January 3, 2017
Errol Louis: It’s a new year, and this program has a new name for all of 2017 as we turned our focus on the race for mayor and other campaigns throughout the five boroughs. Joining us now from the Blue Room at City Hall is our incumbent mayor who’s already busy working on his reelection campaign. Mayor de Blasio, thank you for joining us on The Road to City Hall – and Happy New Year.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Happy New Year, Errol. I like the name change. I like that we’re back in the election year.
Louis: Well, all roads lead to that office. Some people want to take that office from you, but we’ll get to that later. How was New Year’s, sir? I understood you had the ball drop – of course, that you all saw – but you also made it over to the opening of the Second Avenue Subway.
Mayor: Oh, that was great. What a great moment for New York City – a hundred years in the making and it’s finally here. And since I now live on the Upper East Side I can tell you a lot my neighbors are very, very happy about it. And the ball drop went beautifully of course and credit to the NYPD on an extraordinary effort on New Year’s Eve keeping us safe. You know a lot of noise out there – threats around the world – but, once again, the NYPD did an exemplary job keeping New Year’s Eve safe for all the millions who participate.
Louis: I’m curious, when you were with the Governor at the opening of the subway, did you get a chance to talk about anything whether its next year’s budget? Or the opening of the train itself? Political priorities?
Mayor: No, it – look, it was a very festive atmosphere, and I certainly congratulated him. As you know, the Governor controls the MTA and this was a good day for the MTA, so I congratulated him, and you know people were just having a great time and enjoying the beautiful new stations. They really are great, and you know this is something good for the City of New York.
Louis: Okay, today we had an announcement that may or may not be good for the City of New York. I’d like to get your take on this announcement – that there’s going to be a push for a bill that would grant free tuition as far as I can tell to about 90 percent of New York households throughout the State. Bernie Sanders was there. The Governor announcing that he’s going to push forward a bill that would cover tuition for community college, for CUNY campuses, for SUNY campuses. What’s your take on that?
Mayor: Well, Errol, based on what I know so far, it looks like a real step forward. Now, I want to see the details obviously. I want to see how it’s going to be paid for and who’s going to be paying for it, but I commend the Governor because this is the kind of thing we need to do. And obviously the State has control over both the CUNY and SUNY system, and it’d needed to be more affordable, so this is the kind of thing that could be really helpful to students here in New York City. We want to make sure, you know, we had a big controversy last year in the state budget where the state tried to move some important costs over to the City. We want to make sure that’s not happening here, but as an idea I think it’s a very commendable idea.
Louis: And, depending on the numbers then you’ll be fighting for it up in Albany during that session?
Mayor: Yeah, I mean, pending the details the concept is one I absolutely agree with and, again, I think the Governor is taking a good step there.
Louis: Let me ask you about the concept as a matter of fact. There was a lot of talk about the presidential campaign last year. We all understand education is the path to the middle class, a proven path to better earnings, better jobs and so forth. In this case though, it sounds like it’s with no strings attached – no requirement for public service, no requirement that the recipient even remain in New York.
Mayor: Well, Errol, I haven’t seen those details so I don’t want to comment on that yet. That’s the kind of thing I want to know more about. How is it structured? Who qualifies? Obviously, again, who’s paying for it, most importantly? Because we’re going into a time as you know there’s going to be real stress on our City budget, our State budget because of what’s happening to the economic reality of our revenues, but also because of all the unknown emanating out of Washington under a president Trump. So understanding who pays for it is going to be crucial, but it’s the kind of thing we need to do more of as a City, as a State, as a nation. I was very proud to bring full day pre-K to every kid at four years old in this city. We want to do a lot more to make free opportunity available like after school we’ve made free for all our middle school kids here in the city. Well another very logical step is to make two year and four year college more affordable. Again, pending the details this may be one of the ways that gets it done. And certainly in the national election it was one of the things that people responded to all over the country.
