February 27, 2017
Errol Louis: Welcome back to the Road to City Hall. As we told you before the break, Mayor de Blasio is back in the city after spending the weekend in Atlanta for the DNC leadership meeting. Just before skipping town on Friday, he sat down for a long-anticipated interview with investigators from the U.S. Attorney's office. He is here to talk about that, and much more, in our weekly Monday’s with the Mayor segment. Mayor Bill de Blasio, welcome. Good to see you.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you, Errol.
Louis: So, the big deal, of course, for all of us is the meeting with the U.S. Attorney's office on Friday. We know it wasn't as if you were under oath or anything like that. What was the conversation about?
Mayor: Look, I'm going to keep this very broad. I want to emphasize from the beginning, when the investigation began, we said I want to cooperate and my team is going to cooperate in every way. We want to provide all the information the U.S. Attorney needs and this was just an extension of that. Interview – where I was happy to go in and recount the facts. It was fine. You know, as you know, it was about four hours. And this, to me, is simply the process of getting all the information out. I know we have done everything appropriately. I know we have done everything legally. We have held ourselves to a high ethical standard and I was very comfortable going over everything I knew.
Louis: Well, I mean, in the past when we have talked about, this you said, well, look, we can run the city, this is something we have to do because they have some valid questions. If you have taken off, you know, Wednesday, and Thursday, and Friday to sort of – to be responsive to these –
Mayor: Now, there’s no taking off, first of all. Respectfully, there is no such thing of taking off.
Louis: Well, time away from City business.
Mayor: There was some time I had to put in preparation, as anyone would for a four-hour interview. Now, look, the work of the City has had to go on. It’s been most of the year and the work has continued and I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. We’ve talked here about the fact that crime is down. We have talked about graduation rates being up, affordable housing being built at a record pace. All of that work is continuing regardless of what's going on in the backdrop. We have to walk and chew gum.
Louis: To the extent that you have been responsive, I imagine with all kinds of documents and other information, the actual conversation is intended to add what to what you have already –
Mayor: I – you know, I don't come from that world. I'm not a lawyer. I have never been involved in that world. All I can say is, my goal was to be open and transparent and communicative and to be cooperative. And I think it’s quite clear, a four-hour interview is a good-faith effort to try and provide information. And, you know, that's been the spirit all along. And I believe when all the facts are looked at, it will be quite clear that we have handled things appropriately.
Louis: Is that the extent of it? Or was there a period, say, afterwards, where you say, oh, I forgot to respond on a couple of items and you went back to them?
Mayor: Again, I can't judge for anybody else. It seemed to me that all the topics they had were covered. That is up to them to say.
Louis: It’s been reported that Moishe Indig of the Satmar community – was one of the big fundraisers and had showed up prior on your worst landlords list – there is talk here that a document that is now on the web, showing the Department of Buildings lifted some restrictions that enabled some yeshiva buildings that he is involved with to have restrictions lifted. And it's also been reported in connection with that that you personally intervened to make that happen.
Mayor: Look, let me just say simply, I think that is a composite that I don't think it’s fair on its face. The guy is a community leader – that is how I have known him – a substantial community in Brooklyn. I don't intervene and tell agencies how to do their business. Agencies come to their own conclusion when they look at a community concern like the concern of a house of worship. They’re going to ultimately come to their own decision, and that’s as it should be. I also think, you know, we should go back and check all the facts around the Worst Landlords Watchlist. There were people who were on it and then resolved their issues. I remember saying vividly when I was a Public Advocate, if someone resolved their issues, we would say very publicly they had taken care of what they needed to and we commended people for that.
So, I think that composite doesn't tell the whole truth. But the bottom line is, any time I have worked with City agencies, whether I was Council member, Public Advocate, or as Mayor, agencies have to come to the decision about what they think is best. It is perfectly fair to put forward concerns from community members, whether they are civic leaders, faith leaders, business leaders, but agencies have to make the decision they think is best.
Louis: Is what was reported accurate? I mean where they say that –
Mayor: Yeah, I'm not going to go into the tick-tock of it all. I’m just making a broad-point picture.
Louis: Well, I mean, but it really matters, right? If they Mayor even –
Mayor: I think anything under investigation – it’s not my place here to go into all the details. I'm giving you the broad strokes.
