January 17, 2019
Mayor Bill de Blasio: I want to thank Chancellor Carranza, and our Budget Director Melanie Hartzog, and Social Services Commissioner Steve Banks, and our HRA Administrator Grace Bonilla for joining me. This is a statement that I'm going to make about the situation in Washington that I say with real sobriety and with real regret. And this is something I've never had to say previously in over five years as Mayor.
In my time as Mayor, this city has faced terrorist attacks, we have faced storms, natural disasters, we've faced all sorts of challenges in government, and every time that I stood before all of you, I've been able to tell the people of New York City that things are going to be okay. And I've been able to do that honestly and with a whole heart.
Unfortunately, today, I have to tell you that things are not okay when it comes to the federal shutdown, that we are now entering nothing less than a full blown crisis that is about to have massive effects on the people in New York City. And it is a crisis with no end in sight. And it's a crisis that will get worse and worse with each passing month. My job, whenever possible, is to reassure people and let them know that we have things well in-hand, but when it comes to the shutdown of our federal government, things are beginning to spin out of control and things are happening that no city and no state could possibly compensate for. And this is absolutely uncharted territory. I need everyone to understand this and to feel this – in the entire history of the city, nothing like this has ever happened before. We've never seen a federal shutdown of this length and we'd never seen a federal shutdown with no end in sight. We have no playbook to look on – look back on. There's no map in the wilderness to tell us how to handle something that's never happened before. We're doing our best to come up with a vision for something absolutely unprecedented.
It's 27 days into this shutdown and it is absolutely a manufactured crisis. Everyone knows this is a manmade crisis made by one man in particular. 27 days into this shutdown, but the danger is 44 days away. So, the clock is ticking. And 44 days, on March 1st – at that point, at least 2 million New Yorkers will be directly and personally negatively affected by the shutdown. And the people of New York City will, starting on March 1st lose half-a-billion dollars in direct federal support every month. We throw around a lot of big numbers around here, but this one is astounding and it should not be for a moment passed by. It has to be dwelled on. We will lose half-a-billion dollars in direct support for New Yorkers every month starting on March 1st.
This, for 1.6 million New Yorkers, will come in the form of a loss of the support they receive so they can get food for their families, so children can have nutritious food, so seniors can have enough to eat. The food stamp program, also known as SNAP, serves 1.6 million New Yorkers. The average family gets $230 a month. For most families that receive this support, that $230 is irreplaceable. An example – that a family of three – a typical family is three under this initiative receives about $5,000 a year in support so they can buy food. Take a typical family that gets this support that is making, for example, $27,000 a year and take $5,000 of their income away, and you can do the math and understand what that's going to do their household. And we are again talking about all of this playing out because of a crisis that never had to happen in the richest country on earth. We're literally watching as our federal government starts to starve it's people.
That is one of the biggest elements of the half-billion a month that we will lose, but there's other crucial elements as well. Federal money pays for school breakfast and lunches for our kids. That will be gone. It pays for rent support to keep low-income people in their homes. That will be gone. It helps to keep the lights on at NYCHA, which is already dealing with so many challenges. Our public housing will immediately be hurt if federal support is suspended. What I also need to emphasize to everyone is, it gets worse each month. This is not a crisis that hits and then just levels off. In fact, it starts to cascade for two reasons. The human impact gets worse each month. People's budgets get drained. The possibility of evictions from their homes, the quality of life in their neighborhoods and their housing developments will decline with each month. But it's also because the State of New York will have to start cutting off support, because, as it loses federal dollars, it cannot turn around those dollars and help localities. So we're going to be hit by two different problems and each month they will get worse.
Of course, our mission is to try in any way we can to lessen the blow, but at the kind of level we're talking about here, even the resources of a city as big as New York City will be quickly exhausted. Literally in the course of a few months, we would run out of any money that we have to address this crisis.
