Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on WNYC

September 16, 2016

Brian Lehrer: We begin with our weekly Ask The Mayor segment, with Mayor Bill de Blasio. Mr. Mayor, welcome back to WNYC.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good Morning, Brian.

Lehrer: And listeners, our phones are open to any New Yorker from any borough to ask the Mayor anything, 2-1-2-4-3-3-WNYC, 2-1-2-4-3-3-9-6-9-2. On our Ask the Mayor segment today, you can also tweet a question. Use the hashtag #AsktheMayor and as people’s calls are coming in, I will ask you briefly about a few different things. I think you surprised a lot of people yesterday, getting into another issue involving fast food workers. There was already the campaign for a $15 minimum wage, which we are on our way to now in New York. Now you are tackling workers’ schedules and franchise owners feel intruded upon again. Why is this a City government issue?

Mayor: This is about 65,000 New Yorkers, Brian, who at this point not only are they among the lowest wage workers that don’t have a union to protect them. But on top of that they are treated very arbitrarily and very harshly by big corporations that own these fast food chains and make a huge amount of money. And they literally just toy with people’s lives. These are folks who have two jobs or more, families they are trying to take care of. They find out at the very last minute that they suddenly have to go to work or they are not going to work, including when they need money and then it’s suddenly taken away from them because there is no work. We are saying something very simple. I think this gets to a lot of bigger issues that people are feeling; working class people, middle class people are feeling— about the work life balance and how out of balance this society has become. But for the lowest wage workers we are saying that the legislation we hope to pass with the City Council would require two weeks’ notice on an upcoming schedule – nothing crazy. Any big corporation should be able to handle this: two weeks in advance, tell people what their schedule is going to look like. If you change it at the last moment— demand they come in and that often causes a lot of disruption in people’s lives, you have to compensate them extra for that. And, a really important point. There is this thing called a ‘clopening,’ Brian. This is a strange concept where the same worker is asked to close an establishment and then open it the next morning, sometimes with just a few hours in between to sleep. We think that’s unhealthy, we think that’s unfair. So we would say you have to have at least 10 hours between when you go off-duty and go back on-duty on a closing and opening.

Lehrer: Can you put this in the context of inequality as the central organizing principle of your mayoralty? Is that where it belongs?

Mayor: Absolutely. I think it belongs in that context and I think it gets again to the bigger issues of work-life balance that we have been trying to go at. So, fighting inequality means raising wages. We and the State have been able to do that with the $15 minimum wage. It means improving benefits – paid sick leave, we reached a million more people. Now we are going to reach people who need this help in terms of their schedule and there is so much more we have to do. But again, it also reaches the concerns of middle class Americans and middle class New Yorkers who are forced, right now, by a society that has become more intense, more globalized, more technologically developed. People are struggling to spend the time they need with their families and they are struggling to deal with a lot of times not just kids but, older relatives that need their help and all sorts of challenges. We’ve got to get a message across to corporate America that you’ve got to respect working people and you can’t just make their lives miserable in the name of making a bigger profit. So, I think it is absolutely about fighting inequality but I think it’s also a response to some things that are going on in our society that are literally undermining the lives of families and working people.

Lehrer: So, is there anything else along the line of scheduling or work-life balance that you’re working on at the policy level?

Mayor: There will definitely be more to come, and we think that this is the right first fight to have in terms of the fast food workers because these are huge corporations. Again, these are folks who have some of the toughest conditions. But there’ll be more opportunities after that to work on things like scheduling and to work on other benefits. Obviously, we’ve been trying to work on retirement issues. There’s so many people who don’t have a viable retirement plan. That’s keeping people, again, in multiple jobs. It’s keeping people working even when they’re at a point in life when they shouldn’t have to anymore. There’s a lot of issues here to go at. We have to have a worker-friendly, family-friendly society. We don’t have that right now.

Lehrer: And is there some political timing here? One political reporter told me after yesterday’s event that it felt like your informal re-election kickoff targeting that part of your base. Will you acknowledge that at all?

Mayor: I would say two things. One – this is the next evolution. I explained this to the reporters. I think it’s pretty straight forward. We worked on paid sick leave. We worked on pre-K which also lightens the burden on working families – afterschool, affordable housing – go down the list. It’s been a progression. This is one of the next frontiers we have to address.

