Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appoints Nisha Agarwal As Commissioner Of Mayor's Office Of Immigrant Affairs, Lorraine Grillo As President Of School Construction Authority, And Steve Banks As Commissioner Of Human Resources Administration

February 28, 2014

Video available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjP7oCx_koE&feature=share

Mayor Bill de Blasio: All right. I want to start by thanking, one more time, everyone who has been a part of building out this administration. Our transition co-chairs, Jennifer Jones Austin and Carl Weisbrod. And as you know, Carl is now on board as our city planning chair, which we’re thrilled about. And Chief of Staff Laura Santucci, folks who were involved in the selection of the people I’ll be naming today, our First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris, our Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, and of our Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. All had a hand in choosing these great leaders that we’re going to introduce to you today. Now, for the last few weeks we’ve been clear about the obligation we have to do a number of things at once. This is the ultimate multi-tasking job that I have, and all of us here in City Hall have. We have to run the government constantly and make it effective. We have to build out a personnel for this new administration, and we have to in the process, change the direction of the city government. And we’ve been committed to making all of those pieces move simultaneously.

 

We’ve said all along, as we make appointments, our standards are clear. We need people who share our progressive values related to the future of this city. We need people who are effective and experienced. And we need people who represent the fullness of New York City. The people I am announcing today truly live up to these standards. They are tremendously respected in each of their fields. They’re all known for extraordinary integrity, and they’re known for their commitment to this city. Let’s start with our new commissioner for the Mayor’s Officer of Immigrant Affairs, Nisha Agarwal.

 

Nisha has the distinction of coming from a special place we call Brooklyn. But she is originally from Fayeteville, New York, just outside of Syracuse. And she moved there with her family. She is the daughter of Indian immigrants who came to this country seeking a better live. They’re a family that has an extraordinary tradition, and a tradition that Nisha continues. This is a family with a true passion for social justice. She grew up hearing stories of her grandfather’s role in the non-violent struggle for Indian independence, led by Mahatma Gandhi. So it’s fair to say that Nisha had extraordinary inspiration from early in her life. And she carried it through. And you’ll see in the work she does, she doesn’t do anything halfway. So she set her sights high. She went off to Harvard. She got an undergraduate degree at Harvard. I will note, graduating summa cum laude. Only the finest for New York City government. A law degree from Harvard and that wasn’t enough, so she did advanced studies at Oxford. And it is a statement on who Nisha is that after that kind of education – obviously any number of options being available to her, including some that might have been very good for her bank account, she chose instead to put her energies to work on behalf of the most marginalized people in our society. And she became one of the leading advocates in the city for our immigrant communities. She has most recently played a leading role in establishing the Immigrant Justice Corps, a new non-profit that recruits recent law school graduates and partners them with non-profit legal services providers to offer legal representation to undocumented immigrants.

 

Before that, she was co-founder and deputy director of the Center for Popular Democracy, also a non-profit. And that was dedicated to advancing – is dedicated to advancing pro-immigrant policies, pro-equality policies, and social justice policies at the grassroots level and on the national stage.

 

And, before that, as director of the health justice program of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, she was the architect of important reforms in our city and state policies related to providing additional healthcare access for those that had limited English proficiency.

 

And I think it’s well known that one of the priorities I hold is changing the policies of this city government to embrace all our people, including the almost half million New Yorkers who happen to be undocumented immigrants. And one of the ways we’re going to do that is with the establishment of a municipal ID card program. And that is something that Nisha is well known for her expertise on.

 

That’s just one of the pieces we expect her office to focus on. We also want to reach out to immigrant-owned small businesses and help them to thrive and help to end the punitive policies that were addressed to them in the previous administration, including the unfair fines that they often suffered. And we want to do everything we can to help get legal assistance to undocumented immigrants who are often subject to fraud by folks who try to take advantage of their status.

 

There’s so much that the Office of Immigrant Affairs can do to help our fellow New Yorkers. But we knew for it to be effective, we needed someone with the experience, with the drive, and that sense of conscience of what is right and wrong. And what we needed to do to help those who often have been forced to live in the shadows. So I’m very proud to introduce Nisha Agarwal as our new commissioner for the Office of Immigrant Affairs.

 

[Laughter]

 

Commissioner Nisha Agarwal, Office of Immigrant Affairs: Thank you so much Mayor de Blasio, thank you. This is really the culmination of so many parts of my life. And the lessons that I’ve learned in the course of that life – that the fire in the belly for better opportunities to speak up for progressive values, is universal. And that it’s a fire that burned in my grandfather as he marched for freedom alongside Mahatma Gandhi in India. And it’s a fire that crossed borders with my parents when they emigrated to the United States. And it was passed down through the generations to my brother and to me, and it is what has animated my career in public service and in public interest for many years now.