Now, I want to make sure that people understand who are on the firing line here, the people are going to be immediately affected. To assume the worst, we have to prepare them for that. And again, we'll do everything in our power to help people, but I want to make sure that folks who receive food stamps, who receive support through the SNAP program understand that they, at this moment, will no longer get any checks starting March 1st. In fact, some recipients have gotten a double check or are in the process of getting a double check, which will cover the months of January and February. For any food stamp recipients who think they've gotten an unusually large check, that is because that is the last check you will see until the shutdown is over. So people who have gotten those larger checks, those double checks have to shepherd their resources as best they can. They have to recognize that they have to stretch that money in any way they can. Of course we'll do everything we can with our food pantries and any other support we have to help people get the food they need, but there is literally no way to replace the impact of the food stamp program.
Any New Yorkers who are suffering already because of the shutdown or who will begin to suffer directly, whether that means they're suffering financially, whether that means a need help to get by each day, whether it means they're dealing with emotional distress, they should turn to the City of New York. We will do all that we have within our means. If you need help finding food, if you need a mental health counseling, if you need help dealing with a landlord or a bank in terms of your mortgage.
We've set up a website, particularly for folks who are being victimized by this shutdown – nyc.gov/federalshutdown. That will be the one-stop for all help that people need and we will do our best to get it to them. The best solution is obviously to stop the shutdown.
We're working closely with Senator Schumer, and with Speaker Pelosi, and all of our members of Congress to address this crisis. I want to say something on behalf of 8.6 million New Yorkers to the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, Mitch McConnell. Leader McConnell, you do not need a permission slip from the President to end the shutdown. You have the power to reopen this government and ensure that millions and millions of Americans don't suffer any further.
And of course, I have to give a message to a New Yorker who, at this moment, is creating horrible, pain for the people of his hometown. President Trump, you shut down the government over a fake crisis at the border, but now you're a causing a real humanitarian crisis in New York City, and in cities and towns all over the United States of America. This has to end. A president is supposed to protect us. You're making it worse. You have to end this.
So, it is a dire situation, there is no other way to say it, and it will overwhelm us quickly if it is not addressed soon.
I want to say a few words in Spanish, and then I'll turn to Commissioner Banks.
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
With that, I want to turn to Commissioner Banks. He and Administrator Bonilla are going to be doing everything they can to help the food stamp recipients, the SNAP recipients. Again, these are the folks who are going to suffer the most and the most quickly, and we're going to work with food pantries, going to work with nonprofit organizations to do all we can. So, I want to thank both of them for their leadership in this very difficult moment.
Commissioner Banks –
Commissioner Steven Banks, Department of Social Services: Thank you very much, Mayor. Just to amplify the Mayor's remarks about the impact on food stamps, the SNAP program – it's nearly 1.6 million New Yorkers, but who are those New Yorkers? 535,000 of those New Yorkers are children under the age of 18. 425,000 of those New Yorkers are seniors. Now, the Mayor spoke about early benefits and people beginning to receive February benefits, I want to explain that and explain the mechanism for that and then conclude these comments.
So the U.S. Department of Agriculture advised the states that it had sufficient funds to authorize so-called early payment of benefits, that is the payment of February benefits during the month of January that the U.S. Department of Agriculture said would be available, as long as these benefits were paid out before January 20th, which is approximately 30 days from when the shutdown began. And so, in New York City, the Department of Social Services worked closely with the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to process as much of the caseload as could be processed in order to provide for early benefits. What that means is, there are people all throughout the month who come in and they have the absolute right to come in at any time during the month, we were able to process about 94 percent of the caseload. And that means that we believe that all of the people who would be due benefits in February, will either get them as an early benefit beginning today, or at their regularly scheduled time. And that's a real tribute, I think, to the frontline workers at the Human Resources administration who worked literally night and day to accomplish this.
What that means, however – I think the Mayor highlighted this, and I want to highlight this and ask that you spread the word, and we will be spreading the word through communications directly with clients – that means clients will be getting their February benefits – many clients will be getting their February benefits during the month of January, and we are communicating to clients that this is essentially two months of benefits being provided now and that for many clients that will not be additional food stamps coming in the month of February. This is the payment for both January and February – that they will have already received January, and now February, early. It is a complicated message for people living on the edge, to receive this message from a government, but the State and the City worked together to take full use of the early payment option that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given us to make sure that we could provide as much benefits as possible.