Louis: Okay. There have been instances in the past where you did personally sort of pick up the phone and sort of cut through a lot of bureaucracy to move –
Mayor: I tell you, when I was City Council member, Public Advocate, and, again, as Mayor, I believe it is perfectly appropriate to put an issue on an agency's plate. The agency has to make the decision that they see as right.
Louis: The other case that made the newspapers today involved Gina Argento, another one of the fund-raisers who provided support when asked for the Committee for One New York and some of the other projects that you support. Her husband, who is a lawyer, said today that she felt like she had no choice but to do that. And I wonder what that – how you react to that?
Mayor: I can't speak to her husband’s estimation of her – and that is news to me. Doesn't make sense to me from everything I have known of her.
Louis: I mean, if she’s bundling checks for you, she’s helping make things happen. The description of the business, I don't know how accurate it is, but it sounds about right – that she needs permits from the City, and that, whether accidentally or intentionally, the City can sort of make her business very hard to –
Mayor: Errol, that is conspiratorial, to say the least. We have a campaign finance system in the city that is respected all over the country. We have very clear donation limits, spending limits. Everything is disclosed. Everything I have ever done – we disclose who gives the donations. People bring an issue forward to government, it should be handled fairly and appropriately – that is how we do things. I think there is a problem in this discourse, and we heard it back in the 2016 election as well – if the law says – a law is what’s governance, as well as our ethical standards as public officials, which I’ve adhered to – in fact, as you know, often I have gone to the Conflict Interest Board for further guidance on the appropriate ethical approach.
But if the law says you fund campaigns by asking people for donations, and then you disclose who gave you, and then if people also come forward to the city, whether, again, it is a community leader, a business leader, a faith leader, elected official, you are going to be working with them. You have to deal with them fairly. Make every decision based on the merits. You have to respect each agency's due diligence. That is what we have done.
But the problem with a lot of the coverage is it conflates everything and suggests that there’s something wrong with asking someone to support your campaign when you are running for office. I just don’t think that’s right. That is not what our law says. If our law – if we want to change our laws and ban private contributions, which I would love to see – and fully finance public elections, you know all public financing of elections – I think that would be a tremendous reform.
Louis: Sure. We can agree, or maybe – I hope we can agree that if somebody, whether truthfully and accurately or not, says, after the fact, I felt pressured to do this – this wasn't just a political leader asked me for a cause that I support – I decided to write a check or bundle some checks and that is the end of it. If they come after the fact and say, you know what? I felt pressured to do this, I didn’t really feel like I could say no, would you agree that something has gone wrong in the process?
Mayor: First of all, I don't understand the "I feel" statement when we’re talking about law and public process. I would never pressure someone. I never have pressured anybody. I don't think that is appropriate. We can't account for people's feelings when we’re trying to create a system that is supposed to work for everyone, nor do we know if those genuinely expressed feelings or conveniently expressed feelings.
The bottom line is, we have a fair and open system. Everything is disclosed, which, as you know, in a lot of other elements in the political process, is not the case. There’s all sorts of money flying around politics in America today that no one knows where it comes. But in a disclosed system where you’re open about everything you’re doing, and then the way we have run the government is by clear ethical standards. I would never pressure anyone and I believe the agencies have to make the decision they believe is right. And when I'm making a decision, I make it on the merits. There’s plenty of times I have had to disappoint powerful people and powerful interests because I thought it was the right thing to do for the public, and for the general –
Louis: Well, you’ve been telling us you’re going to give us a list of instances where – we’ve have been waiting – you’re not going to give us that list, are you?
Mayor: I am going to give you a list when all this is cleared. You don't need the list, Errol, to see plenty of examples where I have taken on powerful interests, whether in business, whether in labor, whether in politics. I believed I was doing the right thing for the people.
Louis: Yeah, no question about it. I'm just – I guess I’m asking about – you know, look, is there a standing rule or sense within the culture of your political organization, as you do your politics and you call up people and ask them for money, that you have a standing order to your treasurer or anybody else? Like, don't make anybody feel pressured? You know, I mean –
Mayor: I never felt that was even a possibility.
Louis: But it’s in the newspaper, the lady is saying she felt pressured.
Mayor: Errol, Errol – people are saying things – excuse me, Errol, you’re not naive – people are saying whatever they are saying for the wrong reasons. We have never, I have never, nor anyone on my team has ever pressured anyone. That is ridiculous and it is not the way we do things. I’m a progressive. I'm a reformer. Everything I have been doing is to change the status quo in the city and we have followed the rules every step along the way. So, you know, people can look into it all they want and we will cooperate fully because we are very comfortable we have done things the right way – it’s as simple as that.