 

This is an incredible honor and responsibility. So many of us are the product of immigrant families that made it. Through education and economic opportunity, they built lives and helped build the city in the process. It’s all of our jobs to keep those same doors open for others. More than three million New Yorkers were born in another country. We cannot succeed as a city unless they also succeed. And I’m so honored and delighted to join an administration that puts the needs of all immigrants, regardless of immigration status, at the center of its agenda.

 

We will extend a new hand to the immigrant-owned small business that drives our economy. We will make sure that English-language learners in our schools have every tool they need to succeed. We will end punitive policies that put honest, hard-working members of our society at risk for deportation. And we will launch the new municipal ID program this year, that will ensure that newcomers to our city are able – regardless of immigration status – to participate in all facets of the city – to sign leases, to open bank accounts, and to live their lives in the open. This will be a safe, open and fair city where everyone rises together. Because in the end, we are all New Yorkers. Thank you so much.

 

Mayor: Thank you.

 

[Applause]

 

Mayor: Well, our next appointment relates to the School Construction Authority. And this is personal for me because, as you know, I’ve been a public school parent for the last 14 years. And I have seen firsthand how important the work of the School Construction Authority is for our children, for our families. And so this was an appointment I wanted to make sure was done the right way. And I’ve gotten to see the work of Lorraine Grillo over many years, and I knew she was the right person to continue in this role because she’s really proven herself. She has a devotion to getting things done right for our schools that comes out in her work every single day now.

 

Some people have a hobby and they may have a passion for travel or food or fine wine. Lorraine’s passion is building schools.

 

[Laughter]

 

Mayor: It’s kind of a specialized hobby. The – anyone who’s worked with her over the last 20 years that she’s been at the School Construction Authority knows that this is a mission that she takes very, very personally, in the best sense. And she’s very, very good at what she does. And that is why we want her to continue doing it.

 

She knows, personally, what our schools need. It’s not an abstraction to her. She, herself, knows from her own personal experience as a parent – the parent of three proud graduates of New York City public schools. Three daughters who benefitted from school buildings that worked for them, and Lorraine understands it’s her obligation to continue that same tradition for the next generation of students. She’s a proud native New Yorker from Astoria, Queens. And like me, at one point earlier in her career, she was a member of her local school board at District 30 in Queens.

 

I got to work with her as a City Councilman. I saw her integrity, I saw her purposefulness, I saw her ability to get things done. In the last four years, since she became head of the SCA, she’s built a track record of opening schools on time and on budget. Her experience ranges from creating long-term plans and large-scale projects, including the work she did on the 2005-2009 capital plan, in which she oversaw the largest investment in school construction in New York City history.

 

She’s handled those big tasks, and she’s also handled the extraordinary and the unexpected, including the response to Superstorm Sandy, which put such a burden on some of our schools. And Lorraine led the effort to get our schools back online immediately after that storm. And, she happens to be the manager of one of the city’s largest contracting agencies. And, in that vein, she has moved mountains to ensure opportunity for all New Yorkers, including especially women and minority-owned businesses. And I know for many people in the world of women and minority-owned enterprises, they regard Lorraine Grillo as a hero, as someone in government who actually took those goals and put them into action.

 

As we work over the coming years to reduce class size and overcrowding, as we work to invest in neighborhoods in our city that are still so overcrowded, like central Queens and parts of Lower Manhattan and parts of Staten Island – areas still waiting for more help so the schools won’t be in a perpetual state of overcrowding. As we focus on new strategic needs, like our universal pre-K effort, Lorraine Grillo will be the one putting the shovels into the ground. She’ll be the one turning the vision into a reality. And I’m so pleased today to reappoint her the head of the SCA.

 

President Lorraine Grillo, School Construction Authority: I think I can do without.

 

Mayor: What do you think? Borderline –

 

President Grillo: I’m good. I’m good.

 

Mayor: Okay.

 

President Grillo: All right. Thank you Mayor de Blasio. It is an honor to serve in your administration, to work closely with you and your incredibly talented and dedicated team. People like Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris, Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and my friend and someone I have enormous respect for, Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm and her team. I’m so grateful for this reappointment. To me it’s an acknowledgement of the extraordinary work that is done each and every day by the staff of the SCA. Whether it is building beautiful new schools, upgrading our existing systems, getting our schools up and running within days of Superstorm Sandy, and always dealing with whatever comes our way quickly and efficiently. And at the same time, providing training and opportunity to new and emerging companies in our award-winning MWBE program.