But again, to amplify the Mayor's message, come March 1, there are no early benefit funds available because those are only available to be paid now – February benefits to be paid now. And then, reserve funds will enable us to make sure that the rest of the people due benefits in February get them. But those do run out. And so, March 1st is D-Day for New Yorkers receiving public – receiving food stamps. And we're going to do everything we can to connect people to their benefits and to provide the supports that we can.
Mayor: Thank you very much, Commissioner. So, all City agencies are preparing for this crisis to worsen, obviously. I want to thank our Budget Director and everyone at OMB, because they are at the frontline of this effort to get ready. We will be making regular announcements as we have additional notifications of any measures that we can take. But, you know, we're starting this countdown clock now because there's a lot to do. And again, it is a painful reality to be telling people upfront, that we cannot possibly compensate for everything that's about to be lost. I think it's a time to be blunt with New Yorkers. We obviously will do everything in our power to help people and we're going to ask the charitable community or do all it can, we're going to ask the business community to do all they can. I met with clergy leaders this morning, I asked them to prepare to help members of their congregations in every conceivable way, starting in all instances with food. But that reality of the loss of half-a-billion dollars a month is just too staggering to miss. We will not be able to make people whole, we just won't. But we'll do everything in our power to help people and we will provide constant updates, and anyone who's already feeling the effect, which is, first and foremost, the government employees who've been furloughed in New York City and the government contractor employees who've been furloughed in New York City, those individuals can reach out through the website, through 3-1-1, right now for any help that they need. We will do our best to provide it.
But this is just the calm before the storm. In just a few weeks' time, we're going to see something never seen before. So, as I think you know, we're going to do this press conference today in three segments. This first segment on the federal shutdown – let's take questions on this topic. Marcia.
Question: Mr. Mayor, I know, my first question is this – you have, will the federal government, when the shutdown ends, reimburse the city for any money that you might have to lay out to make people whole and if that's the case –
Mayor: Let me stay on that one ,one second and just give you the top line because it's not in every case but maybe in some so let's have our Budget Director Melanie Hatrzog speak to that.
Director Melanie Hartzog, Office of Management and Budget: Sure, I think it's important as the Mayor said that half-a-billion per month, that of that amount about $100 million, a little over a hundred flows through our budget, and that's largely for school food and rental assistance – rental assistance provided through Housing Preservation and Development. For that portion we are trying to work through whether or not, if in fact we were able to provide that and continue to provide that, would that be reimbursed. But the balance of the funding, the large portion being SNAP, that does not flow through our budget, there is no mechanism for us to be able to do that.
Mayor: I also, let me clarify. We are in such uncharted territory, Marcia, we don't even know if we would be reimbursed because the rules of the game are now so broken. If we were talking about normal times, we would have a clear sense, to Melanie's point of which things are reimbursable, when you get reimbursed versus the things that are not reimbursable. And clearly some of the things we are trying to do to help people would not be reimbursable but at least we could depend of the areas that we could be reimbursed. I need you to understand that one, we don't know when this shutdown ends. So first, we don't know, even if we thought we would be reimbursed when that would ever be. Two, we don't how much we would be reimbursed because the rules of the game have shifted so radically. Three, there are scenarios where we never get reimbursed again because we have seen extraordinarily arbitrary things happening in Washington and we have to recognize that any dollar we put out we may never see again and we have to protect New York City with that knowledge. So are there some areas where we may be able to get reimbursed? We hope so but we can't bank on it.
Question: The second part of my question was I know that the city budget has a rainy day fund of sorts and I wondered if it would be possible to tap any of those rainy day funds to try to help people if they don't have any food?
Mayor: Obviously we need to protect our people and particularly, you know we have to make sure people have enough to eat and that's why we are already preparing to reinforce our food pantries for example. But I want to caution about the sheer magnitude, at the rate of loss we would sustain at that rate of half a billion dollars a month we would exhaust all of our reserves in a matter of months and then New York City would be in a very perilous situation of our own. You know a lot of people know that once not so long ago this city came very close to the edge –we can never let that happen again. We have to serve our people, we will serve our people but at this rate we would exhaust all available funds in short order. Juliette.
Question: New Yorkers are pretty resourceful, their suggestions that you're making, like how they can manage their resources in the meantime?
