Secondary Navigation

Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Announces Julie Menin as Director of The Census for NYC and Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel for Strategic Advocacy

January 2, 2019

Mayor Bill de Blasio: John, I want to thank you. And you mentioned the bully pulpit – well, this is the first press conference of the year in 2019, and there’s a reason we’re talking about the census as the very first item of business for this year, because nothing is more fundamental to the future of New York City than counting our people right and being recognized for who we are.

And John, you’ve done this over your whole lifetime. You’ve fought for fair representation, you’ve fought for people getting the rights and resources they deserve, and thank you for everything you’re doing now at Medgar to make sure this census actually reflects the people of New York City. Let’s thanks John Flateau and everyone at Medgar.

[Applause]

John referred to the Schomburg Center as a sacred space and I want to affirm that. This is a place of truth, this is a place dedicated to recognizing a truth that was often buried, a truth that was often denied. And I don’t have to tell anyone in this room that we live in a country we love, but we live in a country we love, but we live in a country that had founding documents that literally portrayed some people as less than full human beings, and we’re still working to overcome that. So, in those same founding documents they talked about counting the people every 10 years, but there was inherently an undercount set up from the very beginning, because people were not seen as equal and full humans. 

Fast forward to today, where something insidious is happening in Washington, systematically attempting to undercount the people of this country and in many ways because of who they are, where they come from, what their race is. That’s what we’re up against at this moment. 

So, this is the right place to be – in a place that’s been about truth, a place that’s been about portraying the honest lives of our people. The census should be the ultimate expression of that. But we have a huge amount of work to do if we’re going to get it right. 

The clock is ticking right now, we have until July of 2020 – a year-and-a-half to do something that honestly has never been done as well as it should be and we knew that we would need a huge effort – the biggest census effort in the history of New York City, and we would need a dynamic leader. When we talked about what it would take, thought about a couple of things – someone who knew how to organize people in common cause, someone who knew how to fight for a good cause no matter how difficult, someone who had devoted her life to defending the interest of New Yorkers, including a lot of New Yorkers who had been left behind – and when we applied those criteria, it because very, very clear. And it is my honor to introduce to you our new Census Director Julie Menin. 

[Applause]

I want to talk about the mission ahead and I want to talk about what Julie brings to this and how she’s going to engage all of us. And I want to start that by saying thank you to everyone who’s here, because here are the folks who are going to have to be the heroes in this fight. All around, this is a group of very meaningful, powerful activists, advocates, community leaders who represent every element on this city. And all of the folks up here, the leaders, elected officials understand this only works if we reach the grassroots. And we all know government has not always been so good at reaching the grassroots, so we’re going to have to do things differently. That’s why literally on day-one we’re starting with all of the folks who understand what it takes.

I want to thank all of the folks behind me for their commitment and I want to thank members of my administration because this is going to involve a whole host of City agencies and everyone understands what a priority it is. I want to thank the Chair of our City Planning Commission Marisa Lago; I want to thank the Commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Bitta Mostofi; our Corporation Counsel Zach Carter; I want to thank the OMB First Deputy Director Ken Godiner. And I can’t emphasize enough, every agency is going to be in this. We’re all going to work in common cause here. 

And I want to thank elected officials who are going to be with us in this fight – Borough President Eric Adams; Councilmember Bill Perkins, Councilmember Mark Levin; so many others who are going to be a part of it. And also, you’re going to see some important allies that maybe wouldn’t be what you’d naturally think of, but our library system is going to be a big part of this. Thank you to Tony Marks. 

[Applause]

I want to thank Tony Marks, President and CEO of New York Public Library; and of course, Kevin Young, Director of the Schomburg Center. Thank you so much.

[Applause]

But what they’ve said to us is, let us reach all of those people – come through our doors – and inform them and engage them. Libraries are going to be a big peace of this and you’re going to see a lot of other ways that we reach people. 

Now, what do we know? We know historically there’s been an undercount. And we know that like so many other challenges we face in this city and in this country, the undercount has cut strongly along racial and economic lines and we can’t allow that to happen this time. It would be difficult under any circumstance, because 10 years ago the City mounted a serious effort but still knew that there had been a substantial undercount. That was before there was a federal administration trying to throw a wrench into it and make the thing harder, and that’s what’s happening. It’s explicit. 

The Trump administration is trying to make sure that this census fails. It’s as simple as that. There’s been no serious effort to create the kind of national outreach effort that’s needed. There’s been an absolutely contradictory and exclusionary approach, which include putting the question on immigrant status in the census, something that has not been done in generations. Think about this – through Democratic and Republican administrations, there was no question about immigration status. Now, suddenly, it appears, explicitly for the purpose of inhibiting the response to the census and undercounting a lot of people. And by the way, those people undercounted will be people of color. Those people undercounted will be immigrants. That’s what’s going on here. It is immoral and it is unconstitutional, and we are in court right now with a lot of other allies fighting against the Trump administration to stop this effort to inhibit this census.  

What it means – it’s not just about having a count so we know who we are – that’s great. It’s much more about what it means for people. The literally billions of dollars of federal funds that flow or don’t flow, according to the census – money that comes down to whether people have healthcare, or food, or opportunity, or safety, or not. It comes down to whether we have proper representation in Congress. 

Now, we saw all this play out and we could have said, well, this is going to be too difficult. But I want to say, New Yorkers refused to be intimidated. We don’t get bullied, even by a fellow New Yorker. And we fought back – we started the Get Counted effort that’s already been going on and building the framework. And now, with the appointment of Julie Menin, we can take it to the next level. 

Julie will be mobilizing the people of this city to make this census work. She’ll also be taking on a new role at the Law Department and be part of the group that fights for fairness on the census – again, a case we think is very, very strong. If you look at her history, it’s abundantly clear. And I first got to know Julie during a very challenging issue at Ground Zero where there was controversy and there were strong feelings, and she was a voice of truth and reason, and brought people together as the Chair of Community Board 1. And she stood up for that American value, the right to practice whatever faith is yours, and she defended Muslim New Yorkers and said they had a right to worship as well. And people all over the City saw her character. 