But on the question of when the campaign for re-election gets going in earnest – you know, already we’re in that timeframe. But I think the focus will start after the general election in November. I’m going to talk a lot about how we address inequality and how we give families a much better opportunity to succeed in this society, especially in a city where it’s tough – it’s tough to be a parent, and people are dealing with all sorts of stresses.

So, this is not about a campaign that has not yet formally started. But it is about the messages we’ll talk about in terms of what a second term could achieve for the people of New York City.

Lehrer: I’ll ask you about some other topics as we go. This is our Ask The Mayor segment – Friday mornings at 10:00 most weeks with Mayor Bill de Blasio here on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. 2-1-2-4-3-3-WNYC for your Ask The Mayor questions, and we’ll start with Chris in SoHo. Chris, you’re on WNYC. Hello.

Question: Hey, how’s it going?

Lehrer: Good.

Question: Yes, my question is – you know, the bike lane is a fabulous thing that’s been added to the city. I’ve been cycling in the city for 30-plus years. Cars park in it ridiculously. You can’t go five minutes in a bike lane without running into somebody illegally parked. So, my question is – why couldn’t you initiate a system where a cyclist takes a photo of the vehicle as they’re approaching it, and then sends that photo to a website – DOT website, City website – where it’s turned into a ticket much like a red light camera? You know, it could even be – I know last summer the City Council considered splitting the fines for people who reported idling vehicles –

Lehrer: So, like a citizen red light camera – if you take a picture of a car and its license plate illegally in a bike lane, and send it to the City. Mr. Mayor, what about that?

Mayor: Chris, I appreciate – it’s a thoughtful idea. I don’t happen to agree with it on first blush, and I’ll tell you why. I think the notion of New Yorkers helping the police and other agencies to know what’s going on – absolutely, we want those photos. We want to know where things are going. But that notion of that automatically resulting in a ticket, I have real concerns about. First of all, I think it creates dynamics where you never know what might be motivating people to send photos, and whether the photos are accurate. Second, there are people stop in a bike lane to, you know, let someone off at an appointment or something like that, or just drop off kids at home or something quickly. That’s a different matter than someone who double parks and leaves their car there.

I think we need a little more discretion than that. I think only officers trained in enforcement should do that. But I agree with your central concern which is, you know, no one should be double parking in bike lanes for any extended period of time. And, you’re right, now that we have more bike lanes, not only are we giving people a better option – for many people a better option to get around and a cleaner one and one that gets cars off the streets, we’re protecting people who used to bike in very exposed circumstances. So, it’s about safety and it’s also about our environment and congestion. Bike lanes really help on so many fronts that’s why we’re expanding them around them around the five boroughs. The enforcement, I think, we should leave, though, to uniformed officers.

Lehrer: 18 more protected bike lanes announced this week – do I have that number right?

Mayor: I believe that’s right. And we really believe in protective bike lanes because, again, we don’t want bicyclists being vulnerable. This is certainly consistent with our Vision Zero philosophy. We want people to be able to bike around and feel very safe and secure doing it. We also know there’s a traffic calming element to this that’s very important.

And I’ll tell you – Vision Zero is still very young. There’s a lot more to come but there’s no question – we are seeing already protected bike lanes – like lower speed limits, like more enforcement by the NYPD of speeding and of failure to yield, red-light cameras. All of these things are having a real impact. Bike lanes also give people another way of getting around that a lot of people prefer.

Lehrer: Getting a lot of transportation questions this morning for some reason. Let’s take at least one more. Joseph in Flushing, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hi, Joseph.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. Thank you for taking my call. The reason I’m calling is concerning the illegal vans and illegal taxi cabs in the downtown Jamaica area. I drop off my wife every now and then, and it is so hard to maneuver around that area because these guys are picking up people in front of the Long Island Railroad and also the train station. They also threaten you – they cut you off and they have out-of-town license plates. It’s really ridiculous. I’m wondering what the City is going to do about it.