Mayor: Look, I think they are very resourceful and resilient. I think New Yorkers will help each other, I think families will help their family members, I think houses of worship will help their congregants. Businesses will help their employees, I believe all of that is going to happen. We always step up for each other. Look, we are going to try and do things for example like convince banks to not foreclose on mortgages of people affected by this. We are going to try and convince landlords to not evict people, where we can provide targeted help we will do it. But again there is no way we can make up for the full dollar figures involved here. I think people are going to their damndest to get through this. But Juliette, if we were talking about – I know it's only going to be a month, we would know what to do. We have to look in the face of the possibility that this could go on for months and months, this could go on for the whole year because we are dealing with a president like one we have never seen before. We are dealing with a stalemate like we have never seen before. We are dealing with a level of unpredictability that has no historical precedent. So we have to be really careful just like families are going to have to be careful. I think what families are going to recognize and that's why we are sending a dire message to help families get ready – save your money, prepare for the worst, if you're affected by this. You know there's probably a lot of families that are not affected but for at least two million New Yorkers they will be directly affected, get ready for some very tough times. And we will do everything we can to help.
Question: You don't think you are scaring people?
Mayor: It's time for people to – I think I am warning people and they need the warning, they deserve the warning. I wouldn't be doing it if I had not looked into the abyss here. I am seeing the impact. The briefings over the last few days, I've never heard anything like it in my life – the notion of losing $.5 billion in a month. I mean there is nothing like that. And also I think for a lot of us we all assumed it would be over by now. I mean this is a little bit like we are living history. I think a lot of us thought, well there's a new House and you know maybe that would have broken the damn and – but this could be a crisis that goes on and on. So I'm not trying to scare people. Because it's something I feel comfortable doing, I'm trying to be honest with people that we have to start bracing ourselves for a real crisis. Rich.
Question: So Mr. Mayor, given the price that you are outlining might take place here. The Democrats have taken what they believe to be a principled stand against the Mayor – against the Mayor – against the President's wall. You know, in a $4 trillion, $400 billion budget, would it be worth it just to give in? Let him have his $5 billion, let him build the wall and get it over with given the bleak story you outlined?
Mayor: No, I'll tell you why because one you know, that would $5 billion that could help people in this city and in this country that would be going to waste and would be creating something very negative. That's not the solution, the solution is for the congress to tell the President he has no choice. You know the constitutional system gives the Congress a huge amount of power and the Republicans in Congress have to now assert themselves and tell the President that this game has to end. And if they did that, he would fold, I fundamentally believe it. You've seen him back down many times and change his story. He has no shame and we all know that by now. He could change his story tomorrow and he wouldn't care at all but he doesn't feel enough pressure right now. Now some Republicans, you know I think there were six members of the House that voted for the most recent resolution. There's a couple of Senators who have come out. There has to be more. That's the way to solve it. Yes, go ahead.
Question: Mr. Mayor, Governor Cuomo was just on the Brian Lehrer Show last hour where Brian asked him to quantify the economic impact of the shutdown at this four week point. And the Governor's initial response was to say, first tourism is impacted and citied the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as tourist draws and how the State has kept them open. The tone was much less dire than what you are talking about. So my question is, are you having conversations with, you know, with him as well about how the City and State will work together and you know it seems like the City is bracing for something so much more extreme – you know just moments ago he was talking about it in a much more –
Mayor: Yes, I wouldn't overrate one interview. If you ask about the impact on the economy, that's a very different question than the impact on every-day people. I saw some reporting this morning that you know, the shutdown is now potentially going to have an impact on the larger economy, it is potentially going to slow the rate of growth for the country. That's another thing that I think that could actually jolt the President into action. But this is about what this shutdown is going to everyday New Yorkers. We are going to coordinate closely with the State but we know the reality. The State is also going to be in crisis. The State's going to be losing a huge amount of federal money. You know I've talked to you guys at budget time, about this cascading effect that when there is a crisis and normally we would have thought something like an economic downturn, it hits us twice, it hits us because of whatever we lose in revenue but then we also know that the State loses revenue and therefore passes along less to New York City. It's no question that that would happen here. We will coordinate closely and I'm certainly going to be talking to the Governor about it. I think it's all coming to us in waves in terms of both the sheer magnitude of the problem. The more of the analysis we get. But also I think on January 3rd, we all thought we were probably days away from resolution and I think for me certainly in the last few days I have gone from the assumption that this would be solved soon to now actually thinking about what if it was not solved for the longer term. So I think it's all occurring to all of us more and more that we are dealing with something much, much bigger than we ever anticipated and we will work closely for the Governor for sure. Yes.