Louis: Okay. We got more to talk about. We’re going to do that after a short break. Don't go anywhere. I’ll be right back with Mayor de Blasio in a minute. Stay with us.
Louis: Welcome back to the Road to City Hall. I'm joined once again by Mayor de Blasio. What is your best guess or what have they told you about when the U.S. Attorney's investigation might –
Mayor: I don't guess. I haven't got a clear answer on that. But, again, we will cooperate in any way necessary.
Louis: Okay. With regard to disclosure, around the same time you were talking with them, that same afternoon, we got a response to a Freedom of Information request we made a long, long time ago, and it was basically, an information dump – thousands and thousands of emails late afternoon on a Friday. Why disclose in that way?
Mayor: You know, we put out the information as it's prepared. There is a lot of material. As you know, there are confidentiality issues and other issues. Everything – each email has to be looked at and we put it out. And we have continued to put out a huge amount of information now over months and months and we will continue as each batch is ready.
Louis: I mean, the timing – even if it were, like, say a few days later, so as to not create the illusion or the impression that you are trying to bury it, that would convey the information in a sort of –
Mayor: I think in the digital age, the notion of burying is pretty arcane. The information is going to be out there, and people will look at it, and if they see something they want to pursue, they’ll pursue it.
Louis: Okay. I must tell you, we had a request since last October about where the homeless shelter locations, including hotels are, and we were told that we’re going to get it in the middle of this interview, it might be happening right now as we speak, as opposed to any other kind of more convenient time.
Mayor: I don’t know the nuances or the details, I do know that a lot – even information like that comes with a lot of confidentiality considerations where families are – obviously, that have been a point of contention in communities. We are going to follow the law. We are going to get information out. More importantly, tomorrow, we are going to put forward a vision of how we continue to make progress on what's been a thorny issue for decade, as you know, in this city.
Louis: What can you tell us in advance of the –
Mayor: I'm obviously not going to give away the details. I can say a few things. Look, the notion is this administration has tried to deal with this problem from the beginning. We found some things that work. We found some things that didn't work so well. We are now trying to make some big adjustments in the approach.
We understand that the shelter system was not oriented properly to begin with. When it was first thrown together in the 1980's, in the Koch administration in an atmosphere of crisis, that crisis essentially grew and grew ever since. You know, the number of folks in homeless, as shelters grew through the Giuliani administration, through the Bloomberg administration, now into my administration, we want to re-array this system to work better for neighborhoods and for folks who are homeless.
Obviously, one of the things that has been very troubling is this notion of children being so from away their school. We, as you know, this is the first administration to ever create the school bus service to get the shelters to school even if it’s far away. That was never provided before but that’s not a solution.
So, this is going to be about a broad reorientation of the system towards a more localized approach. It is going to take a long time.
One of the things I'm going to be clear about tomorrow – this is a long war. We have now scrubbed it for three years. We are going to be at this a long, long time. Because the homelessness crisis has become more structural. It is much more about economics. It’s much more about families. It’s much more about working families. So from that perspective, I'm going to lay out the things it’s going to take to turn the tide but I'm going to be blunt with people about how long it is going to take. And how much effort it is going to take and how we’re going to need community partners to help us do it if we are going to make a dent in this.
Louis: It sounds like it’s going to be less of say an immediate emergency and more of just kind of a chronic long term issue that the city’s going to –
Mayor: Yeah – well, I would say it a little differently. I think you’re right. We do not want to accept the decades of just constant growth of a number of people in a shelter. That is what we have known since the 1980's. We believe we can turn the tide. But I also have to be honest with New Yorkers about how much it is going to take and how long it is going to take. This is not an instant gratification situation. It really isn't. This is a long tough battle.
Louis: One of the issues that comes up is, in talking about how to sort of get out hands around the issue is, does it become sort of a substitute for affordable housing programs? In other words, does running – going through the shelter system become, in some ways, the easiest way or the simplest way, the most straight-forward way to quickly get some affordable housing?