 

I have been at the SCA for 20 years, and I have the same passion for the authority and our work now as I did 20 years ago. I know that this mayor and his team share that same passion for providing our children with the best educational experience possible. My job is to create and maintain the physical space to help all of our students be successful. We’ve done that over the years. We are poised and ready to continue that work to tirelessly work to meet the goals of this administration. Thank you.

 

Mayor: Finally let’s talk about the Human Resources Administration, HRA. And I have to tell you, you know, for years I was the chairman of the General Welfare Committee in the City Council. HRA was one of the agencies that my committee had oversight over. For eight years, I focused on HRA and I came to understand both its many challenges, but also the profoundly important role it could play in fighting inequality and fighting poverty, and helping to fight the underlying causes that led to things like homelessness. And to me, it was clear that there is tremendous promise in HRA, and some areas where it performed with extraordinary distinction. For example, the ever-increasing efforts to make sure that those who are hungry got the food they needed. But it was clear to me that there was so much more that could be done at HRA to help struggling families who are falling behind to help address the inequalities and challenges in this city.

 

But to do that would take a true change agent. It would take a true leader, and someone who had the driver and the purposefulness to turn that organization towards the fullness of its purpose. And I’ve known Steve Banks for many, many years, and I’ve respected his work for many years. We have a real kinship, having gone down a lot of the same paths together. And I’ll tell you some of the parallels. Like me, Steve grew up in the Boston area. We moved to New York City about the same time in our lives. We both went to NYU. I went to undergrad, he went to the law school. And we both spent the last couple of decades in Brooklyn. And I’m obviously in Park Slope, Steve’s been right next door in Windsor Terrace.

 

In fact, there’s a little bit of a “team of rivals” element to this appointment – because back in 2001, Steve and I ran for the same City Council seat. Although the debates were high-minded and always respectful.

 

[Laughter]

 

Mayor: But I’ll tell you want has always struck me about Steve and has always made me want to work closely with him is his values. The values that I share with him were that same passion. He has been focused on helping New Yorkers in need since the moment he started his professional career. He has particularly been focused on low-income New Yorkers who need greater opportunity and need a leg up. And this is part of why he’s been called – this is a quote and I think it’s a very accurate quote. He’s been called “the most legendary Legal Aid lawyer of his generation.”

 

He’s a graduate of Brown University and then, as I said, NYU Law School. Went straight out of NYU into the Legal Aid Society and never looked back. And for the last 10 years, he has been the Attorney-in-Chief of the Legal Aid, the oldest and largest non-profit legal services organization in the entire nation. He took over the organization at a time of tremendous challenge. He brought coherence, efficiency and accountability to the operations so that the organization could maximize its ability to help people in need. That’s exactly the kind of task before him at HRA. And this is exactly why his values and his skills are a perfect fit for HRA. From his decade of work – decades, I should say – of work at HRA, he’s gotten to know HRA’s programs from the point of view of the people of this city. He’s gotten to understand them from the client point of view. And understand what a crucial impact they can make when they work well.

 

I can guarantee you, he’s going to be good at cutting red tape. And he won’t accept bureaucracy that doesn’t make sense. He’s devoted his live to challenging bureaucracy when it didn’t make sense. But he’s someone who knows how to work with people collegially to get things done.

 

Steve, I have to tell you, for a long time – you’ve been outside government for a long time. Folks in government felt challenged by your ideas and your critique, but I can tell you as one person in government – and I heard it from so many others. There was always tremendous respect for what motivated you, for the quality of your mind, for the fact that you had such passion and persistence in trying to help those in need. And I have to tell you, it’s going to be a great joy and a great honor to have that brought into our administration. And I want to welcome you as the new commissioner of HRA.

 

Commissioner Steve Banks, Human Resources Administration: At my bar mitzvah, I needed a stool also, so I’m –

 

[Laughter]

 