I’ve hired her for two different jobs, she’s done an outstanding job at both as Commissioner of Consumer Affairs and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. 

[Applause]

And what she did at both was, she shook up the status quo. When she became Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, we were just starting the paid sick leave initiative. She did an outstanding job informing people of their rights, making sure their rights were honored, and also reaching out to businesses, particularly small business and showing them how an enlightened policy could work for them. She got low-income New Yorkers $260 million back in their pockets through an innovative outreach campaign to let people know about their earned income tax credit rights. She knows how to reach the grassroots. She knows how to do the work of justice. In her most recent role, she’s gotten millions of dollars in funding for women to become filmmakers and let their voices come through. She’s helped get thousands of young people training in the industry that often didn’t include them in the past. But she helped make sure that at-risk young people had a chance in an industry that should be theirs as well. 

So, she’s a change-agent and she knows how to get things done. You’re going to hear from Julie in a moment, but before I turn to her and to the Deputy Mayor, I want to say a message really to all New Yorkers. And I want everyone to understand this is personal for all of us – make sure you are counted in this census. This matters for your family. This matters for your neighborhood. This matters for your city. If we get counted right, we’re going to get the resources we need. We’re going to have the representation we deserve. If we are undercounted, we will lose out. Everyone needs to understand, this is personal. This matters to our whole city. 

And if Donald Trump thinks that he can intimidate New Yorkers into standing back and cowering, I guess he hasn’t been to New York City lately because we refuse to be intimidated. 

A few quick words in Spanish –

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

And with that, I want to turn to a woman that I know will lead us to a fair and just count of the people of New York City. Our new Census Director Julie Menin – 

[Applause]

Census Director Julie Menin: Thank you. Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor. I’m so thrilled to take on this new role and I’m also so delighted to be here with so many colleagues in government, particularly Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer; Borough President Adams; Councilmember Levin, Dr. Hazel Dukes, Maria Lizardo, Lloyd Williams; and so many others who have joined us today.

So, let me just say from the outset – it’s been an incredible honor to serve as Commissioner in this administration for two different City agencies, and I’m so excited to take on this new role. This dual role is both Census Director and Executive Assistant Corp. Counsel for Strategic Advocacy at the Law Department. 

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve had many conversations with the Mayor about my desire to go back to my true and fundamental passion, which is the law and the ability of our legal system to protect our most sacred democratic rights and principals. And for the past few years, I’ve served as an adjunct professor at Columbia, teaching a legal and policy class on what happens with cities and how they can lead the way when the federal government is taking actions to hurt them. That’s exactly what’s at risk here. 

Indeed, over $700 billion is allocated nationally to over 300 census-based, federally funded programs for city and states. As the Mayor said, we’re talking about our public schools, our hospitals, our housing, our roads and bridges, our senior centers, our emergency preparedness, our job centers – almost everything that matters no matter what community you live in is at stake here. 

But let me be honest, what is more at stake is the disenfranchisement and harm to immigrant communities, to minorities, and to low-income individuals. As the Mayor said, for the first time in 70 years, the census now includes a question on citizenship, a matter that we in New York City are a lead plaintiff on, because we know that this question is not only unlawful but, let’s be honest, we know what it’s really about. Immigrants in this city and across the country know that by asking this question, the federal government seeks to silence them. The ramifications are tremendous, New York City is home to over 3 million immigrants and 1.47 million are non-citizens. Our city would face dire consequences in an undercount, and let me just give one example. In public education alone, in 2017, $779 million in Title 1 funds, based on census numbers, were allocated for children in New York City living below the poverty line. And also, let’s be clear, a citizenship question that seeks to drive immigrants underground will mean less funding for cities with large immigrant populations, like New York. 

An undercount would also lower our Congressional representation where it’s estimated that we stand to lose one-to-two seats statewide. And that is why we’re going to reach every New Yorker through every means possible to ensure they answer the census through community organizing, houses of worship, neighborhood groups, labor, community boards – we are going to reach all New Yorkers.

I honestly cannot think of a more important role than this role because it really talks about our fundamental democratic ideals. My mother came to New York as a holocaust survivor, having hid in a cellar in Budapest with my grandmother. My grandfather and the rest of our family were killed simply because they were born Jewish. The rights of immigrants to be treated fairly and justly by our government is at risk in the census. 

I also want to say, I’m really excited to also serve in a new senior role at Corporation Counsel. In that role, as I did as Commissioner of Consumer Affairs where we sued gun manufacturers, banks that were hurting low-income New Yorkers with predatory practices, debt collectors [inaudible] we will aggressively pursue bad actors who are preying on New Yorkers, and we will sue the Trump administration when they implement policies that hurt New Yorkers. 

So, in closing, let me just say, I’m so honored to take on these two new roles and I can assure you we will leave no stone unturned in our effort to count every single New Yorker and we will pursue every legal avenue to ensure that our democratic ideals are upheld and that justice is served. 

[Applause]

Mayor: I want to turn to Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson, and he has been leading the way, building the infrastructure so that we could launch today, putting together the team, the resources. And Phil – I have known him now almost 30 years. He has spent literally a lifetime working on the empowerment of communities and making sure that people’s voices are heard. And this, to me, brings together all of his work over those decades to give us a chance to do something that hasn’t been done right before, and finally get it right, and actually reflect all of our people. 

Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson –

[Applause]

Deputy Mayor Phillip Thompson, Strategic Initiatives: Well, first I want to thank the Mayor and commend the Mayor again for his leadership on this issue. And New York City – actually, we convened 30 other municipalities recently to share with them what we’re doing and to help them in their efforts. And the Mayor is the one who’s driving all of this. So, thank you again, Mr. Mayor, for your leadership.