Mayor: Well, Joseph, I appreciate that question a lot because I have no tolerance for the illegal vans and taxis. Obviously, over the last years in New York City, we not only have done a lot over the last two administrations to do better enforcement, but, also, look, we used to just have yellow cabs, then there’s yellow and green cabs – obviously, there’s other services out there now. There’s no reason for an illegal van or illegal taxi to exist. We have to do a better job at enforcement, there’s no two ways about it. One good news piece of this, between the Taxi and Limousine Commission and the NYPD, I think we are building up enforcement capacity. NYPD by the end of this year will have 2,000 more officers. Our new Commissioner, Jimmy O’Neill, is going to be very focused on quality of life and issues like this. He’s been one of the leading figures with Chief Chan of the NYPD in implementing Vision Zero, and this certainly fits in that rubric as well, getting illegal vehicles to not be able to [inaudible]. So, I’m glad you’re focusing me on it. I’m going to focus other people on it. But this is something we should be able to do a lot more about. 

Lehrer: So, those are some problems on the streets. I want to ask you about a problem on the sidewalks. This week, the internet kiosks, as you know, that promoted – or, provide internet access are going to be shut down – are being shut down – have been shut down. Instances of what are described by complaints of homeless people kind of taking up residence by some of them. And some people, homeless or not, using them for pornography that other people walking by can see. What’s the status of the kiosks? 

Mayor: This is a – Brian, this was a good idea that ended up having a real unintended consequence, and we have to be honest about that. The notion of LinkNYC was, here are all these outdated phone booths, let’s do something good with them – that people can use the free Wi-Fi service, and, you know, the ability to call 3-1-1 or 9-1-1. We thought we were really adding a lot of capacity, particularly in a lot of areas where people don’t have enough access to the internet. And we found that there was a pattern of abuse. And so, the right thing to do was just cut off the ability to browse and get it back to some of the other core functions. You can get Wi-Fi access around those kiosks. You can obviously do other things to get information. There’s still a lot of value. So, I think, in the end, as we work to perfect it, it’ll end up being of real value to the City. But of course we’re disappointed that, you know, this came up and we have to make this adjustment. It’s not shocking sometimes a good idea requires some tweaking and adjustment, but, in the end, I believe we’ll get it right.

Lehrer: It’s still – just so people know – a Wi-Fi hotspot in every location, right? So, if they’re within something like 100-150 feet, they’ll be able to get Wi-Fi without actually standing and using that terminal?

Mayor: Correct. That is correct. And, again, particularly for – there’s still a lot of New Yorkers who do not have access, which has real ramifications for fairness and for their economic futures. We want people to have access in all sorts of ways. Yes, this is one of the things that will continue and we think will be a real – you know, a real positive for people. 

Lehrer: Do you see it as two different problems? People who are just hogging the terminals by standing there for an hour or whatever and using them, and people who might be homeless, kind of setting up – you know, some people have called them encampments. That might be an exaggeration, I don’t know. Or even individual homeless people kind of, you know, staking out turf around there. You want to not tell homeless people where they have to be at every moment, the streets are public, but, then again, they’re public, so other people should have access to the kiosks. 

Mayor: It’s a good question, so here’s what I say. First of all, we do not allow encampments in New York City. So, they do not exist anymore. They existed, bluntly, for years, in some cases decades, and it was an absolutely unacceptable situation. And I came to the conclusion a year or two ago with the NYPD and with Homeless Services that we had to end encampments. They do not exist any longer. You do have some places where people congregate only standing around, sitting around, but not what we had before, which were, bluntly, Hoovervilles that were tolerated in this city. So, no, there’s no encampments around a LinkNYC kiosk. Now, if a homeless person, or anyone, is violating the law or menacing, people need to call the NYPD immediately – call 9-1-1. But if it’s a homeless person who’s at that site or any other site who just needs help, who should get counseling to come in off the street, you call 3-1-1 and our new HOME-STAT initiative will send out workers immediately to address that homeless person and try and move them to a better place. So, I think that’s one piece. I think the point about hogging, that is – that’s something that could be the homeless, it could be tourists, it could be anyone who hogs those sites. Bluntly, the people who have put together the vision I think missed this reality – this is what human beings might do – and we learn by doing, and now we’re going to fix it so people can’t hog the sites anymore.

Lehrer: Another homelessness issue is – there’s been a lot of protest in Maspeth about converting the Maspeth Holiday Inn to a homeless shelter. And it looks like it’s still unclear whether the plan is alive or dead. Can you clarify that?