Commissioner Banks: Thank you Mayor de Blasio for appointing me to be the commissioner of HRA. And I appreciate the support of the First Deputy Mayor Shorris and my old friend, Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, who I’ve known for years in many different capacities. I came to the Legal Aid Society 33 years ago as a young staff attorney. And I worked in our Staten Island office originally. And my very first cases had to do with HRA. And the impact on – that HRA has on the lives of very vulnerable children and adults in this city is really limitless. It’s there to be a helping hand and it should be a helping hand. Unfortunately, over the years it hasn’t been a helping hand for people that desperately need help, but what a great opportunity if you were life-long legal aid lawyer to work for Mayor de Blasio, whose goal is to root out poverty and inequality – and what better agency to lead, than the agency that’s on the frontlines of addressing poverty and inequality in this city. Helping vulnerable children and adults has been my life’s work and I know it’s been the life work of the frontline workers at HRA and I’m looking forward to working with those frontline workers, with the mayor, with Deputy Mayor Shorris, Deputy Mayor Barrios-Paoli, to make sure that the agency fulfills the mission that it has to ensure that people who are down on their luck get the ability to move on with their lives, to give children who are living in poverty an opportunity to move forward with their lives. There are so many possibilities this agency has to make an impact in New York City. Talk about the problems of preventing homelessness? HRA is in the frontlines of ensuring that DHS doesn’t have the kind of people – numbers of people – that are seeking the help there. And how much more cost effective in terms of taxpayer dollar, in terms of human impact, to prevent homelessness rather than have to provide shelter? Or what about the people who need food or disability benefits? Those are federally financed. There’s really no excuse for leaving those dollars on the table when we could provide systems to ensure that people can get that kind of help and bring economic stimulus into our communities. Senior citizens, immigrants, people living with HIV/AIDS – you name the New Yorkers who need help, that is HRA’s mission. I’ve waited my entire professional life to have a mayor who embraced HRA’s mission in the way that this mayor does. This is his platform, this is his vision, these are his values, and I’m honored to have an opportunity to work with him to accomplish those goals.

 

Mayor: Since Professora Barrios-Paoli is in the room, I will now do my Spanish lesson for the day.

 

Nosotros estamos comprometidos a construir un gobierno progresista, efectivo y diverso. Los tres nombramientos de hoy son una nueva muestra de ese compromiso. Estos grandes neoyorquinos son de los mas respetados en sus respectivos campos profesionales.

 

With that being said, let me offer, first, the opportunity for questions, about these appointments and then we will go to questions on other matters. Yes.

 

Question: [inaudible]

 

Mayor: Sure. Some of that is historic and some of it is things we still need to work on. Historically, the most obvious was the fingerprinting of food stamp recipients – something I opposed since I got into the City Council and thought was really a tremendously contradictory and counter-productive policy. We were trying to encourage hungry people to get help, working people, good people, and yet they were treated like, in effect, criminals and being asked to be fingerprinted just to get food stamp benefits. Others were not, who got food stamp benefits. So, that and I think some of the other restrictions we placed on single individuals in terms of food stamp benefits – there’s other examples too but I think it’s faith  that certainly some of the culture that dominated HRA, particularly in the Giuliani years, was insensitive to the people being served and we want to end that. Anything to add?

 

Commissioner Banks: Just very briefly, I think it’s important, becoming a commissioner of the agency, to evaluate all the procedures and all the policies to make sure they are aligned with those of the mayor. And, as part of that review, we’ve got to look at each policy and procedure and see whether or not people are treated fairly. The word human is in the title of the agency – Human Resources Administration. We have to make sure that people are treated as human beings. And at the same time, we need to make sure that we don’t have counterproductive policies in place. And we need to understand who it is that the agency is serving. The agency is serving people that are cycling in and out of low-wage work and are coming to the agency to get one-shot rent-a-rears [inaudible] and things of that nature to keep a roof over their heads and keep them out of the shelter system. To an extent we have bureaucratic obstacles that were from another era, when the population was different and the ideologies were different. We have to look at all those barriers and see which one should be taken down in order to have proper policies that are aligned with the mayor’s values and the mayor’s goals.

 

Mayor: As Steve rightfully points out the title of the agency infers a certain approach that hasn’t always been the reality. The human resources – when we think about how we develop people’s potential and how we help them as productive as possible in society – again, a lot of times people who went to HRA for help were treated like there was something wrong with them .

 

I think what unites the three appointees here today that we have an underlying set of values. We think every New Yorker matters. We think every New Yorker is capable of great things. We think it’s our job to help them and certainly, we know that people stumble in life. And when the stumble it’s our job to help them back on their feet. We don’t care if those individuals happen to be documented or not.  It’s our job to help our fellow New Yorkers. We don’t care if our young people are at an age in life where they don’t yet have the right to vote. It is still our obligation to help them on their way. We don’t care what zip code they come from – we want to help them on their way.

 

And obviously, at HRA, we want to turn the orientation of that agency towards developing and supporting every New Yorker and helping them to be as self-sufficient as possible. And I want people to go in the doors of HRA offices to feel welcome and respected – and that’s something I know Steve is very devoted to.

 

Question: [inaudible]

 

Commissioner Agarwal : Sure. So the – the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, especially under this mayor, will be as public-facing as it can be. I would like the office to be invited to communities to meet with people are directly affected by the issues that our office will handle, to hear from them, and to try to work with community to address the solutions. So, absolutely. Community members – immigrant community members – should come to the mayor’s office with the concerns that they have and we will also go out to the community to hear what is affecting immigrant New Yorkers. Absolutely.