Mayor: Thank you very much.

[Applause]

Deputy Mayor Thompson: And I’m excited to have Julie Menin on board because she has the kind of drive and focus that it’s going to take to really make this a successful effort. And today begins our 18-month census outreach campaign that we will do with intensity. I also want to thank Joe Salvo, sitting here from the Department of City Planning. 

[Applause]

Joe is one of the leading demographers in the nation. I believe this is his fourth census. When I was a student at Hunter College, we actually got a lecture from Joe Salvo on the census, and this was a really long time ago. And the Census Bureau has actually been turning to Joe for direction, and advise, and context, and background, and expertise on how to do this right. So, we’re privileged to have Joe on our team.

And I want to thank [inaudible] and others on my staff for the good work they’ve already done in educating people about the census, challenging the fear tactics of the national administration, while at the same time working closely with the bureau of the census. And we’ve already reached agreement with the Census Bureau that they will share data with us in real-time so that we understand where there are communities that are lagging behind in filling out the census and we can therefore intervene and step up efforts in targeted communities. We also have an agreement with the Census Bureau to use our Workforce One centers to help hire the 20,000 people they will need to do outreach.

I also want to thank the community organizations and nonprofits who are trusted messengers in communities that have had historically – or, at least historically have had low turnout rates. These include many African-American and some immigrant communities. There’s New York Count 2020 and other organizations that are really stepping up to the plate. And really, everyone has been coming forward and stepping up to the plate on this issue in the city. 

Nothing is more fundamental to democracy than an accurate and honest census, and we’ve been arguing and fighting about this since 1787 and the Three-Fifths Clause in the original Constitution. And making sure everyone’s counted really affects the legitimacy of our entire system of representative government. So, we have to get this right. 

I just want to mention, my wife is here, Dana Cunningham, somewhere in the back. 

[Applause]

So, my wife – will you raise your hand?

[Laughter]

My wife spent many years as an attorney for the NAACP legal defense fund as a voting rights lawyer, and her defendants were mainly folks in Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana who were being put in jail for fighting for voting rights. And the fight for the census is that fight. It is a basic fight for our democracy, it’s not just about filling out a piece of paper. And so, that’s the message we’re taking out to New Yorkers – that we need to stand as one and fight back, and preserve, and keep our democracy.

Thank you.

Mayor: Phil, thank you. You are showing the passion we all see from you every day and that’s why your leadership role here is going to make a huge, huge difference. I also appreciate you shouting out Dayna, thank you Dayna for all you have done, and I appreciate your shout-out of Joe Salvo and I just have to say for all of us who have been in public service, Joe Salvo is kind of that legendary figure, the one guy who sees the future and understands this city in a way maybe no one else does, so Joe I’m kind of – I’m kind of like a nerd fan of yours.

[Laughter]

Thank you so much for being a part of this. I want to now turn to someone whose story could not be more powerful and more pertinent to why we’re gathered here, because what’s happened the last few years is the dehumanization of people who have come to our shores to become parts of our community and contribute to our country.

At one point we seemed to actually celebrate that, and now we’re seeing the exact opposite emanating from Washington, D.C., where human beings who become Americans and join us are being treated as something other and less than and negative, when in fact our history shows everyone who joins us is part of what makes us great. Here we have someone who as a young man, yes, he said it out loud many a time, was undocumented. He came here, he worked hard, he became a leader in his community, he contributed in his community. He is now providing the highest form of service as a member of the United States House of Representatives. If there’s one person you want to look to as an example of why what we’re hearing from Washington today is wrong and why the census should count everyone including young undocumented men who come from other countries waiting to contribute, waiting to make a difference, I present to you Congressman Adriano Espaillat.

[Applause]

[…]

Mayor: Thank you.

[Applause]

Thank you Congressman, you always tell it like it is, thank you. Now I want to introduce the Borough President of Manhattan and she works hard to stay ahead of the game and once again she is, she already started a committee, the Complete Count Committee for Manhattan and that is the way we want to do it in all five boroughs, Borough President Gale Brewer.

[Applause]

[…]

Mayor: Thank you.

[Applause]

We now want to focus on three people, three more speakers, who will talk about what I think is the single most important piece of this equation, which is reaching the grassroots through grassroots organizations, grassroots leadership. Because it is a movement, I agree 100 percent with what the congressman said, it’s a movement, and we have found in this city that if we go deep to the trusted leaders and trusted organizations we will reach a lot more people. So I want you to hear from a few of the folks who exemplify the work ahead. First, she’s done outstanding work for the last few decades for people in the neighborhoods of Northern Manhattan, as the executive director of the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation – it says it all, the name says it all. Executive Director Maria Lizardo –

[Applause]

[…]

[Applause]

Mayor: We have the honor of being here in Harlem and there’s literally no one more synonymous with this community than Lloyd Williams but why it’s particularly important to have Lloyd Williams here is that he has built up a community organization, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce and I have watched the growth over a decade  it’s unbelievable who this really is the representation of this community and reaching people in so many ways throughout the year including during Harlem week which as I like to remind people is now not only Harlem month but is turning into Harlem year. That’s the kind of outreach, my pleasure to introduce Lloyd Williams –

[Applause]

[…]

[Applause]

Mayor: Alright, thank you so much Lloyd. Ellie, I also want to offer my thanks for engaging people and we’re going to need the full participation of every kind of community organization and everybody who communicates with the community including all forms of media, our community based media, ethnic media, online media, mainstream media, everyone helping to get the word out about how important this is so Ellie thank you very much for your leadership, we appreciate it.