Louis: The meeting and the convening of the 115th Congress took place today, and I’m curious – at what point do you and the administration try and figure out what your national priories are going to be? Do you meet with the delegation? Do you sort of have a plan of attack about how – I’m not talking about the sort of the big ticket, high profile items like Obamacare – but just kind of the day to day routine stuff that New York City needs from Washington.
Mayor: Well, I think we need to do two things at once here. You’re right. I’ll be meeting with the congressional delegation. We have to defend funding that comes to NYC. We have to work on important issues that affect NYC. That’s the first part, but the second part that I think is going to be a sort of unprecedented environment with a president trump is defending the policies that particularly have a positive impact on New York and cities around the country. So we have to defend the affordable care act. Obamacare has been incredibly important to making sure people have health insurance in NYC. In fact, we need more and more people to sign up for health insurance. That’s why we’re doing our GetCoveredNYC campaign. That’s important for healthcare in the city. It’s also important to protecting our public hospital system and making sure people who go to it have insurance. That’s the kind of big area we’re going to be fighting on. I’m certainly going to get involved in the effort to make sure that the stuff trump’s talking about in terms of taxes is not just endless giveaways to the wealthy and to corporations because you know what not only is that unfair it also means money will be taken away from programs like affordable housing and education that help people here in NYC. So we’re going to have to fight on the day to day things – the appropriations the kinds of things that affect NYC – but also on the big policy issues that really could be decisive in determining what the future is going to be like in this city.
Louis: There’s only one member of the New York City congressional delegation who’s in the Republican majority – of course, that’s Dan Donovan from Staten Island, with a little piece of Brooklyn. What’s your relationship like with him? Is he going to be kind of one of your – one of your go between with the White House?
Mayor: He has certainly been very, very helpful to New York City. I commend Congressman Donovan, particularly on the issue of security funding. When the Obama administration put forward a proposal that would’ve cut some of our anti-terror funding, Congressman Donovan stood up and was a very effective advocate. We’ve worked very closely together on that. I know we will work closely together on reimbursement for the City for the security costs at Trump Tower. He’s already been very supportive. So I think he’ll play an important role. I’ve been working also with Congressman Collins from upstate New York, who was an early Trump supporter – has been very, very helpful on the effort to get reimbursement. So, yeah, there’ll be a number of people that we’ll be working with in a different fashion. But, look, I’m’ ready to work with anyone who will help NYC whether, again, it’s on those day to day issue – the smaller things – or whether it’s on the big picture issues like saving Obamacare and making sure that the tax code is fair to new Yorkers.
Louis: Similar question with regard to your colleagues in the other big cities, the urban leaders have convened and there’s an association and you all talk about a lot of different things. Is there a plan of attack for the big cities together?
Mayor: We’re building that right now, and you know one of – some of the things that cities care about and often in a very bipartisan fashion are things like protecting Obamacare. We all know what a huge impact it has on our cities. We want to make sure there’s fairness for so many of our residents who happen to be immigrants, and that’s another area where there’s been tremendous synergy and alliance between mayors. You know, what mayors are saying all over the country – and police chiefs are saying all over the country – we’re not going to turn our police force into immigration enforcement. We’ve got to keep a strong and positive relationship between our police and our communities, so we have a lot of common interest. You know we’re going to fight for fairness for cities, and I think the most important thing, Errol, is not just that the mayors of this country represent millions and millions of people. I represent 8.5 million people. My colleagues between them represent tens of millions of people. It’s that so many of these cities are in red states and purple states and have U.S. senators and congressmen who are Republicans and they have a big impact on the thinking of those leaders because those cities represent a big part of their constituency. So, that’s why we want to organize together. We want those Republican senators and congressman to understand that if they take an action – for example, if they repeal Obamacare and take away health insurance from a lot of their own constituents – they’re constituents are not going to be happy about that. If they cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, and then their constituents don’t get support for things like affordable housing or mass transit or education, they’re not going to be happy about that. We have a real opportunity to organize mayors around the country, often on a bipartisan basis to reach those republican members of the House and Senate and have an impact on their thinking.