 

Mayor: And I’d like to add that, you know, the effort to build out the municipal ID program is going to be a very big undertaking and we’re going to do it with community members at the grassroots, with community-based organizations, with organizations that speak the language of all different types of New Yorkers. We’re going to work with religious organizations as well. I can tell you, for example, that we work closely with the Archdiocese and the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens. We work closely with Catholic Charities. If there’s one organization in this city that constantly connects with immigrant New Yorkers of all statuses, it would certainly be the Catholic Church and its organizations. They’re going to be key partners in getting the word out about what we intend to do with municipal IDs and other ways that we can help our immigrants. Yes.

 

Question: [inaudible]

 

Commissioner Banks: Well, I actually personally haven’t been litigating any cases against HRA. Recently I had just said to the mayor that I’ve been at the Legal Aid Society through now five mayoral administrations and this is the first one I’m not going to bring a lawsuit again.

 

[laughter]

 

Mayor: That’s a sound bite.

 

Question: [inaudible]

 

Mayor: You know, I think – to me, it’s a question of what you value and what you admire. I admire that Steve’s been fighting for what he believed was right and I believe he’s been a voice for the voiceless in this city and I think a lot of times he challenged government policies that didn’t make a lot of sense and he was – and everyone at Legal Aid were – an important part of a check-and-balance system in this city. So, my motivation was, I had seen him do his work very well. I knew his heart. And I think he had a vision for HRA that was really compelling about how it could contribute to the overall fight against inequality in this city.

 

Question: [inaudible]

 

Commissioner Banks: Well, first, how I feel about working on the inside – you know, lawyering is fundamentally a conservative, inside-the-system kind of a position. And that’s what I’ve done for three decades – work within the constructs of the legal system and within the constructs of how government works. So I know government very well – how it operates – and this is an opportunity of a lifetime to work under a mayor who has the values that I share and the values that are going to make a real difference for the clients that I’ve represented for so many years. Work – I think that – as I said before – that the most important thing to do to understand the role of work in our city is to understand who the clients are that are getting services from HRA. There are stereotypes that are not applicable and that is part of a review that we need to make of all of the kinds of policies that are in place to ensure that they encourage people who can work to get work and that they help people who can’t get work get the assistance that they need. And that’s a much more nuanced analysis that needs to be done of the policies and I intend to do that to make sure that what’s going on in the agency is what the mayor wants going on in the agency.

 

Question : [inaudible]

 

Commissioner Banks: Well, there are various requirements that exist. The city is – doesn’t operate in a vacuum. There are state regulations, there are federal requirements, and the city has to operate within those limitations, just like if you bring a lawsuit you have to operate within the limitations of what the city rules are, the state rules are, and federal rules are. So, part of running an agency – and that’s what I’ve learned in running the Legal Aid Society – is that nothing happens in a vacuum. And that’s why I think it’s such a terrific opportunity to work in this administration where the mayor’s been putting together a full team of people committed to addressing poverty and inequality. So what a great role to run the agency – it is – on the frontlines of addressing poverty and inequality.

 

Question: [inaudible]

 

Mayor: I’ll start and then Nisha, feel free to jump in. The – look, we are starting down the road, we are very aware of the experience of some other jurisdictions, and we want to find a way to make this card very available, very usable for people. We think it’s going to improve the lives of immigrant families on things as basic as the ability to get a lease, the ability to open a bank account, the ability to get a library card. So many of the things that a lot of us take for granted that are not available to people who don’t have any form of documentation, and here’s a way to bring them into the fullness of life in New York City. And we’re going to examine what’s the best way to connect to people on the community level, what’s the best way to connect it potentially to other things that would make it even more appealing, but we don’t have a set decision on that yet.

 

Commissioner Agarwal: That’s exactly right, and the thing I would emphasize, to add to what the mayor said, is that the municipal IDs – while enormously valuable for undocumented immigrant communities – are really meant to be for everyone in New York. And they’re a unifying aspect of the city. There will be benefits that we will explore associated with the card that will be appealing to all New Yorkers, whether it be business discounts or other sorts of services, and we will explore all of them.

 

Question: Mr. Mayor, in regards to the appointment, what do you say to critics who point to the [inaudible] that still do not have a permanent head and [inaudible] who say that this administration has been very, very slow in making these appointments compared to your predecessor?