[Applause]

Last, but never least. I think this is the perfect person to wrap up the speaking portion here because she epitomizes fighting no matter what the odds and sticking with the fight and she also knows something about this particular subject matter because not only as head of the New York State NAACP but as one of the leaders of the national NAACP she has been a key proponent in involving the NAACP in this kind of outreach work. It’s going to take everyone and the nation’s oldest, most established, most respected civil rights organization is going to be one of the key, key pieces of this outreach effort and this movement. So my pleasure to introduce Hazel Dukes.

[Applause]

[…]

[Applause]

Mayor: Later on we’ll be announcing the first Hazel Dukes – Donald Trump debate.

[Laughter]

It’s going to be very dramatic. Hazel thank you, thank you for all you will do and your chapters will do. Thank you for bring the Delta Force with you.

[Laughter]

The deltas are here. So that’s a lot of help that will help us spread the word and get people counted. With that I want to open up to the media to questions about the census, we’ll go to other topics after, but first on the census, yes?

Question: Mr. Mayor, if the citizenship question ends up in the census you might have federal workers asking directly, asking New Yorkers directly whether they are citizens. You just said – you just told New Yorkers not to be afraid, the city will protect you. How? Can you be specific?

Mayor: Sure, the City is protecting people right now by being party to the legal action that will, I fundamentally believe, determine that that question is now unconstitutional and I want to affirm, I said something like this to you, to everyone, a year or more ago when the Trump Administration announced the executive action on immigration which would have taken away funding for security for New York City, because we refused to ask documentation status of people who receive city services, and I said at the time as Zach Carter said at the time, this is unconstitutional, we will beat them in court. Well guess what? It was unconstitutional, we beat them in court and we’re going to beat them again.

[Applause]

Question: Mr. Mayor, if this work is so important, and no one is saying it isn’t obviously, why give Ms. Menin a second job?

Mayor: Because of the interconnection of the two to begin with, that the legal action for – just following exactly on the previous question. The legal action here to defeat that inappropriate, unconstitutional question in the census is crucial to an effective census. Also, because Julia Menin brings a lot to the table on other things that we want to achieve through the Law Department. And you have noticed lately that we have some very, very capable people in this administration that we know can do more than one thing well and this is another example of that, and anyone who’s seen here at work knows how relentless she is and how focused she is. I think she’s going to able to do a lot for us on both fronts. Yes?

Question: Question for Commissioner Menin. Your record of achieving things through political confrontation, for example, heading off the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial in Lower Manhattan would seem to commend you for this role. On the other hand, the census is historically and almost of necessity a cooperative enterprise between the federal government and local agencies. Assuming that there’s going go to be zero cooperation here coming from the federal government, which sounds likely, what avenues—

Mayor: No, that’s not true.

Director Menin: Yeah let me just correct the record there. It’s not that there’s zero cooperation from the federal government, we’re going to work collaboratively with the Census Bureau. The Census Bureau is – has been around obviously for years through many presidential administrations. We’re going to work very closely with them. I mean, let me just say we’re also going to focus very much on outreach, and the other point that I want to make and I think it’s very important to emphasize is that Title 13 of the US Code prohibits the federal government from sharing any information. So we want to make sure that New Yorkers hear that, that their information is indeed protected.

Mayor: I want to emphasize this point. We’ve seen it now over two years. We have a president and a White House that we’ve probably never seen anything like before but we also have a federal government that continues to function with hundreds of thousands of professionals who keep doing their job and some very specific approaches that do not change according to who is president, and I think there’s a lot of folks at the Census Bureau who are not only professional, they are apolitical, they are devoted to getting the count right, and that working relationship has been fine and I can say that about other federal agencies as well, so I think it’s really important to differentiate some specific and negative policies coming from the White House versus what people in the government do every day who were there before Donald Trump got there and are going to be there after he’s gone.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer: Mr. Mayor I just want to add the second what you’re stating – we’ve met with the local census people and they are extremely cooperative, they want to work with the City of New York and they have – are being very, very professional.

Mayor: Amen, amen. Yes?

Question: Now that you’ve made the announcement of who’s going to direct the effort when does this actually begin in the community? Is there a start date for when people should start to—

Mayor: Phil Thompson why don’t you speak to that.

NAACP New York State Conference President Hazel Dukes: We started already.

Mayor: Yeah, well Hazel just jumped you but that’s okay.

[Laughter]

Deputy Mayor Thompson: It’s already started in communities and so we’ve been meeting and the borough presidents have been convening. We’ve been meeting with groups all across the city. Our Immigrant Affairs, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs has been very active. We also are asking community groups to define what blocks, neighborhood by neighborhood, they can actually cover, and what we’re working on is a master plan that actually ensures that we cover everywhere and so we’ve been not only asking community groups to come together – we’ve been working with them to say okay let’s pull out a map and let’s say who’s going to do what.

Mayor: Okay. Please.

Question: How long has Menin worked with the Department of City Planning which has historically run the census? Will the Department’s role change?

Mayor: Well, I want to affirm that City Planning plays an absolutely crucial role but as we saw 10 years ago there was also an outreach effort built and I think it was a commendable one but this one has to be much bigger, much more aggressive. First because we know, despite the good effort last time, a lot of people weren’t reached and we believe that number is somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter million that were the undercount in 2010 in New York City, was somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter million, and that’s, you know, think about that. That’s the size of a major American city. That’s how many people were missed because even in better times, it’s an imperfect reality to achieve the census. We have to overcome that great outreach. But on top of that now, we have this very negative effort to intimidate people which is going to make it that much tougher. We understand, all of us at this table, this outreach effort has to be greater and more creative and more energetic than anything we’ve seen before, so City Planning is clearly going to be an important part of it but it has to go much, much farther.

Question: Would you attribute then the lack of outreach to the City Planning’s efforts?

Mayor: No I’m saying that I think there was a serious effort last time but one, we found out through the doing of it, that there was still a huge undercount, and two, that was before we had a federal administration that was trying to undermine the census. This has to be something entirely different and bigger than anything we’ve done before.