Mayor: The plan is alive. We’ve got more work to do, but let me be really clear about it this because, unfortunately, the topic of homelessness brings out a lot of contradictions in people. We want to get homeless folks off the streets – everyone says that, everyone believes that, and yet when you say, okay, we need a place where people can go, where they can be safe, where they can get help, where we can hopefully turn their lives around and get them to permanent housing, getting back to work, etcetera, of course you see opposition. So, I’m going to be real with people. You know, we need to get people off the streets, that means we need shelters. We want to fix the homelessness crisis overall, but, more and more, it is also generated by economic reality where people are losing their homes because of too high rent and too low wages. We’re going to make sure there’s enough shelter for people in need. It’s also the law. Here’s the other thing, that immediate area, that Community Board has about 250 people from it who are homeless and are in our shelter system right now. And we believe in fair share – every community should shoulder a part of the burden. So, we are going to move forward with our plan. We’re not going to be intimidated by protests. We’re certainly – I’m going to be very straight – that folks who go to a Commissioner’s home, as they’ve been doing in the case of Commissioner Steven Banks, and think that that’s going to intimidate us – it’s not going to intimidate us. It’s not right. If you have a problem, come to my home. Come to Gracie Mansion, you can protest all you want. Come to City Hall, but leave alone decent public servants who are just trying to give people a place to live. 

Lehrer: Do you need to break through a NIMBY mindset? That’s obviously what you’re saying, but how do you get people to believe that most communities must share in housing the homeless without also convincing them that it’s not going to be the threat that they believe it is?

Mayor: Well, the NIMBY mindset has grown over decades in New York City. And, as someone who’s served here a long time, I don’t have an illusion that we’re going to snap our fingers and make it go away. I think we can tell people the truth that every community needs to bear its fair share, that this is how we turn around homelessness and get people off the streets once and for all. But I’m not shocked when people do not listen to their better angels. And I’m not shocked by all the unfair stereotypes that often attend this. Our part of the equation, Brian, is we have to make sure every facility is safe for the community around it and for the people in it. The history has not been good enough over many, many years. We have to do better and we are putting a lot more resources into security in and around shelters. And the NYPD is taking a much bigger role, and, again, soon-to-be Commissioner O’Neill has been one of the leaders of that effort. So, I think we have to show people that we will take care of the surrounding community, but I’m not ever going to allow folks who say, not in our community, put it in someone else’s community – I’m never going to buy into that. That’s just not – that’s not New York values. It really isn’t.

Lehrer: I have a feeling people in Maspeth would say, you’re not really putting homeless shelters equally in every community. You’re not putting them in the most affluent communities, are you?

Mayor: Actually, Brian, we are more than previous administrations finding locations in every kind of community. For example, the Upper West Side, where there’s recently been a facility put in. So, no, I’m sorry, this is – let’s be real, a lot of people are very comfortable saying, yeah, get the homeless off the street, and, yeah, put them in a shelter, but put them somewhere else in someone else’s community. Fair share means everyone takes a part of the burden. And, again, this is a Community Board that has 250 homeless people coming from it in our shelter system right now. And one of the things I want to do, Brian, to change the nature of our shelter system – and I actually think this will have very big, long-term impacts on what people think – I want our shelter system to evolve from what is a very cumbersome citywide approach to, first, a borough-based approach, and then even more localized. I think folks who are from the Bronx and happen to be homeless – and hopefully not homeless for long – should be in shelter in the Bronx. I think people from Staten Island who are homeless should be in shelter in Staten Island. It gives us the maximum chance that they can stay close to their families, to the public schools their kids go to. This is the model we want to move towards. And then, you know, if Maspeth residents, or anyone else want to say, oh, we don’t want the homeless in our community, well, then they’re saying they don’t want their own neighbors in their community. And I want to see us evolve in that direction. 

Lehrer: Ignatius, in Astoria, you’re on WNYC. Hi, Ignatius. 

Question: Hi. Good morning, Mayor.

Mayor: Good morning, Ignatius. 