Question: On Section 8, what's going to happen in practical terms to the tenants who receive Section 8 vouchers, when that funding runs out? Because they will no longer be able to pay their rent, what's the practical impact on them?
Mayor: We don't know is the answer. We have never seen anything like this before. It's very different whether it is a shutdown that goes to for example April, versus a shutdown that goes to June or July or August or longer. I think if landlords perceive it to be a short term reality there will be some stability. I think if landlords perceive it to be a longer term reality we are going to be in for some real trouble. We are going to try to prevail upon landlords to keep things the way they are in the hopes that they can be made whole later. The same with banks, we are going to do our best to prevail upon banks to not move on any foreclosures that are related to this shutdown, to families that are losing resources because of the shutdown. I would like to believe the banks would be sensitive to that reality but I can't tell you that yet. So we don't know. I think everything, if I had a core message to help everyone understand is it's very different if it happens for only a little time versus if it goes on for months and months. Each month, it gets worse.
Question: Just to follow up on that, you recently announced that your plan to shift 63,000 NYCHA apartments to Section 8 funding, has this ordeal given you pause about that or second thoughts about that?
Mayor: Not the idea. I mean every day that HUD is shutdown it means those kind of initiatives are being delayed. But no, the underlying policy is absolutely the right policy.
Question: Can you talk some more about the impacts on school food? You have April up there as the date so what exactly would happen in April and elsewhere in the country, districts are starting to pair back on what they are serving kids, are there, kind of contingency plans for the meantime?
Mayor: That's – that planning is going on right now. I'll start and if the Chancellor or the Budget Director want to add. Look if there is – if you said tell me what might be your number one concern, it is food for children. That this crisis could literally mean that food was taken out of the mouths of children, so the number one thing we're going to try to address is making sure our kids have the food they need. And in the school setting at least we can do something about it in terms of drawing on some of our reserves. That would be a priority. Where it gets a lot tougher is for those families that don't have food stamps because we don't have a way to replace that. I know a lot of them will turn to food pantries. We'll do our damndest to keep those food pantries stocked but it's going to be a real challenging situation.
Question: Are you planning to go to Washington and bring this case to the president face to face?
Mayor: I have no illusion that the President is listening to a lot of us. I think the President needs to be pressured first and foremost by his own party and by the responsible voices in his own party that need to step up. I mean people who have the title Senator need to live up to the title at this point. But I will certainly be pushing any and all members of the House and Senate on both sides of the aisle to do all that they can and should do. Yeah?
Question: Mr. Mayor, what's the status at our area airports? People have sounded the alarm, you've got sick-outs, TSA workers not showing up, you have FAA workers who are working without pay, they are vital to airline safety. What's the status at our city airports? Do you believe air travel is going to continue, seamlessly, what's going on?
Mayor: I don't pretend to be an expert on air travel, I can only say it – you know, I think in the early days we saw some very valiant efforts to keep security tight and to ensure things were moving properly and that's starting to fray. I leave it to Commissioner O'Neill to speak to you more about the specific security concerns that could start to emerge, but it's the same point about timing. If this goes on a few more days, I don't think we have a profound danger. If it goes on months, I think a real security problem starts to emerge. Grace?
Question: Some people have floated the idea of TSA workers not showing up on mass, effectively – even though the law requires them to go to work, even if they are not being paid, that that would be a way to create a crisis point that might end this shutdown. Do you think that would be a good idea for there to be some sort of mass walkout?
Mayor: I understand that sometimes a crisis leads to action but I certainly don't want to see that crisis. I think that's a very dangerous scenario. We are the number one terror target in the country. So anytime you talk about us having less security for New Yorkers who are traveling by air, I'm very uncomfortable with that. I think the crisis that needs to be created is in the United States Senate. I agree with you that, you know, something dramatic might get the attention of senators but I think there's enough dramatic right now for them to make the decision they have to make. If the Republican delegation in the United States Senate went to the president with one voice and say this has to end, it would end. Yeah?