Director Menin: And if I could just add, one of the real issues we have here with the citizenship question is that many families might have one member who is from an immigrant community or undocumented and then whole household often times will fear a response, so we have to counter that directly. As the mayor said, we’re very confident in the litigation, we expect a district court judge to rule in the next couple of weeks and we are going to use every legal avenue to pursue this.

Deputy Mayor Thompson: I just want to add that the Department of City Planning already provided the Census Bureau with 122,000 addresses they did not have in their database and the way the census works – if you have no address you don’t get counted. That’s a medium-sized city, right off the top. But this time there’s going to be a greater reliance because of cuts in funding for the census [inaudible] electronic means for people to fill out the census. And so, the libraries are stepping up in a big way this time and we’re already talking about how we’re going to train all of the librarians so that they can actually help folks fill out the census and also to have available the electronic means for people who don’t have it, so they can actually fill out the census. So, it’s going to be a really different, as the Mayor said, effort this time, engaging many, many City departments. 

Dukes: Let me just say [inaudible] did you hear the Borough President say she’s tech savvy? That is not true in our communities. While the libraries, while the [inaudible] and everyone has tried to help, it’s still literacy in our community. Our seniors – it’s a big part of the problems we’re going to encounter. When the federal government says they don’t want workers, they want it done online, that is a signal to us – that’s a signal to us that we will be undercounted. And so, that’s why the volunteers – I lived in a place called Lenox Terrace – I cannot tell you how many senior citizens who are not tech savvy. What I’ll do is knock on the door and they’ll let me in. I’m their neighbor. They know me. They know that I’m there for good. And so, that’s why it’s important for the volunteer groups to step up on our communities where we’re known, where we worked all of these years to assist our city, our state. This is a personal issue to me, it’s personal. I know how to use the tech, I know what to do, but my neighbors and my seniors who will be losing their food stamps, I’ve got to make sure they are counted. And so, this Mayor and the Mayor before him, under the Dinkins administration, we did the same thing, but we’ve got to double our efforts this time, and that’s what the Mayor has brought in a director of the census who I know she works 24-7. I was just with her like three weeks ago on some issues that we were planning. Now, we’ve got to step back up. So, when we leave here today, everybody ought to be able to leave here and be an ambassador for this census count. 

Mayor: Nicely said. Okay, who hasn’t had a chance? Jill?

Question: Mayor, just to follow up on this City Planning question – why not – as it was pointed out earlier, the City has a renowned expert in the census in Mr. Salvo, why not have him leading the effort?

Mayor: It’s a different responsibility. As you heard – we’re going to keep praising you, Joe – as demographers do, it doesn’t get better. To construct a holistic outreach effort that will reach every nook and cranny of the five boroughs, every kind of community leader, elected official, faith-based organization, you name it, involved to overcome what we know is historically a gap in the count and overcome the fear that’s been created. That’s an entirely different kind of mission than what City Planning does. City Planning does great stuff, it’s just that’s not what they do. This has to be a citywide organizing effort that is heavily focused on grassroots mobilization and there’s so many things that Julie has done in her career that show that ability to take this kind of issue to the grassroots and engage people and make a difference. Just look at the history on paid sick leave – that’s one great example. It’s that, and then even going farther. 

Question: [Inaudible] happens to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment?

Mayor: We’ll get a new leader.

Question: You mentioned before that about a third of – there’s an undercount of a third last time around –

Mayor: No, not a third. I want to give you the exact – the exact number that I’ve been given, and we can confirm it afterwards, is again almost a quarter million people was the difference between City Planning’s numerical estimate for the city versus what the 2010 census yielded.

So, again, it’s not a news flash that all over the country the official census undercounts a lot of Americans particularly in urban areas. Last time that undercount was approximately a quarter million people. If we don’t do something very special this time, it could even get worse. Our job is to overcome that. Go ahead –

Question: [Inaudible] understanding that you want to get everybody counted, what is the sort of attainable goal that you’re setting?

Mayor: I don’t want to – I’m not going to bargain against ourselves –

Unknown: [Inaudible] percent.

Mayor: Right, I think it is really important that we say, you know, by any means necessary here and go for 100 percent. We all know how tough that goal is but I’m certainly not going to project to the people of New York City we expect to miss people because that’s not how we’re approaching it. We expect to reach people.

Director Menin: Exactly, and let me just add – I mean, David, we’re going to go to extraordinary measures here. When approximately 40 percent of our population are immigrants and the citizenship question has been out there for a long time, it’s created a level of fear. We need to counteract that fear and we’re going to do that by a massive outreach campaign. And that’s the only way we’re going to do it. And when we have approximately $8.2 billion at stake annually in federally funded programs this really, really matters.

President and CEO Lloyd Williams, Harlem Chamber of Commerce: It is simply – the Mayor said that we recently received 120,000 addresses that did not exist before and that’s fine but how many persons are in every one of those apartments? So, if you can just understand that if you look at the building and see 36 apartments – if you just deal with 36 names, you may lose out on 150 people that are there. And the fact that it is a census for citizens and non-citizens, it’s very important. And Mr. Mayor, you guys have done an extraordinary job on putting this together. It’s not for me to stop questions, but I just want to congratulate you and John and Julie for what you guys are doing.

Mayor: You know, Lloyd, I know you will speak up when you feel moved.

[Laughter]

So, Grace?

Question: If the citizenship question is not taken off the census, have you considered for how you will advise people to –

Mayor: I respect –

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: Perfectly fair question but I’m not going to engage in that question because again we fundamentally believe it is unconstitutional. We are going to fight it. We are going to win. So, I’m not doing hypotheticals. We believe it will be gone.