Question: Yes, I have a friend who was homeless for many years. Now, he’s in Section 8, and he tried – after paying his bills, he’s left with $79. He went through a divorce many years ago – and his daughter is 27 years old today, and they are still taking child support. He started three years ago, paying it back – they take it from his Social Security. And he paid over $30,000. The principal at the beginning was $68,000. And now –

Lehrer: [Inaudible] what’s the question as far as the City?

Question: Is there any way that the Mayor could help my friend in getting a lawyer to help to help him to [inaudible] – a pro bono lawyer that [inaudible]?

Lehrer: Regarding his Section 8 housing?

Question: Regarding his problem with the Social Security –

Mayor:  Yeah, I got it.

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, go ahead.

Mayor: Thank you, Brian. If your friend, Ignatius, might be in danger of losing his housing because he – even though he has the Section 8 he can’t afford everything else – that’s a situation where we might be able to help. So, I’d like you to give your information to the folks from WNYC. We will have our team follow up with you and get to this individual. If we can help him get the support he needs, particularly, so he can stay where he is living in now, we’re going to do that.

Lehrer: Ignatius hang on. We will take your contact information off the air and give it to the Mayor’s Office.

Zoban on Staten Island, you’re on WNYC. Thank you for calling.

Question: Good morning, Brian. Good morning, Mr. Mayor.

Lehrer: Morning.

Question: I want to, first of all, say that you are doing a very good job so far, according to me, because I am one of the people who voted for you the first time and I intend to do so again because I think you are moving in the right direction, according to the campaign [inaudible] bringing you into office. Yesterday, I heard on this broadcast from Mrs. Garner – Eric Garner’s mother that the police officer who was involved in his death had gotten a very good pay raise. And that startled me a little bit because I am wondering if your intention is to create a working relationship between we who live in this community and the police officers who are paid to serve us – if this is how we intend to build a relationship then, Mr. Mayor, I think that’s going to be very, very hard to do. It was very sad news for me to have heard it, but like I said I am one of your supporters. I intend to do [inaudible] because generally, [inaudible] you are doing the right thing and this is how I think the City should go. But yesterday showed the police and the community – there has to be a disincentive, Mr. Mayor, for the police officers to not behave the way they behave towards us when they come here.

Lehrer: Zoban, thank you. And for people who don’t know the issue, Officer Pantaleo, and apparently others who because of disciplinary procedures have been put on desk duty now reportedly getting some pretty healthy overtime if they want it. Mr. Mayor?

Mayor: I appreciate this question a lot because I think there’s been a lot of confusion on this and I want to set the record straight. First, a quick – a quick framing. To the question of changing the community-police relationship and making the reforms we need, this is happening every single day – the retraining of all our officers, helping officers to deescalate in different conflicts with individuals, doing a host of things including implicit bias training, which is now going to start in earnest for the NYPD; body cameras, which are going to start to be used more widely in the city. There are a host of reforms going on, on top of the end of the unconstitutional use of Stop-and-Frisk, on top of the reduction in the marijuana arrests for low-level offenders. There are so many things that are changing. So, to the question of are we fundamentally changing the nature of policing in New York City, yes. And at the same time we are getting safer, proving that the connection between police and community is part of how we get safer. Neighborhood policing, which Commissioner O’Neil, as of today, will be Commissioner – who is going to implement changing the relationship. That is point one.

Point two, on the question of the overtime, Chief O’Neill has made very clear and Commissioner Bratton has made very clear that that situation is going to change. I can say for sure that I had no idea that officers were being given – who were on modified duty – were being given that opportunity. I don’t think they should be given the opportunity for overtime except for in emergency situations. What Commissioner Bratton and Chief O’Neill made very clear is there will be a new practice going forward where such officers will not be afforded the opportunity for overtime unless it is signed off on, specifically, by the Chief of Department. And in the case where there is a particularly intense need, for example, in emergency situation. So, I think that what happened sent a very unfortunate message to the people of New York City and that is being fixed as we speak. So, going forward, officers on modified duty will not have the opportunity for overtime unless it is signed off on by the Chief of Department.

Lehrer: Alright. Well maybe he made some news with that one; and Zoban, thank you for bringing it up.