Question: Mayor, March 1st is about month-and-a-half away, a little less than that, I'm just curious why you are sounding this message now? Is it just to give people time or what –
Mayor: It begins the food stamp point that right now people are receiving resources that they must start shepherding right now and again we're talking about 1.6 million people, Jill. I mean, again I understand why all of us, in a funny way, when we have these discussions we throw around such big numbers I think we all get a little numb. So let's now make it human. This is 1.6 million humans, who right now, literally today, and this week, and next week, are going to be receiving a check and they need to understand if it's a bigger than usual check, do not spend it all immediately. They have to stretch it out. But it's also to say to people that, everyone needs to understand where this is going and use every power that they have to prevail upon Washington. I mean, I hope my message reaches business leaders, I hope it reaches people in the suburbs, I hope it reaches people in other states, and that all those who might have influence on the United States Senate will use their influence. But this is – you know – the facts have now been presented to me, it was time to share them with the people of the city.
Question: Mr. Mayor, are you being realistic or pessimistic? Preparing people or scaring people?
Mayor: I am being realistic because the impact is so huge that people need to understand it now. You know, Marcia, it is a very fair question but I think you would be the first to say if I held back this information and weeks later the worst was going on, you would say why didn't you tell us sooner. My team came to me with an analysis, I told you last week that that was being done, that we were preparing a plan. I said if we got to the mid-point in January, it wasn't resolution, that's when we would have to come forward with a plan. It's the mid-point in January and it is worse than I ever imagined. So it's my obligation to tell this to the people of the city. If I thought it was going to be okay, I would be telling people that. As I've said, I've told that people in other situation, this is the first time I've had to say that this is not okay.
Question: You say you don't want them to give – Democrats to give in on providing money for the wall. Where do you see a compromise to be worked out –
Mayor: It's not about a compromise. It's not about a compromise anymore. It is about the Republican members of the United States Senate believing that the government has to function. That's all it takes.
Question: So how are you coordinating non-profits? And also what are you asking businesses to do, to make donations financially or goods wise?
Mayor: We're just starting now but that's absolutely what we're going to be doing. We're going to be reaching out to the whole non-profit sector, the philanthropic sector, the business community, the clergy, everyone to set up ways to help people in need. You've seen it started to happen, for example in Washington D.C., you know, there's food pantries set up just for folks who are out of work because of the shutdown. We're going to have to do a variety of things like that. But the City government alone could never handle all of it, so we're going to have to create a plan to get everyone involved, to help people in every way we can.
Mayor: Not today, but this is telling people that that plan has to be developed over these next weeks. More and more people are going to feel the effects but I also think it's important to say that I feel horrible right now for the families that are suffering, the government employees, the government contractors' employees. But with the exception of this very, very important point about the food stamp recipients getting all their money now and maybe not knowing it, the real impact is several weeks away. So we at least have time to try to coordinate all the different organizations in this city that could help but I need you to understand that on March 1st people who were expecting money to pay for food won't have it and that's going to throw a lot of families into crisis. Let's see if there's any others on the shutdown? Yes?
Question: I'm just curious, you have an Office of Federal Affairs down in Washington, what have they been doing in the last few days to kind of communicate what your communicating to us how dire the impact would be for New York City and with the Executive Branch –
Mayor: The conversations have been going on with our entire delegation in the House and Senate. I don't know if some of you saw Chair Lowey today, the Chair of the Appropriations Committee who represents Westchester but hails originally from Queens and is an absolutely central figure, I mean, she made very clear what it would take to fix this situation and she's doing all she can to fix it. So we're constantly letting our representatives know, but I guess I said that some of this information is coming in wave. We're going to give them this full update and then more updates as we go along. I think they understand it's bad, they're going to hear as we give them more and more detail just how bad it is, and I want people to understand, because a lot of times in a crisis I think there is an understandable desire to, you know, look for a savior somewhere. This is bigger than any one savior can possibly address. I mean, even if we succeed in getting all the different parts of our community to chip in, we can't compensate for a half a billion dollars loss a month. It's just not possible. So, people are going to hurt – people are going to be hurting here one way or another and it's becoming clearer and clearer. I think the notion that we – I – again I can't speak for everyone else, I think a whole lot of people thought this would have been over by now. When we past that longest ever, I think it hit everyone like a ton of bricks that we're now in absolutely uncharted territory.