 

Mayor: I am not a lawyer. I didn’t go to a fine law school like Steve Banks, I didn’t go to a fine law school like Nisha Agarwal. But I will be on the watch for premises that may not be accurate. A large number of agencies is a debatable point. We’ve named over fifty top officials already. I think what we’ve done is we’ve said we are looking for the very, very best. We will make sure we get the best, we’ll make sure we get people who are truly effective, who have our values and who reflect the whole population of this city. And we’re just not going to compromise on that. So I am very satisfied that we have set the bar high and continue to meet that standard. There’s a fairly small number of agencies left that we have to name people to, and we’re going to continue the same process, and we’re going to get great people for those roles too. In the meantime, we have leaders at each agency who I think are doing a fine job. And I’m very satisfied with the way the government is working on the level of coordination between different agencies. So I am comfortable in my own skin, and I’m clear that I will not hire anyone I think is not the very best for a job. When I find that person, we have called a press conference and we tell you about it.   

 

Question: [inaudible]

 

Mayor: I think that some individuals have tried to create a certain image, a certain stereotype. I think it’s absolutely unproductive to attempt to always minimize people that way. What I say is I hold a high standard. And I’m very clear about what I want and need. And I can tell you this much from our personnel process: if I’m not satisfied, I say go back and get me more names. So I’m very hands on about this and I pride myself on having created very effective teams for quite a long time. And I literally know, in my heart when I have someone up to the standard that I require. And if I don’t, the process continues. But it’s proven to be – I think – effective. What I’ve heard all over the city, including from a lot of folks who didn’t necessarily revel in my election, is that whether they are a Democrat or Republican, whether they supported me or not, they’re pretty uniformly impressed by the caliber of people we’ve gotten into this administration. I have to tell you, a lot of folks told me at the outset – you know, with all the rigors of public life, with the lower salaries and all the other features of public life – good and talented people wouldn’t want to come in and be a part of this. I have to tell you, I could not be more satisfied with the kind of people we’ve been able to attract, and a lot of them are sacrificing a lot to do it. But I know when I’ve got the right person for the job and that’s when I pull the trigger. Do we want to do more on-topic or not?

 

Phil Walzak: Let’s do one more on-topic.

 

Mayor: One more on this and then shifting to off. Now we’re on off? All right, we’re on off topic.

 

Question: Mr. Mayor I have question about [inaudible]. Do you have any concerns that your stance on this [inaudible] stands to actually push the developers to sell the property at [inaudible] or to actually get rid of the [inaudible] affordable housing?

 

Mayor: Well, let me pick up from the previous point. We have two of the most talented people in this city negotiating on behalf of the people, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and the chair of the City Planning Commission Carl Weisbrod. They are both legends for demanding the most in each situation on behalf of the people. And some of you were here when I announced Carl Weisbrod’s selection. And he literally has a pretty famous record of getting the maximum benefit for the public, and that’s what we’re about. So I think what’s accurate to say here is this proposal on the table offers a lot of opportunity for the developer. And we think it’s important that it also offer a lot back for the people, and that’s our simple standard. We believe it’s a fair standard. We believe it’s a standard that we’re going to attain in this instance and many others thereafter. So I’m convinced that anyone who looks at the balance and fairness in what we’re approaching will come to a deal with us. And that will allow us to create a lot more benefits for communities, starting with affordable housing. Yes, sir?

 

Question: You are not marching in the St. Patrick’s Parade –

 

Mayor: Correct.

 

Question: However, one of your top commissioners says that he will march, Commissioner Bratton. Is Bratton trying to pull a Giuliani on you?

 

Mayor: No. It’s his right as an American citizen to make that decision, and I honor his right to do so. And I have said many times, I think he’s an extraordinary police commissioner, I have immense respect for him. And that’s a personal decision he’s made, and I respect it.

 

Question: But what message does it give to the LGBT community?

 

Mayor: I think I sent a message from this platform, from this podium, in this office, in this building, that mayors over the last twenty years did not send. So I think I’ve sent plenty a message.

 

Question: Mr. Mayor on Tuesday, your team and allies are going to Albany to rally for your pre-K plan. That same day now, Eva Moskowitz announced that she is closing her schools and holding a rally there as well. [inaudible] Do you have a reaction to this? And [inaudible]?

 

Mayor: I think the people of this city are fundamentally ready for us to achieve full-day pre-K for every child, and after school for every middle school student. They voted for it in overwhelming numbers. Every public opinion poll continues to show how much people believe in this, want this, need this. Talk to any parent who today would benefit from the availability of pre-K and after school, talk to any parent who in a few years even could benefit for their family, for their children, and they’ll tell you how urgent a need it is. So I’m convinced that we’re getting the attention we need on this issue, and we’re building the support and the critical mass. Again, Ms. Moskowitz has a right as an American citizen to do what she sees fit. I think others will opine on whether the way she’s approaching it is appropriate. But what I can say is we’re going to Albany for the good of all our children. And I would think that anyone who believes in improving public education – regardless of some differences we have on other issues – should embrace the notion of pre-K for all, should embrace the notion of more after school. I would think that would be something unifying. And I think when you look at most people in this city, you look across the spectrum, it is a unifying factor. And I think that should be the respected.

