Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on The Brian Lehrer Show

December 1, 2017

Brian Lehrer: It’s time for volume two, episode one of Ask the Mayor. As many of you know Mayor Bill de Blasio was coming on the program Friday mornings at 10:00 am until we suspended it for the campaign season to not give him an unfair airtime advantage over the other candidates. Now the election is over, the Mayor has accepted our invitation to resume the series and here we go. Mr. Mayor we’re so happy you want to continue giving our listeners access like this. Welcome back to WNYC.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you Brian, it’s good to be back. And what a fabulous tableau you just gave on the Lindsey Graham before and after. I think – I think that’s called a contradiction right there.

Lehrer: Oops. And so we are opening the phones today for episode 2.1. Here’s what we like to do, invite people to call and tell the Mayor one or two big things you’d like him to focus on in his second term. If the Mayor can move toward accomplishing one or two big things in his remaining four years what should they be? 2-1-2-4-3-3-WNYC, 4-3-3-9-6-9-2 or maybe you have a really good idea that you’d like to share with the Mayor. What’s your big idea for this city? Your moon shot, you know, when you say ‘they should really do this’, he’s they and he’s here. So 2-1-2-4-3-3-9-6-9-2. One or two big things you’d like the Mayor to focus on in his second term and one big idea, if you have one, 2-1-2-4-3-3-9-6-9-2 on the phones. Or tweet us using the hashtag ask the Mayor, #AsktheMayor.

So what would you say are your top line priorities for your second term?

Mayor: Well, Brian, it’s – I’m really excited first of all to have a second term. I want to thank the people of this city for entrusting me with it. And I made very clear big things we want to do. We want to do 3K For All, pre-K has been an extraordinary success but now we’ve got to go farther. Both to get kids early childhood education and a strong start that really equalizes the educational experience across the city, but also to relieve a huge financial burdened on parents of all backgrounds. So we want to get 3K done by the end of this term, have it universal in the city. It’s going to take a lot of work.

The second I’d say is affordable housing. Obviously, this is the issue on the minds of most New Yorkers so our plan to create and preserve 200,000 affordable apartments, we have upgraded it. It is now a plan for 300,000 affordable apartments. That’s enough for 750,000 people. Huge, huge endeavor. But we believe it can be done. The situation in Washington certainly could complicate it but we’re still adamant that this is a reachable goal. 

And then, you know, another thing I’m very, very focused on is deepening in the work we’ve done in terms of building a stronger relationship between police and community. Something very good is happening, crime is going down markedly and there’s a better relationship growing at the community level because of the neighborhood policing strategy, because we’re going to have body cameras on all our officers over the next two years. I think that’s a huge step forward for accountability and transparency. I want to see that get a lot deeper. I want New York City to be the great example to the county of both how to fight crime but also how to bring police and community together in a lasting partnership. So those are some of the biggest things on my plate right now.

Lehrer: So what I really hear you saying there is you’re going to deepen things you’ve already started, pre-K, police-community reform, and – and affordable housing –

Mayor: Affordable housing, yes.

Lehrer: When you first came into office you had these specific, new at the time, inequality fighting measures that you ran on and you accomplished most of them, universal pre-K, minimum wage, paid sick leave, you launched the affordable housing program. And I think the average New Yorker who only paid an ordinary amount of attention to the news in 2013 might have known the list. You’re not really putting anything new on the table.

Mayor: No, I disagree with that. I understand the question but I disagree with that. I think what we’re doing here is taking the very bold original concepts and making them much bolder. And I would be cautious, Brian, I think we should not fall in the trap of the shiny object. The question, in terms of fighting inequality and creating a fairer city, and I said this on election night, I want this to be – you know we’re the safest big city in America right now I want us to be fairest big city in America too. A truly fair city, a city that’s constantly working to improve equality and address income inequality has to dig into these issues even more deeply. To achieve pre-K, a lot of people thought pre-K alone was impossible on the universal scale particularly so quickly. 3K has never been done on this scale in any city in America. This is a whole new world in education and in terms of fighting inequality. What we’re talking about in terms of affordable housing, that’s a kind of number that’s never been imagined previously. These are big, bold approaches. I don't think people should get somehow blasé about the notion that big changes are happening and we’re going to go and re-up them and go farther and say ‘oh that’s not new’. I think that means something very new and different is happening and it needs to go even deeper.

