looking forward, what are you looking forward to in your second term? A little bit more of peace and quiet?
Matt Ryan: That would be nice, but as I said you have to be for anything. We’ll continue on. We started with an idea of getting more people involved with Government, streamlining Government, with trying to make sure we are sufficient as possible. We inherited 1970’s technology in City Hall. it takes a long time to turn the ship around, to get it going in the right direction. But know we’re very hopeful I’ll get another term so that I can to put into practice so many things that we developed the first 4 years . Like Enius [unclear] software for all our financial operations. We can cartograph all our DTW operations. There will fundamentally change how we deliver services and save money. We’re very proud of that.
I want to focus the study about the lean 6 sigma that some certain cities have followed, the management of assets, we couldn’t even have thought of until we upgraded the technology in City Hall to have the capacity to communicate with our citizens better, they can interact with the website now.
MV: I’m sorry. What is the website that people can find about Binghamton?
Matt Ryan: It’s the cityofBinghamton.com . It’s our city website, and through there you can now all the information. you can see our bottom-line budget, you can pay bills online, you can search for your assessment, you can check property values if you’re interested in property though our assessment systems. we have GIS which you never had before, it was ridiculous but now we have it once we made that commitment to do that. There so much more you can do online and learn about your Government and be part of your Government. You can make complaints to the Department of Public Works and code and have them tracked. These are the things that allow people to trust their Government, to realize we are working for them.
Like I said we put total transparency in the City hall by posting every number, every budget line, see where the money is and how it’s being spent.
MV: Well there aren’t a lot of politicians that are doing that these days. So that stands out in and of itself. You have been very much out there to let people know what’s going on, which is also highly commendable. I think that when my readers hear about this, when they hear this conversation they are going to want to, more than a few of they will want to actually learn more about you, learn more about your re-election campaign.
I know that you are a native of Binghamton, NY. That you went to college in NYC.
Matt Ryan: I graduated from Binghamton University. First started at Wagner College and transferred to Binghamton university. You know I took some time went and travelled, but I graduated from BU and I went to law school at CUNY Law School in New York City.
MV: That’s right, it was CUNY. Yes. You’re an environmental lawyer?
Matt Ryan: Right. Well, I’ve taught environmental law for 10 years at BU when I came back from law school. I haven’t really practiced environmental law, but it definitely is an interest of mine. That was my undergraduate work, it definitely does impact how I look at my job. That’s another thing we are trying to do, is to make sure our carbon footprint is reduced in the city. try to be as green as possible, try to save as much money as we can for our constituents and our Government. Right now we’re looking at different ways to save money on out energy costs. Hopefully we can get [unclear} I we might be a model for how to have our infrastructure work more efficiently, and reduce our carbon footprint there.
MV: Ok. I that for those looking to find out some more information about you, they can go to MayorMattRyan.com/binghamton , is that correct? Is that the best one for them to find out more information about you?
Matt Ryan: Yeah, they can just google Matt Ryan and it will take them to our website for what we’re trying to do with the re-election.
MV: I thought that was the main one, but I just wanted to double check. Hang on just one second.