Louis: In just a little more than two weeks, there’s going to be the inauguration. Lots of people are going to be heading down. We learned today the Clintons will be attending the inauguration. Are you planning to be there?
Mayor: No. I am not planning to be there, and I respect the Clinton’s choice. I particularly respect Hillary Clinton’s fortitude which we have seen for years and years. I think that’s going to be a tough day for her obviously doesn’t make a lot of sense given that she won almost 3 million more votes than Donald trump, but I admire her strength.
Louis: I mean I’m thinking of the inauguration – this might just be me thinking this – as the point at the very point literally at which we go from politics to governing and I wonder if there’s maybe we could do for NYC if you were there.
Mayor: I don’t see it that way. Obviously, it’s an important moment, but it’s a symbolic moment. I think the more important work will be done starting really the days right after when we have to get to work on the issues. And when it comes to that I’ll be looking forward to working with members of the trump administration and of course the congress. You know, I’ve reached out to not only the President-elect, but our new HUD secretary, Ben Carlson – Dr. Carlson – Carson, I should say, in addition to key members of Trump’s inner circle. With the same message, we want to work together where we can and where we disagree of course I’m going to stand up for the people of NYC. But they’ll be ample opportunity to try and work through some of those issues.
Louis: Okay, we’re going to take a short break. Please stand by Mr. Mayor. We’ll be back with more from mayor de Blasio in just a minute, and then later on we’ll bring you all of political news. Stay with us.
Louis: Welcome back to the Road to City Hall. I’m joined once again by Mayor de Blasio, coming to us from the Blue Room at City Hall. Mr. Mayor, I don’t want to belabor that video that you made that sort of summarizes last year’s achievements. I thought the singing was better than decent. I though the humor was kind of obvious. And I think you’ve describe it accurately as the equivalent of a glossy brochure describing what your administration did last year, but if we’re going to do that there’s at least one part of it – and sort of analyzing the lyrics if you will – when the mention the rent freeze. That’s actually the work of the Rent Guidelines Board, right? That’s not really you and the administration that can take credit for that?
Mayor: Well, I name the members of the Rent Guidelines Board, Errol, obviously. And, look, we picked them with a very different philosophy. I wanted to make sure that the Rent Guidelines Board was fair to tenants, and I think it’s quite clear in its almost 50 years of existence that a lot of the time it leaned toward the interest of landlord not tenants. So I came in with a mandate that we were going to be fair. When our Rent Guidelines Board looked at the facts – looked at the actual economics – they came to a clear conclusion, particularly because of the decreased cost of fuel that tenants deserved a rent freeze, and we did that for two years. Now, each year will be different depending on the facts of that year, but that was a policy approach. That was a different of both policy and approach and it really had a huge benefit for two million New Yorkers.
Louis: Okay, we got a question here from a viewer Mr. Mayor. It’s a question about Vision Zero. As we reported – as we learned today, total fatalities are down 3.8 percent for the year from 234 to 225 killed last year but motor vehicle deaths were up 23 percent last year; pedestrian fatalities were flat; and of course people are concerned that at least six people were killed by motorists – pedestrian that is including a child – in the last week. Are we going to stay the course with the basic strategy of Vision Zero? Or are you going to accelerate the funding of Safe Street designs which is what some of the advocates have been calling for?