 

Question: Mr. Mayor, your decisions on charter schools yesterday generated a fair amount of controversy. On the one hand you have, I would say, people who are supportive of Eva Moskowitz launching ad campaigns, attacking [inaudible] on your decision. But it doesn’t seem to be a unified charter school thing. She says she’s going to take her people to Albany, it will sort of disrupt your pre-K thing with her charter school. Yet, there’s another group of 25 charter schools who are saying ‘We don’t think that’s the right thing to do’. I’m wondering – you know, politically, instead of taking away from the pre-K [inaudible] number one. And number two, how do you feel about the jab that Eva Moskowitz [inaudible] charter schools are trying to attack you at a time when you have a very important [inaudible]?

 

Mayor: On the first question, you know, this is the seventeenth month in which I’ve been working on full-day pre-K for every child in this city and after school for middle school kids, so I think I’ve gotten the point across. I think there really is that extraordinary critical mass of support. I don’t think any sideshow takes away from that. I think the people understand how crucial this is to the future of our school system. I keep saying this is not just about helping the individual kids who would benefit in any given year. This is about uplifting our entire school system and bringing it into the twenty-first century, and not accepting a school system that has one in four of our graduates – only one in four – college-ready. What would you say if you just looked at this with fresh eyes? And you said we have a school system where three-quarters of our graduates are not college ready. Three-quarters of our high school graduates are not college ready. That’s a fundamentally unacceptable state of affairs. And the way to fix that is with profound changes, and that’s why I believe in full-day pre-K for all and these after school programs that extend the learning day. So I think there’s a societal consensus on that, and I don’t think any sideshow, any individual with a soapbox can change that societal consensus. Now as to the reality of the charter school movement, it’s a very diverse movement. By the way, the origins of the charter school movement – which I respect greatly – are educators who felt that a lot of kids were being failed and that we needed to find new ways to reach special ed kids. We needed to find new ways to reach English language learners. Educators who really were devoted to finding the toughest situations and addressing them, and there’s a lot of those educators out there right now who we work with every day, and we respect greatly and we have a lot of common cause with – who are in the charter movement. I’ve looked at some coverage even today and saw inaccuracies about my policies, displayed in our daily newspapers. It’s very clear. There’s a written platform here. If anyone hasn’t looked at our platform lately, it’s available. And we say in that platform we’re going to work with charter schools that seek to achieve the same standards as our district schools. They want inclusion of special ed kids, inclusion of English language learners, that are going to include the voices of parents, that are giving a high quality education. And schools that don’t meet those standards, we’re going to push them to do better. And we’ve said that we would have a standard of fairness that requires us to say if a charter school happens to be well-resourced, that we’re going to ask them to help us out. And if they don’t happen to be well-resourced, we’re not going to charge them a dime in rent. So the facts are pretty clear about the openness of this administration to working with charters, but we also have some standards. Our chancellor Carmen Fariña had a meeting this last Saturday with charter school leaders. As you said, there are charter school leaders who are saying no way in hell would they go to Albany to march against pre-K and after school for the kids of our schools. So I think what we’re seeing here is a diverse charter school movement, a lot of whom we are working with right now in this administration. Many of whom do not think Eva Moskowitz speaks for them, and they want their voices heard too. And they actually do want to see full-day pre-K for every child, regardless if that child is in their school or another school. They want to see the whole school system uplifted, and we’re going to work with them.

 

Question: [inaudible] negotiating the State budget, and it’s critical that you move members of the legislature [inaudible] and I’m wondering [inaudible] all of the hullaballoo in Albany with 2,000 people demonstrating at the capital. I don’t want to say it dilutes your argument [inaudible] it distracts from your argument.           

 

Mayor: I don't think anything distracts from our argument. And again, I've been at public life a long time. When you said the same thing over and over for seventeen months and it's been the lead of the evening news and the front page of the newspapers over and over again, and I think people have gotten the message. And they have responded in kind they're kind of demanding that all of us achieve progress on pre-K and afterschool. And they want to see Albany do something here. And I really, forgive me, I'm not going to buy into the conflict story [inaudible]. I believe there's a much bigger thing going on here that's years in the making -where people in the city are demanding pre-K and afterschool. It’s a moment to do it. by the way, talk to everyday New Yorkers, talk to parents. They don’t think the current state of affairs in our schools is sufficient. I talk to them about their lives and why they need pre-K and afterschool and why the absence of it is really hurting families. They will tell you they want to see government respond to those needs, and the moment is now.