Question: To follow up on the question from behind me a few minutes ago – looking historically at the undercount, the fact that with a really earnest, good-faith effort last time, we missed out on a quarter of a million people and there are headwinds now like budget cuts [inaudible] technology, hostility from the White House. What does success look like short of 100 percent if it just doesn’t get any worse [inaudible] –

Mayor: Again, I’m – two points. One – I appreciate – absolutely fair question, I’m just not going down that road because our job is to reach everyone. Second point – earnest good-faith last time, absolutely. But was it as grassroots focused, was it as creative, did it engage as many community partners as should have been? I don’t think so. And with all due respect to the previous administration, I’ll say this gently, I’m not sure that was forte. This is a different administration which has focused on engaging grassroots leaders and organizations and reaching the people in all five boroughs. Proof-positive – what Julie has done on Earned Income Tax Credit and what Julie has done on Paid Sick Leave – there’s nothing in the previous administration that resembles that.

So, we have a different approach that I think is inherently going to allow us to go a lot deeper, and the folks all sitting here are tremendous ambassadors and leaders in that effort. We do have a headwind we’re facing but job-one is to get rid of some of that headwind by winning in court. And we feel well-positioned.

Executive Director Maria Lizardo, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation: I’m sorry, if I may just also add – in terms of the investment that this administration has made when it comes to immigrant services, it has been tremendous. And through the Mayor’s Office and Immigrant Affairs, we have several ActionNYC sites throughout the city. And we plan on utilizing those centers as an avenue to make sure that we have these conversations with everyone who is coming in because there you will find people who are undocumented, who are looking for an avenue to get some type of immigration relief. So, this administration has done a great job of really investing in immigrant communities and we plan on using on every avenue to make sure that we get the word out there on the census.

Mayor: Thank you.

Question: Forgive me if you’ve said this already but how much is the City investing in this effort specifically to count –

Mayor: Sure – and I’m going to start and then pass to Phil. Phil can go over what’s been invested so far. He can also go over what other organizations are thinking about in terms of investment because we do think that civic groups, business groups, non-profits, foundations, a lot of important organizations that care about the future of New York City are going to get involved in this. But I also can make a very comfortable statement that if Phil and Julie tell me there is more need, we’re going to find a way to get them additional resources. Go ahead, Phil.

Deputy Mayor Thompson: So, so far, about $5.5 million – and as the Mayor said, we’re looking to build a plan and then working with the City but also working with the business community and foundations and the State, funding the plan. So, the $5.5 million is the initial number that’s already been committed.

Question: If I can just follow-up – do you know how that compares to the last effort for the last census?

Mayor: For the year before? We can – if we’re not sure, let’s get back because we’re talking about the amount that was committed before versus going forward. So, we can get that back unless you know it 100 percent.

Chief Demographer Joseph Salvo, Department of City Planning: Yeah, there was no specific dollar amount, the last time, allocated. It was mostly in-kind resources that were accessed from other City agencies.

Mayor: That’s an answer. You know, you are the voice of wisdom.

Question: A question for the Congressman – asking yourself to look at this set of facts through your own eyes at 17 or 18 years old – somebody representing the federal government knocks on your door, asks you to acknowledge that you are an undocumented immigrant, and says, ‘Swear to God and hope to die we’re not going to tell our buddies at the INS or NYPD or anybody else who might come and drag you out of here in handcuffs for no worse crime than being here without documentation’ would you believe them and would you participate in the census?

U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat: I don’t think that question will be ever asked because I think we’re going to be successful in court.

Question: [Inaudible]

Representative Espaillat: I don’t want to engage in any hypotheticals.

Mayor: I also think – look, it’s a great question about the human reality but this is why having – look at everyone here. If the folks who are leaders in communities who are respected, and we’re talking about going way down into the grassroots – and one of the things, when you think about a community, and you think about folks, when Adriano was a kid, there were clergy members, community leaders, neighbors, folks who owned small businesses, teachers – there were all sorts of people in his life that I am certain he came to trust. And if they were all saying this is okay to do, you’re safe, it becomes something that people participate in. That’s how total it’s going to have to be.

Representative Espaillat: Let me just say something as well. I think that Julie is right, that the citizenship question has been out there for some time already and it’s done damage already in terms of fear and trust. Now, we’re going to have to counteract that. But I think that to have a very smart and sharp and legal answer comes after this is resolved in court not before. I think answering before will just further lead to confusion and fear.

I think, you know, we’re going to have to counter the impact that it’s had already. And we saw that with the public charge. You know, there was some news reports about people losing their green cards at the airports if they flew. I saw – we had folks cancelling their flights for Christmas because they thought they were going to lose their green card because they were taking food stamps. So, there’s an element of fear out there. We don’t want to add to that fear by being incorrect and jumping the gun.

Question: I just want to follow up. That sounds perfectly reasonable but to use your phrase, some of the damage already having been done by the federal government – I’m sorry [inaudible] be very brief. It sounds like getting people to trust the federal government – putting people in that situation to trust the federal government is already going to be rolling a big boulder –

Mayor: It’s not – I’m sorry I want to challenge you and then any others can jump in. It’s not getting them to trust the federal government, it’s getting them to trust the people in their community who are promoting the idea. It’s a totally different approach. If we said, ‘Hey, we’re all going to stand back and let the federal government show up,’ your concern would be very valid.

We’re doing the exact opposite. We’re saying let the people who are part of the community lead the charge so that the members of the community can have trust in it.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer: I just want to add that the City of Providence, Rhode Island, where there is a lot of Portuguese, as they indicated, the woman who had the trust had been head of the department as an academic at the local college. And she is head of the census as a volunteer for the Portuguese community. They counted the Portuguese community, and many of whom do not speak English. So, that’s the trust that we’re talking about and she was able to get it accomplished because of who she is. And that’s the kind of person that the census and we are looking for to be doing particularly where there are different languages. It worked in Providence.