One question relevant to the investigations that are continuing into your past fundraising. This week, the Post had a cover story citing nonspecific sources – just the word sources – that one of your 2013 major donors, Jona Rechnitz, who later pleaded guilty to bribing NYPD officials, one time calling you, in some of the police people he was involved with, and asking you to appoint Joseph Esposito as head of Emergency Response. You did appoint him to that job and Rechnitz boasted to his people that he’s got the Mayor on lockdown. Is there any version of such a Rechnitz phone call to you that you remember?

Mayor: No. And, Brian, you know, it troubles – I’m going to be very blunt. It troubles me when you or anyone else starts believing a cover story in the New York Post. This is fabricated stuff. And we’ve got to get real about this. This whole thing is ridiculous. This is an individual whose advice I did not listen to or follow. And it is ludicrous on its face. Joe Esposito was the Chief of Department at NYPD – one of the most respected police figures in New York City; tremendous experience on 9/11 and all other sorts of emergency situations. He made a lot of sense for the Office of Emergency Management commissioner. This is just getting ridiculous. How about we ask the question the right way? How did Joe Esposito become commissioner? Not because some guy, who I have no respect for his opinion, offered his opinion. I don’t even remember him doing that – because he was a highly qualified person and he’s done a fantastic job. Why is this mysterious?

Lehrer: Gibbs in Greenwich Village, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Gibbs.

Question: Good. Mr. Mayor, I very much respect what you have been doing and I would like to give a suggestion. In 1968, I was a budding psychotherapist. I joined Odyssey House – the original Odyssey House as a counselor in training. I became an assistant director. For 45 years I have been on the front lines of addiction. Honestly, among other therapeutic communities it is thought to be an excellent atmosphere for dealing with heroin addicts within a year of becoming solid citizens.

Lehrer: Gibbs, forgive me. What’s your question for the Mayor?

Question: Is it not a policy for Rikers and other prisons to implement demonstration, therapeutic communities which prove to be extremely cost effective and long-lasting?

Mayor: Gibbs, first of all I thank you for what you have devoted your life to. And I ‘m not familiar enough, I am going to be straight forward with the particular approach, obviously. But, I can say something related which is we have a heroin crisis that we need new solutions for. A part of it is the work NYPD has done. I think effectively trying to disrupt the flow of heroin and obviously there is other opioid issues including prescription drugs. We’ve got the medication out that can reverse potential overdoses. Some things are working but a lot of things are just not working well enough, we have to find bigger solutions. So I would like my team to follow up with you Gibbs to get a clearer sense of what you have learned and what it might tell us to modify our approach. But this is an area where I’m quite clear we need bigger solutions and we are going to have to put a lot more energy and investment into defeating the problem we are having with heroin and opioids.

Lehrer: Last question, today is Commissioner Bratton’s last day as you’ve referred to. I know you have tremendous respect for him and you’ve defended Broken Windows policing when others have criticized it. What do you want to say here in saluting Commissioner Bratton as he leaves office and will it still be Broken Windows under incoming Commissioner O’Neill?

Mayor: First, Bill Bratton just deserves all of our thanks; he did more than anyone in the history of this city to make the city safer. And also did more to reform police practices and create an opportunity for police and community to come together. So I have tremendous appreciation and respect. Broken Windows has to be seen for what it is --quality of life policing that helped us to address the problem of disorder that was plaguing us for decades, turn the corner. And it constantly evolves. And it constantly has to be updated. And it must be applied fairly and consistently across all communities. There is more to do to make Broken Windows a better strategy but, it is still the right approach.

Chief O’Neill started the neighborhood policing vision in this City. He is going to be the person for the first time in our history who brings together a strategy of neighborhood policing in the modern world meaning: he is going to give us the cop on the beat that people know that comes to respect the community equally. We are going to actually know our officers, have a partnership with them with the advantages of modern technology, with the advantages of advanced training – including helping our officers have the ability to deescalate in certain situations and know how to work better with the community. We are going to see something here with neighborhood policing we literally have never seen in New York City before. And Jimmy O’Neill, who knows the city so personally and so deeply, is the person who will bring that to life. I am absolutely certain, the best is yet come – both in terms of relationship between police and community and in terms of lowering crime. And, I have total faith that Jimmy O’Neill knows how to do it.

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, as always thanks a lot. Talk to you next week.

Mayor: Thank you, Brian.

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