Another piece of the equation is, you know, on the affordability issue is not just housing but also is jobs. And a big thing we put out, and I don’t think got as much attention and analysis as it deserved was we said we’re going to create 100,000 new jobs that are good paying, which I define as $50,000 or more, that will go to New Yorkers, that will be targeted for people from the five boroughs, and will be in industries that provide a long term career with stable income. This is again trying to get under the skin of the income inequality crisis. If you create good, consistent employment that is one of the ways to address the stagnation that so many families have felt economically. This plan would be 100,000 jobs. It would be in areas like tech, life sciences, film and TV, all sorts of growth areas for this city. This is the kind of thing that has not been done before in a targeted manner. For those families, so 100,000 jobs means an impact on 250,000 – 300,000 people getting to economic and financial stability for the long term. That’s transcendent. So I think these are pretty big things.

Lehrer: Alright. Let’s take a phone call. And since I see three of our ten lines are proposing a big idea along similar lines, let’s start with one of them. How about John in Manhattan, you’re on WNYC. Hello.

Question: Hello.

Lehrer: Hi John, you’re on with the Mayor.

Question: Thank you. Can I call my wife and tell her to come in her one second? Thank you very much for taking my call. I’ve never called before. I live on the Upper East Side, not too far from the Mayor. I’m his neighbor and I too am a progressive like most of the people up here and have supported him. But I want to talk to him about something that disturbs me and that is his opposition to congestion pricing. I’ve been studying the issue, following it in the papers, and as you know we are terribly congested in traffic here on the Upper East Side. And soon, the Marine transfer station is going to open which will add even more congestion here. So, I think that’s an excellent reason for you to support this measure. It’s one – it is going to help everyone up here. It doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s a progressive solution for a problem that’s intractable and getting worse. 

Lehrer: Let me get your response. The big problem is traffic. You didn’t even raise the environment but even traffic alone, he says, should be enough for congestion pricing. Congestion.

Mayor: Well, look, John I appreciate the question and the way you’re framing it because I think there are a lot of good, progressive people who do believe in that vision. And I understand why they do, but I have some problems with it and so far, as I‘ve said I have not seen a plan that I think actually is fair and would work. Now, let’s be clear about a couple of things.  First of all, Upper East Side perspective – when that marine transfer station comes in, that’s, that’s down the block from my house too – I am adamant that we are going to make sure that the situation is safe and that it does not create undue congestion in that area. I’m very, very invested in making sure personally that the neighborhood is not put in a bad way. We have done a lot of work to make sure that’s the case. I just want to note that on a local level.
The, on the bigger question – here’s the problem with congestion pricing today as a vision. There has only been two examples, Michael Bloomberg’s proposal from most of a decade ago, and then there was one that came out around the time of the 2013 election. Neither one in my opinion, addressed my central concerns. One, it is a regressive tax. If you are, if you’re wealthy, if you’re upper middle class, you’re not going to blink at paying whatever it is, $10, $15 to come into Manhattan. If you are a working class person, a middle class person that is a real burden on you. So I think it follows, unfortunately, the pattern of every regressive tax. There is no carve out, I’ve seen for hardship, for folks with medical issues or other issues that have to bring them to Manhattan a lot but may be of limited means. There’s real issues there that have to be addressed. And then I think there’s, what I consider the Brooklyn and Queens problem. You know, between Brooklyn and Queens there’s almost five million of the eight and a half million New Yorkers – they would pay, overwhelmingly they would pay this additional cost. I have not seen a plan that gives back to them benefit in an appropriate way. So those are all issues that I have and let’s also face it John, there is no congestion-pricing plan on the table right in Albany. The Governor has ventured the notion without putting a plan. The thing I think would make a lot more sense is a millionaires’ tax if we are talking about the question of fixing the MTA – a millionaires’ tax on New York City millionaires and billionaires that would give a long term stable income source for the MTA and would allow us to do the fair fare which is the half price metro card for low-income New Yorkers. That’s the better MTA solution, on congestion – we put out a congestion plan a few months ago which is going to do a lot of and different things – a very intense enforcement on block the box which has not been present enough in the past, getting, ending delivery trucks being in certain areas during rush hour which has been a huge cause of congestion. There are a lot of other things we can do on congestion but I’ve said if there is a new congestion pricing plan that starts to address some of these issues I would certainly look at it but I have not seen one that I think truly addresses the fairness issues.