Mayor: I really don't think that is the case for a variety of reasons. You know, people have gone into the shelter system for years before they ever got a way out. And let's face it, we are going to try and make shelters better but they are not ideal places for people to live especially not families even if we do everything as well as we hoped to, it is still not a place anyone would want to be. We are not talking about short stays, unfortunately. We are talking about people there often not just months but years.
The other side of the coin is one of the things I want to focus on more is the role of family in helping to solve the problem. There’s a lot of New Yorkers who become homeless, unexpectedly. You know, they have a job, they are making ends meet, and then something goes wrong. The rent goes up or whatever it is. And they slip economically and they can't find a way to hang on to their apartment.
I think a lot of them have family members who, although often dealing with tough times themselves, would help if they had some support to do so. We started that around the holidays. The Home for the Holidays approach. We got some good response of families saying okay, we will squeeze in, if we have some support from the City financially to help us do it and lightening our burden overall.
It is an imperfect situation but imagine a family that can take in loved ones and have their own economic situation improved in the process because the city will help them and subsidize a lot of their rent. That is better humanly. It's certainly better than the exorbitant price of shelter or especially the hotels we have had to use. That kind of solution has not been attempted on a large-scale previously. That is one of the things we want to drill down on.
The other thing is we are going to talk a lot about is getting people off the street which historically, was not done in a systematic way. In the last year now, we have literally gotten a sense of each individual we could find and have our outreach workers – could have a real conversation on the street. Sometimes, you know, five, ten, 20, 30 conversations, whatever it took to figure out why someone was remaining full-time on the street and what it would take to come. This is the HOME-STAT.
What’s amazing is in the last year, 900 people have come off the street and stayed off. A lot of them have gone to our safe havens, our smaller facilities that many of the homeless regard as safer and more nurturing.
What's been different, we’ve now been able to prove it over years – when you actually talk to someone, get to know them, their story, what they need, that is the pathway to getting them off the street.
Louis: Okay. We will be awaiting the details there.
In our last minute, you were in Atlanta for the DNC chairman discussion. And there were two things I wanted to ask you about. One is Tom Perez, who ended up being named the chair, was portrayed by some as some sort of corporate stooge or something. As if it was an establishment figure. He is a civil rights attorney with a really distinguished record. Going after police departments, you know, compelling, you know, punishing labor violation and so forth. Did he get a bad rap?
Mayor: I honestly never heard that rap. That doesn't make any sense to me. He is a great labor secretary and very progressive guy and great on civil rights litigation. Tom’s going to be a great chair. I'm looking forward to working with him.
I supported Keith Ellison because I thought Keith could do the grassroots organizing that the party needs right now especially in take on Trump. But I thought Tom Perez did a great thing in making Keith his deputy. That was a great show of unity. Both handled themselves very well. Most importantly, I heard this from all over the different delegations on the floor, people felt it was a democratic process. There was some questions in the past how people became chair of the DNC and whether it was something done from on high. This was a democratic process. Debates all over the country. Televised debates. A very rigorous campaign on each part. Look how close the first vote was. A handful of votes could have made the difference. I think people came away feeling like, you know what, Democracy is breaking out in the democratic party. It is long overdue. It will make us stronger. And I congratulate Tom Perez –
Louis: Who would have thought it? Locally, we had two candidates for vice-chair that you did not support, Grace Meng and Michael Blake, and I think both of our U.S. Senators and the Governor and a whole bunch of people did support them. Why not support –
Mayor: I made clear to people I met all over the DNC, I thought highly of both of them. My longest standing relationship and one I honor greatly is with Maria Elena Durazo, one of the leaving labor figures in the DNC, one of the leading Latina figures in the DNC, who I have a long personal history with and shared values with. I would certainly let people know how good Grace and Michael were, and all of them won in the end so I feel like we got a great –
Louis: I was going to say, it wasn't an either or choice.
Mayor: It was in some ways. As you and I recognize, these rules are complicated. In the end, it is not like people run for vice-chair in their own silo. They all ultimately do run against each other. Then there is male-female balance that has to be struck. It changes according to who gets what position. Unfortunately, where it was literally hard to support everyone simultaneously. I think very highly of Grace Meng and very highly of Michael Blake. They will be great vice-chairs, as is Maria Elena.
And actually think when you look at the whole party lineup, it is a very strong lineup that all competed in a open democratic election. Again, that is going to make the party strong.
Louis: Okay. Very good. We’ll leave it there for now. Thanks for coming by tonight.