 

Question: Mayor, you have may made clear during your campaign of your position on charter schools. For many of the parents of charter schools, Especially the middle school in Central Harlem that is no longer [inaudible] Many of those parents [inaudible] They consider that [inaudible] underperforming, over-performing schools. What do you think the [inaudible]?

 

Mayor: Well I'll say to all parents and I'll certainly say it to those parents specifically: I am a public school parent myself. I want to see every public school student do well. I want us to do everything we can to fix the school system and uplift all students. Now let's be honest, every day in New York City, a lot of kids are not getting the education they need. It's unacceptable. So we have to make big structural changes in approach to education, and the previous administration's policy of focusing on certain charter organizations, and favoring them, at the expense of other schools into which those charter schools were going - that's  not good educational policy. By the way, talk about sideshow: we respect every student, every family, every school in the city. Charter schools make up about five to six percent of our student population. That 94 or 95 percent of the folks, who, of the kids, who go to tradition public schools, by definition. We have so much more that we have to do better for them. In fact, if we continually focus on uplifting all schools, then people wouldn't have to feel what they do as you described – they fear their district school won't be good enough. So this is about, one, fixing the school system which requires full day pre-K, which requires after-school, which requires a focus on teacher retention, which requires getting away from standardization testing. It also requires not obsessing with a few charter organizations, which is what the previous administration did. It also requires ending a wanton policy of closure of schools and co-location of schools despite evidence that it would hurt the schools into which the co-locations were going. So let’s be clear about what we did here. We looked across all of these proposals that were made by the previous administration. They were rushed by the previous administration. I would not say it was the most democratic ‘small d’ democratic moment I had ever seen. That this administration who precedes ,watched an election take place, watched an overwhelming result, and decided to defy that result by rushing forward yet more co-locations. That they were the choice they made. We said all along, we will look at each one. We will have an objective review and well decide what it means in educational terms. let me give you a few examples of the criteria we use. The objective criteria to decide whether it made sense or not, we said, that we would not continue to agree to continue one of these previously determined collocations if the elementary school going into a high school campus. I believe that is bad education policy. Chancellor Farina believes its bad educational policy. I don’t think it’s safe for kids to have an elementary school going into a high school campus. We said at we would not accept collocations that created extreme small schools. Because extremely small schools do not have the range of supports and services that a lot of kids need. I believe in the larger smaller school movement. When we were talking about schools with under 250 kids. We said we would not support collocations that required a level of construction that we believe was unattainable particularly in the timelines put forward. We said we would not accept a collocation that would reduce the number of special ed seats. Let’s talk about fairness. Special ed kids have particular needs. They’re amongst our neediest kids. And some of the collocations were that were proposed were literally going to take seats away from special education and put and those kids and those families at a disadvantage. So I think it comes back to the notion that we are trying to improve our schools across the board, and we are not going take action that we believe is going help one school and hurt another. I want to also just give you the facts here that there are 45 co-locations at the previous administration decided again in their rush to judgment, decided before we took office. 36 of those collocations are going forward after our objective review. And 17 of those collocations included charter schools. Fourteen of those 17 are going forward. Eight of those, particular co-locations were proposed by Ms. Moskowitz's organizations. Five of those are going forward. So if you look at the review that was done, it was clearly objective, but we had standards that we could not violate and we would not make a decision on that we would harm those children involved. Ok, quick follow, and then grace, and then were done.

 

Question: [inaudible]?

 

Mayor: I don’t assume, I know we want to work with those parents to find and help them in every way we can and what Ms. Moskowitz organization does is their own choice but we are going to work with every parents to find a good outcome.

 

Question: [inaudible]?

 

Mayor: I think we have a lot of work to do. I think the proof is in the pudding. Look there are two parts of the equations. There’s one how we manage the election process here in this city. It is obviously wanting on many levels. From the efficiency of what voters experience and the consistency to what they experience to how long it takes to get results. There are number of problems that have to be addressed. We don’t have a proposal; yet but we certainly will at some point. But the bigger problem, and I think, the most fundamental problem is the State of New York is way behind the law of the rest of the country in terms of electoral reform. We don’t have same-day voter registration. We don’t have mail voting, mail in voting. We don’t have early voting, we don’t have a lot of the most fundamental reform that open up the democratic process and give a lot more people the opportunity to participate. so were interested in making those bigger reforms working with the state buy certainly we have a lot of work to do in this city as well.

 

Question:  [inaudible]?

 

Mayor: Again we’re going to have a bigger proposal on that as we have time to focus on it but i can simply say that the status quo is not working well enough for our people for our people and we have enough and we have to find new ways of doing things. Thank you everyone.