Lehrer: Alright. John, thank you very much for your call. Also talking about this transitional moment toward term two – two of you deputy mayors have announced that they will not stay for round two I see. The First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, and Richard Buery who oversaw pre-K implementation. And these are not known names to the public very much as public figures but I know that they were two really key people in your first term, so what or who are you looking for in their replacements?

Mayor: Well thanks for that question Brian. You’re right, mostly the public doesn’t know the folks who run so much of the day-to-day work of the government. I wish they did because these are, I think incredible public servants. Tony Shorris has done an amazing job going back to the Koch administration. He’s been a great fixture in public life in the city and he is one of the people that I depend on the most. For everything I have just mentioned that we have achieved, he’s been front and center on, you know name it, pre-K, affordable housing, bringing down crime.

And then Richard Buery particularly lead the way on pre-K, on afterschool for all, middle school kids, on the growth of community kids and played a key role in developing and implementing ThriveNYC with my wife, Chirlane, the mental health plan.

So these are folks who did a great job for four years. They will definitely will be missed. The new team that we announced – the first deputy mayor will be Dean Fuleihan who has been our budget director . He has done an outstanding job creating progressive yet fiscally sane budgets. He will be replaced by Melanie Hartzag who was one of his deputy’s at OMB, a tremendously talented woman who is going to, I think change the additional, in additional ways the great work that has already started at OMB to make OMB one of the leading edges of reform and progress in the whole administration – an extraordinary talent, also happens to be the first African American ever to be budget director of New York City.
And Laura Anglin is coming in as a new role – deputy mayor for operations. This is I think a good move to help us achieve more in the second term. She was a state budget director in the past. She has great experience in our administration and before. So really exciting new developments, a new chief of staff for me as well, Emma Wolfe who is pretty well known in political circles. She’s done great work as my intergovernmental affairs director and been in the lead of a lot of our biggest legislative achievements, in particular in the city and in Albany.

So it is a very exciting team, we are going to miss the folks who are leaving – they did great. But the great news here Brian here from my point of view is we were able to bring up folks from within the team to fill all those key roles. And that’s exciting to me that the bench is that deep.

Lehrer: And is that it? Have you asked the other major commissioners and deputy mayors to stay on and they have accepted? Can we expect at least police Commissioner O’Neill, Schools Chancellor Fariña, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen, all three?

Mayor: So let me, let me update you on a few different things. First the ground rule I have said to the media throughout – assume continuity unless you see otherwise or hear otherwise from me. And second, we will announce personal decisions when they are fully baked. But I think a good, fair thing to assume and what we saw yesterday is a lot of continuity in the team, a lot of folks staying or changing role within the team. But you know again, unless I’m telling people an update, it isn’t true is the first thing I want to say.

Lehrer: So, so you are not committing to those big three?

Mayor: I’m, no, Brian, I don’t want you to put words in my mouth. I want to say it the way I want to say it – assume continuity unless I make an announcement otherwise. And I think you are seeing a lot of continuity already. On the deputy mayor level – the announcements made yesterday included continuity on Deputy Mayor Glen and Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio both of them have been outstanding and Alicia Glen, I think has done has done legendary work in the last four years in terms of building affordable housing and helping us to build our economy. New York City has gained almost 400,000 jobs in the last four years. She’s played a crucial role in that. She’s doing outstanding work. We are going also be looking to add additional pieces to her work.

And Herminia Palacio, our newest of the original of the deputy mayors, our newest one for Health and Human Services has done outstanding job. So they both will be continuing with the team, which is fantastic. We will be hiring a deputy mayor to succeed Richard Buery, that search is underway but that will play out in the coming weeks. But you know, I’m very, very proud, very comfortable with where we stand right now.

Lehrer: So Alicia Glen. So you’re not even committing right now to Commissioner O’Neill?

Mayor: Brian, again, that is a, in my view, that is a semantic situation. I’m going to make announcements when we make announcements – assume continuity.