Mayor: Errol, we are very committed. I believe in Vision Zero 110 percent, and now we have three years running where it’s produced better results each year. You know, we had after what the first year we had the lowest number of pedestrian fatalities in over a century. We’ve continued to bring down those overall fatalities these last two years. So, Vision Zero is working. It’s also only just begun. There are going to be more and more of those traffic redesigns. We’ve put a huge amount of capital dollars into that. You’re going to see more and more each year. On top of that, you’re going to see a lot more enforcement by the NYPD particularly on speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians at intersections, so this is just the beginning of Vision Zero. It’s going to grow in a lot of ways. I hope Errol we’ll get more support from Albany. We’re going to go up there again with the families who have lost their loved ones that have been such heroes in this effort. We’re going to try to get the right to have more ability to use speed cameras around schools in particular. I hope we can with that because that’s going to help us save even more lives.
Louis: Okay, another question from a viewer – how can the City be doing all it can to prevent construction deaths when it doesn’t count them all? This is a reference to the fact that some of the fatalities which are sort of a leading cause of death in that sector are the responsibility of the federal occupational and health and safety administration, OSHA, but that the city doesn’t really keep or count the numbers. And I guess this ties back to that management principal that you can’t manage something that you aren’t measuring. What’s your response to that?
Mayor: Errol, obviously we pay attention to federal figures, and State figures, and City figures all the time in any number of areas. We know as there’s been more and more construction. I mean, let’s look at the core of this problem is we have the highest amount of construction we’ve had basically in a decade, since before the great recession. We want more safety on construction sites. We’re pushing very hard for that. We’ve added a lot more stringent rules and laws to ensure that there’s better oversite at construction sites and beefed up more to the buildings department so the building department can play a more muscular role. And we’ve put some real teeth behind that in terms of penalties. There’s more to do for sure. And the companies that do the construction have more to do to keep their workers safe. This is something that’s going to be an ongoing effort, but no, we don’t minimize it at all. We look at all the figures.
Louis: Well, should there maybe be something like fall-stat or you know fatality-stat – something related that we can publicly, collectively point to a number so just like with Vision Zero we can sort of all publicly know and track where the problems are and then sort of start working together on solutions.
Mayor: I think it’s a different reality because these are obviously overwhelmingly private buildings sites, unlike a Vision Zero or a CompStat where you’re talking about the whole city in the public spaces and all. But I very much believe in that kind of transparency, so we’ll look at ways that we can get that information out to the public, but the bottom line is we’re doing a lot more to protect workers on the sites, and we want to do more on top of that. We want to see a lot more rigorous enforcement, and we’re trying to put those measures in place. Look, I’m not satisfied with the status quo. I want to see safer construction sites going forward.
Louis: There’s a report today Mr. Mayor that there are plans to build a new 1,000-seat school in East New York. There are at least some advocates who have been – who point out that there’s something like 7,000 empty seats- class room seats – that are in east New York right now. What’s going on there?
Mayor: Well, as you know, there was a rezoning process in east New York that involved the community very, very deeply for a substantial period of time. We worked very closely with community leaders and particularly with councilmember Rafael Espinal who represents a lot of that area, and that new school was a crucial community demand so that was an important part of that rezoning. Look – we’re always working when space is available in schools to find good uses for them, but that particular need was something the community identified as a high priority.
Louis: Okay, so it sounds like we may end up with a glut out there. Before I let you go, you’re a big Red Sox fan due to your accidental circumstances of birth. We won’t hold that against you. Are you going to be rooting for the Giants next Sunday? You’re making a bet with the Mayor of Green Bay? What’s the plan?
Mayor: Yeah, I got to talk to the mayor of Green Bay because I’m happy to make that bet, and you know I think the Giants have got good momentum now. Green Bay’s been impressive, but, you know, I think the Giants have a lot going for them, so I have to reach out to Mayor Schmidt and make that bet.
Louis: Okay, one of your top aides, Phil Walzak, of course – a Packers fan. You may have to set him straight a little bit.
Mayor: Look – not only him, Eric Phillips, my press secretary, as well. The Packers have a faction but they are well outnumbered, Errol.
Louis: Very good to hear that. We will see you next week Mr. Mayor, thank you for spending some time with us.
Mayor: Take care.