Lizardo: And I just want to add one last thing – I commend the City for investing in this early on. We’re part of the New York 2020 Counts coalition. We also need to push the State. And so we’re asking the State to invest $40 million in this so that way across New York State, we can make sure that there are boots on the ground knocking on doors, people that look and speak the language of the communities that they’re knocking on.

Mayor: Amen. Okay, yes.

Question: [Inaudible] just clarify, what’s the budget that Ms. Menin is going to have available for this effort?

Mayor: Again, she starts with the number that Phil said – $5.5 million. She starts with $5.5 million but this is – hold on, hold on. This is a year-and-a-half away from when this concludes. This is the getting-started resources. There’s going to be, I think, again, a tremendous amount of outside resources available, and we’re going to build out from there. I just said it very publicly. If she needs more resources, we’re going to find a way to get them.

Okay, last call on the census. I want to see if there’s any other media questions on the census. Going once, twice – okay, we’re going to take a little, quick break so folks who need to go elsewhere get a chance to do so like go to Washington, D.C. and get into the majority for example. Well done, brother –

[Applause]

[...]

Mayor: Alright, I think it is – what? Is it not on? Okay, now we’re good? There we go. It says don’t push the on/off button but that’s not the whole truth. Okay, now we’re good, just in case you need it. Okay, yes?

Question: How can a qualifying New Yorker get a discounted MetroCard?

Mayor: How can what kind of New Yorker?

Question: Qualifying New Yorker get a discounted MetroCard?

Mayor: In literally just a few days, we will announce exactly how people can start applying for half-price MetroCards and it’s going to be in waves because we’re building out this new process. I’m very excited about it. You know our whole focus has been on addressing income inequality and getting people opportunity who didn’t have it. This is going to be a key piece of that. And literally what we’ll announce in the next few days is the first element of this and how people can specifically apply, and then we’re going to keep adding to it regularly as we go forward.

Question: Mayor, on that subject, you said in July that this program would launch – I’m sorry you said in June that this program would launch on January 1st. It’s January 2nd, we still haven’t heard really even the framework for how HRA –

Mayor: You’re going to –

Question: [Inaudible] eligible –

Mayor: You’re going to hear in a few days exactly how the first wave of people can apply and we think we’ll be able to get people signed up very quickly. This is absolutely consistent with the plan that we came to with the Council. And look, this has never been done before. This is a brand new way of addressing income inequality, a brand new way of empowering low-income New Yorkers. It’s about to begin in a matter of days and I think it’s going to make a huge difference.

Question: [Inaudible] harder than you anticipated it to be because in June you said, ‘We’re going to be working on this now for the next six months, preparing to make this launch January 1st, and I’m confident we can work out the details in that timeframe.’

Mayor: You know Jillian, I just want to be really clear. Everything I said, I meant. And everything I said, we followed through on. And it is January 2nd, and I’m telling you in a few days we’ll be launching and I think New Yorkers understand that if you have an ideal goal and it takes a few extra days, the good part is people are going to benefit starting right away. David?

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: Hold on. David.

Question: It’s our understanding that the launch will include weekly and monthly passes but no single-ride reduced fare MetroCards. Why is that –

Mayor: Don’t assume that. We’re working on that issue and again, I don’t want to get ahead of an announcement because part of what we’ve been very careful about – and I want to emphasize this – this is a whole new thing. It’s never been done. We are sober about the fact that sometimes you’ve seen government efforts where people have put forward big, bold new things but the specifics haven’t been worked out and people have a satisfying experience. We wanted to get it right from the beginning. So, when we announce in the next few days, it will be fully ready for the first piece. And this is going to be in waves. But that issue is still being worked on.

Question: [Inaudible] it will cost – let me rephrase. Will it cost what essentially the price tag was given out last year about $212 million, $215 million –

Mayor: Okay, we are – let’s talk about this fiscal year because that’s the only piece that’s been specifically agreed to and we look forward to doing more in the future but I want to start with what we have. We said very clearly at the time of the budget handshake and in a press conference on Fair Fares after that we were devoting $106 million to the effort. Where do we get that strange round number? Because the larger proposal that had been put out there by a number of advocates would have totaled $212 million but everyone agreed, the Council and the Mayor’s Office, everyone agreed there would be a substantial ramp up period and this would have to be done in stages.

So the $106 million was a good-faith effort to say that’s the most we could possibly conceive of being able to put into play in the first fiscal year. I know that Speak Johnson and other members of the Council said very publicly, as did I, we’re putting that number out but we know in reality we may not be able to reach that number in the first fiscal year. And any number that isn’t – any amount that isn’t spent will be rolled to the next fiscal year. And that’s the plan we’re operating under.

Question: [Inaudible] Speaker has suggested that he’d like to see some sort of mayoral control of subways. Would all of this been easier if you had that kind of control?

Mayor: Talk about theoretical. Look, I want to be very clear about this, and I respect his point of view, and I share his frustrations about the problems of the MTA. The best way to fix the MTA is on April 1st of 2019, a budget being passed in Albany that will provide the long term funding source that the MTA has so sorely needed. That is how we solve the problem with the current structure.

Now, I believe the current structure could be a lot more responsive. I believe the MTA has not used its money particularly well. I believe that it’s important there be accountability and I believe that all of the commitments that have been made to New York City need to be held in a lockbox and we need to be able to guarantee the money is used well.

So, I want to see the MTA operate better. But Lord knows, if we want real action quickly, we should work with the existing structure. If after every conceivable effort that’s not happening, that might be a valid time to discuss changing the structure. But if we want quick action, we should work with what we have. Please?

Question: Mayor, your reaction to the conviction of Jeremy Reichberg in his corruption trial –

Mayor: I have no reaction. I have spoken to the issue so many times. I really have no interest in talking about it anymore.

Question: You said before you didn’t know them, is that something you’d repeat now?

Mayor: I’ve said very clearly this is someone I came to know for a very limited period of time, did not know that well, and obviously the issue is resolved. Yes?