Lehrer: Will in Williamsburg, you are on WNYC with the Mayor, hi Will.

Question: Hi. My big picture thing is equality in all schools. I have a daughter who goes to a fabulous school – one of the citywide gifted and talent, talented. I have a son who goes to a good school. I’m also on the CEC for my district and just in visiting the schools in the district I am astounded by the level of from top to bottom in terms of resources and opportunities for the kids. Specifically there is a school, PS 23 which I know the Mayor knows because he had a town hall there this spring, it has a large population of shelter kids, it has a large population of VLL kids. It’s a passionate school with passionate community help but they come to the meeting with a half dozen parents and their ask isn’t for a library or brighter gym or a new playground, it’s just AC in the classes. And it, the sort of irony is I believe in your town hall I’m told you mentioned the fact that they could have used turning on the AC because it got pretty hot in there. And that was in March so I know, it’s silly to be talking about this when it’s getting colder out but I’m sure it is going to be getting warm soon. And you know, for a school to be fighting for such a base level resource while others have the opportunity to be fighting for like better curriculum. Just we need to level it by raising the lower end. So I’m hoping you have funds that might help for those guys.

Mayor: Well, I really appreciate that question. This is going to be a passionate part of the second term taking our Equity and Excellence vision and you know really hyper charging it and moving it forward. Because you just hit the nail on the head. There has been immense inequality between schools in the city. And if you said to me you know here is the status quo in education in New York City today. It’s going to be like this long term. Can you accept that? I would say absolutely not. I am very proud that we have steadily increased graduation rates. We’ve made a lot of progress on college readiness. But they need to be – that needs to be much stronger. We’ve improved test scores. But the school system as a whole is not where it needs to be. And one of the greatest problems is the inequality between schools. And so the Equity and Excellence vision is a simple concept. Equity meaning resources now have to distribute fairly. In fact we need to make up for some of the sins of the past and then Excellence – we’re not looking to get schools to an okay or you know barely adequate level. We’re looking to get schools to a really strong level. And that could be done on a very fast basis. From my experience I go way back to when I was a school board member in Brooklyn long ago. Schools can turn around quickly if they’re given the right support. So we are – we have been steadily over four years increasing the funding levels for schools that were historically underfunded and the big initiatives – pre-K, the after school programs, the AP for All – for all the high schools that do not have AP courses now will have them - a whole host of things to focus on getting kids reading by the end of second grade on grade level, which is a huge crucial element of strategically turning around our schools. I want to just dual on that one quick second Brian. That one is one of the things that just proves how wrong our whole dialogue about education is. What we should be talking about all day long is getting kids reading by the time they take their third grade test. Getting them on grade level reading. If they can do that, it opens up all the doors of the future. That’s a broadly – broad census among educators. If you’re [inaudible] on grade level by third grade all other things are possible. When I came into office in this city under 30 percent of our kids were reading on grade level by third grade. Last year it was 41 percent. We’re making progress. I want to get us well over 90 percent in the coming years. This is the kind of thing that will fundamentally change schools. It’s a huge investment we have to make. So I feel the same urgency you feel. And finally on the air conditioners, we have pledged, and we’ve put the money in the budget. Every classroom will have air conditioning in New York City over the next few years. That was crazy that wasn’t the case. It now will be the case.

Lehrer: I want to go to another personnel change that you don’t have control over, and that is of course that is someone will succeed Melissa Mark Viverito as City Council Speaker because she is term limited out of office, and I see you criticized those speaker candidates who are proposing to extend the term limits law to three terms from the current two. Number one, are you endorsing anyone for speaker? There are eight candidates as I understand it. And if council were to pass a three term limit instead of two bills, are you committing to vetoing it?

Mayor: Oh yeah. That’s the easiest question of the day.

We’ve had this decision by the people. Look, I used to have mixed feelings on the question of term limits. When Mayor Bloomberg tried to overturn them – obviously for his own gain – in a way I thought was really undemocratic in 2008, I was one of the people who lead the opposition to that. And by the way, a lot of the people who were involved in that opposition later were affirmed by the people of this city as leaders of this city because people made really, really clear they do not want term limits messed with, and they don’t want the popular will ignored again even by a billionaire. The public has voted, I believe it’s three separate times for the two term limit in citywide elections. It should not go anywhere.

Lehrer: So that’s clear.

I’ve heard you like among the candidate, maybe Donovan Richards from Queens partly because he’s an ally on the housing plan and the zoning. Any truth?

Mayor: It’s a real simple equation right now. There’s eight recognized candidates. I obviously know them all. I have not taken a position. I will not take a position in the short term. What I’ve said very clearly – it’s a well-known fact – that I was involved in the election of Melissa Mark Viverito who was a real ally and someone I shared values with. I’m proud to have helped her get elected, and I think she did a great job as speaker. I certainly intend to be involved in the final analysis here. I’m not supporting a specific candidate now, but I’m talking to everyone. Look, I want someone who’s going to be a good partner. I want someone who’s going to help us continue the fast pace of change that we achieved in the last four years. I need to know who will do that best and who will share values and vision the most. Those conversations are continuing.

Lehrer: Here’s a question via Twitter. Listeners, you can use the hashtag #AskTheMayor.

Please ask the mayor about his plans to tackle homelessness. How can we possibly call ourselves the greatest city in the world with things the way they are?

Mayor: That’s a very fair statement. I’m fundamentally dissatisfied with where we stand right now. I’ve been very public about the fact that I think I missed some of the key realities early on and should have handled them differently. I’m particularly self-critical on the fact that one of the things we most needed to do with our shelter system was reorient it to make it more locally focused, and honestly, you know, I’ll say I sat in a room with a lot of smart people and none of us figured it us out until the end of the third year, and shame on me, shame on us. But we finally – the only good news here is we did figure it out. 

Look, I believe the plan in place now will achieve several things. It will reduce shelter population incrementally because I think anything, anybody who says there’s like some miracle way to quickly reduce shelter population is lying at this point. When I’ve looked at this really, really carefully, until we can create a huge amount more of affordable housing and really improve wages and benefits for working people we’re going to be dealing with this crisis. So that’s a structural thing. Bluntly, what’s happening in Washington right now is going to make it a lot harder. If this tax bill does pass for example, it makes it a lot harder for us to do the kinds of things we need to end the homelessness crisis. So at this moment, if you assume something like status quo in Washington, and we have sort of similar resources to what we have now, our plan will incrementally reduce shelter population but not radically and quickly. I wish we could, but it’s going to be incremental. It will reorient the whole shelter system to be more locally focused, so anyone who goes in the shelter – God forbid anyone who goes in the shelter – they go in their own borough and ultimately as close to their own original neighborhood as possible. That’s particularly important for families with kids, keeping them close to their school. And we’re doing a lot more of the preventative work. We have the right to counsel law which the council passed, which is fantastic. That anyone faced with an illegal eviction can get a free lawyer and free legal counsel from the city. That’s a game changer. We’ve never had it on that level before.

And look, obviously the impact of the affordable housing plan, and the fact that we’ve upgraded it is going to have a huge impact, and finally we’re going to get out of these pay by the day hotels and cluster buildings that are not quality housing. We are adamant and convinced we get rework the whole system. And Brian, you know it’s been controversial. I’ve said there’s tons of opposition to being in these hotels. As regular hotels were – we paid for rooms. It’s not fair to taxpayers. It’s not fair to homeless folks, but the only way we get out of them once and for all is to have permanent shelter facilities that are new and run by the City, and then when no longer needed can be converted to permanent affordable housing. So that’s our vision.

Lehrer: Here’s another kind of housing question, I think, from Brooke in Brooklyn. Brooke, you’re on WNYC.

Question: Hello, hi, Mr. Mayor. First of all, I want to say thank you for doing the affordable housing lottery, and it’s been really great, but the process is super stressful. I was called in for an interview for an affordable housing lottery in Brooklyn, and from the time that I was called in until a couple of days ago it was a nine month process, and I was told my application was approved, I put my life on hold, I didn’t do a lot of things that I wanted to do because I wanted to be in town to go in for an interview, and then suddenly I was put on the waitlist. And I have no rhyme or reason like why that happened, and I’m afraid to stir the pot, and I’m afraid to like ask for a review of the process because I don’t want to be flagged as a trouble maker. I just wish that the process was more opaque – I mean less opaque where people could tell us what’s going on, and I don’t know. It was just a really stressful process to even win the lottery.