Question: With the decision in Lower Manhattan, are you relieved that that case is finally over? Your name did get dropped a few times –

Mayor: I tuned it out, honestly, because it had nothing to do with me. Go ahead. Yes?

Question: Mr. Mayor, if you could respond to Governor Cuomo’s speech last night and what it means for the City’s legislative priorities, in particular, are you concerned that he didn’t mention anything about the subways or the MTA?

Mayor: I think it was a different kind of speech. He obviously had given a previous overview of some of the major initiatives that he would be working on. So, this was not sort of the laundry-list speech. This was obviously a more thematic speech and I agreed with him on the basic themes. I thought it was a powerful point he made about what’s wrong now in Washington and how it goes against the values of our State. But in terms of the programmatic pieces, he’s put out a certain number of initiatives so far and we agree with a lot of that. We’re still waiting to see a lot of details. What is obvious is, there must be a solution to the MTA problem. I think we all know that’s going to be very intensive work in Albany. The Governor, the Senate, and the Assembly have to get on the same page. But what I’m going to say, and you guys will get sick of it, but just bear with me – is that April 1st is D-Day, that everyone in New York City who cares about subways should be focused on April 1st. All of the pressure we could possibly bring to bear on Albany to get to a solution. You can argue which one it should be, or which combination, but this is our last best chance. After April 1st, there’s a good chance there will not be any major action taken in Albany. And then the following year is yet again an election year and that makes everything harder. So, this is our chance to get it right. 

Question: Yesterday, you announced the City’s Styrofoam ban taking effect. There were rumblings there among some of those advocates that the next thing should be the plastic bag ban, to bring that up – bring that to Albany where Democrats are now fully in control of everything. Is that something that you plan to push?

Mayor: 100 percent. It absolutely has to happen. It should happen. It should never have been interfered with. You know, the previous legislation shouldn’t have been interfered with. But I actually believe the ban is a better solution than the previous approach anyway. 

Question: Getting back to the Reichberg trial, Councilman Eric Ulrich following it today the decision is proof that your administration has been for sale since day-one. How would you respond to that?

Mayor: Absolutely false, and he knows better. This has been an administration that has focused on the needs of New Yorkers. In fact, we’ve come in now for five years and changed things fundamentally in terms of helping every-day New Yorkers, and that’s what we’ve been focused on, and this trial has nothing to do with me. 

Question: Today, you officially set the date for the special election for Public Advocate. Do you intend to endorse any candidates in that race? 

Mayor: I don’t have a plan to at this moment, but I also want to say there is a substantial amount of time between now and the election and I’ll watch what happens and I’ll certainly consider the different options. But at this moment I don’t have a plan to get involved. 

Question: Corey Johnson is now the acting Public Advocate and it sounds like he wants to make use of that position and launch some investigations. Any concern about him?

Mayor: No. I think highly of Corey. We work very well together. We’ve been partners on a whole number of things and obviously right now the City Council provides oversight on a whole host of issues, so I don’t think it’s profoundly different. 

Other questions? Yes?

Question: Just to go back to Fair Fares, can you elaborate more on the phases? I’m not sure I understand. Do you have any idea of how many people the City intends to serve with the discount in the first six months? What can we expect in terms of the phase timeline here?

Mayor: I want to be – again, the same point I made before – this is going to be a very big deal. It’s going to reach a lot of people. It’s going to make a big impact on their lives. We absolutely want to make sure when we announce it in the next few days that it’s ready, and that will be true of each phase thereafter. So, I’m very purposefully not going to give you all of the details today because we want to get them finalized and then announce them each as ready. But what I’m really happy about here is, the plan is working. When we agreed to it back in June, like so many other good ideas, that was the theory, then we had to figure out how to actually do it. And it’s been a very good process, we actually figured out ways to address some of the problems that originally we weren’t sure we could overcome and I’m very pleased with the result, but it’s not time to go into the details – that’s just a few days away. 

Question: Your State of the City is a week from tomorrow. Care to elaborate? Or, give us a hint about –

Mayor: Can you tell us what it’s going to be?

Question: Last time it was Democracy – is there a big theme that is emerging for you now?

Mayor: I’m not going to jump the gun. There are going to be some important new announcements about building on our effort to create a fairer city, building on our effort to address income inequality, and taking the things we’ve done so far and taking them to the next level – that’s all I’ll say. 

Question: In terms of the Governor and the lack of [inaudible] do you feel that the subways are a high priority for him? And have you had any further discussions with him about how you think this should go?

Mayor: I have had numerous discussions with the Governor and certainly want to find common ground, and I think we’ve had very productive conversations. I believe it is a high priority and I believe the people are demanding answers from him and everybody in Albany because it’s quite clear to the people of this City that the decisions about the MTA rest in Albany, and that’s become increasingly clear over the last two years. You may have been at some of my town hall meetings – I constantly ask people to clarify where they think the decision-making power of the MTA rests. And a couple of years ago it was quite mixed, and nowadays almost every hand goes up for the State of New York. So, it’s quite clear where the solution has to come from – it has to come from the Legislature and the Governor. April 1st is I think our last best chance to get it done, but the conversations have been productive and I look forward to working with him and Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Carl Heastie to get to a solution. 

Question: Mr. Mayor, the 2020 race is on – Senator Elizabeth Warren is announced. What do you make of how she announced her entrance and what do you think of her candidacy?

Mayor: I think very highly of Elizabeth Warren. I really have not paid a lot of attention to the specific way she announced, so I can’t comment on that, but she’s done great work and I think there’s a lot of other great people who are talking about it. It’s early, early, early – and we should recognize, we can’t exhaust ourselves over the next year or two focusing on something that’s almost two years away. So, I’m focused on all of the issues we just talked about facing the people of New York City. 

Thanks, everyone. 

pressoffice@cityhall.nyc.gov

(212) 788-2958