Mayor: Well, Brooke, I appreciate that. I will start by saying I am quite critical of pretty much the entire history of bureaucracy, and I don’t – I’m not super intimate with the nuances of how people navigate the lottery process on affordable housing, but I think I can generalize here safely. When you look at a lot of things in government, certainly one of the things I know very well personally like the school admissions process for middle school and high school. I mean, some of these things have gotten markedly better, but there’s still a consistent air of grayness and a lack of user friendly dynamics. And you know I think in New York City more than most places there have been real advances. 3-1-1 for example was a real advance. There’s some other things we’re doing – really wonderful things with outreach efforts to help people navigate government like pre-K had a wonderful facilitated enrollment staff that actually helped literally work family by family to figure out the right location and lock it in for them.

I think that’s the way of the future is a much more customer friendly approach to government, so I’m glad you’re raising this. I’d like you to give your information to WNYC so we can follow up on your particular case. What I have heard from people out a lot of townhall meetings I’ve done – I’ve done 45 townhall meeting now, including one last night in Queens – is that a lot of people had that experience. They thought they were about to get an apartment and then something happened to stop it. The first thing you should know is there is an appeal process, and we want people to take advantage of it, so I’m going to have people talk to you directly to navigate that with you, but it shouldn’t be so difficult. It shouldn’t be so stressful, and it shouldn’t be so slow. So I want to work in the second term to really tighten that up because – look, I meet people every day, and Brian this is important point. People come up to me every day who won those lotteries and got affordable housing, and they talk to me. I’ve been in some of the apartments. I’ve seen how it changes people’s lives. But we want to make that a simple process, not a stressful process.

Lehrer: Alright, we’re almost out of time. We’re going to have as our next guest Ste Moore, the conservative economist, who’s one of the architects of the tax bill that’s going through Congress right now, so to conclude ask the mayor for this week let me ask you – Congress and the president are very close to this biggest tax system change in 30 years and all our local officials are saying it’s going to be really bad for New York and New Jersey. That includes our local republicans in Congress as you know who voted against it largely because it would end the state and local income tax deduction for federal income tax, and I know you’re against the bill, but my question is what are you projecting the impact to be on city government if it passes and how would you have to compensate and are you preparing?

Mayor: I’ll be very quick, the first thing I want to say is we’re going to fight the bill. There still are members of Congress – republican members of the house in New Jersey and in New York State – who are not against this bill. We have to get them against this bill. There’s a lot in California as well. There’s still enough votes in the house – it has to go back to the house. I fear it will pass the senate this time, but it has to go back to the house, but there there is a real fight to be had because there a lot of elements in this bill that are causing controversy for house members right and left, if you will, within the republican party. But there’s a lot of people whose districts would be hurt who are still not against it. We have to organize with grassroots folks across the country – with mayors both democrat and republican around the country – to stop the bill. If the bill passes, the impact on New York is hugely negative – 700,000 people get a tax increase immediately, middle class, working class people. And then your point, what does it do to our budget?

Over time, I have to imagine it’s a profound negative impact on our budget because I think the downward pressure it will put on the ability of the government to fund – you name it, mass transit, affordable housing, ultimately things like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. All of that will be pushed down to the local level. A huge amount of new expense will be forced to the local level, and there will be pressure to lower local taxes at the same time. It’s like double jeopardy. So we have the ultimate contingency plan, which is huge reserves. We’ve built up the biggest financial reserves in the history of New York City to protect against what we originally thought might be an economic downturn, now it’s literally going to be a manmade – and in this case they’re all men – a manmade crisis from Washington that’s going to in many ways undermine the prosperity of New York City and a bunch of other cities around the country that are actually leading the American economy right now. So it’s horrifying that a policy is going to be made in Washington potentially that will undercut what has been working in New York City and in all the creative capitals of the country. Our first line of defense is our reserves. We’re going to protect them constantly, but you know again – job one is to try and stop them. There’s still a real chance to stop them or deeply modify it.

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, thank you so much. Talk to you next week.

Mayor: Thank you, Brian.

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