Question: Is the City starting to lose tax revenue because of this?
Mayor: Because of the shutdown? I assume at least some, but you tell me – it's on.
Director Hartzog: I think what we're doing is in the process of looking at where we are for our preliminary forecast. I mean there's so many other factors that are affecting what's happening as you've probably have seen, the State Budget reflects adjustments downward in their personal income tax. So you'll hear more from us in two weeks in the Preliminary Budget as to where our overall forecast is going.
Question: I asked the question because the State is already seeing a downturn of revenue that is probably as a result of SALT, and I wondered if that also factors in and just the whole thing that's happening in Washington has adversely impacted our tax revenue.
Mayor: I'm just going to jump in first before Melanie. Again I don't want us to – very purposely - do not want us to get ahead of the Preliminary Budget presentation which is coming up pretty soon, but yeah, I would say the obvious. That the federal tax legislation creates a host of problems and now the shutdown creates a lot of other problems, but in terms of quantifying it, we need a little more time. Yeah.
Question: Mr. Mayor, just, you know, given the stakes of the situation, I'm just kind of following up on Rich's question, just wondering if you can help people understand why the Democratic opposition to the wall funding is, you know, so important to maintain that kind of this dire scenario is being allowed to play out?
Mayor: Because it's a false choice. This is – the president has created a crisis for everyone when we know the Senate voted already. The Senate said let's move forward and have the government open, they did that before the New Year. So it's impossible to say that the Congress is not ready to resolve this matter. This is one person standing in the way, so let's stop kidding ourselves. He's standing in the way for his own political reasons and he's having a tantrum, and I'm not going to dignify it. No one should dignify it. We're – we should not be talking in terms of the president puts out this demand and the entire American people and the entire Congress are supposed to jump because of one irrational man. The answer is for the Senate to step up and break through here.
Last call on anything regarding the federal shutdown – okay, I thank the colleagues who were here for that, and let me have the Chancellor come over and we're going to talk about another issue.
Thank you very much.
Mayor: Okay, this is some news that just came out this morning related to the Department of Education, and I want to explain I think on first blush it may not be evident what it is and what it isn't. So, the State of New York over the years has modified it approach and done things differently over different times but the bottom line is it puts out in some form or fashion a list of schools that are struggling and need help all over the state. That includes the New York City public schools.
Whenever we see that list, we focus on this schools. We focus on a lot of other schools. Obviously, we're trying to improve our whole school system. But that list certainly causes us to drill down and figure out what we've got to do to help the schools – and they change periodically. It happens every few years and schools go on the list, schools come off of the list, it's an ever changing situation.
The overall reality of our school system – and I want to give Chancellor Carranza credit – tells us we're moving in the right direction. Test scores continue to go up, graduation rate is going up, the number of kids going onto higher education is going up. The big initiatives like pre-K, 3-K, Equity and Excellence programs are working. But we know there are schools that need a lot more help. There are some schools obviously that are doing pretty damn well the way they are. There are some schools that need a little help. There are some schools that need a lot of help.
So, the overall health of the school system is strong but undoubtedly the 80 schools that were identified today by the State of New York – 80 – need more help and we intend to give them more help. And we'll talking in the coming days about some new ways that we're going to do that.
Now, even though when we see a list like this, of course we wish there were zero. Let's state the obvious. We wish, of our 1,800 or so schools that none of them were on that list of the worst in New York State. And that will always be our goal – to get to the day where's literally not a single one. It is not a fantasy to suggest that because we have seen some really stunning improvement in a variety of areas.
The State has a list of schools that are "persistently dangerous." New York City used to have a vast number of those schools. In the latest State list, there were literally only two New York City schools on the list. So, we are going to get to a day where we're going to have zero on that list. I want to get to a day when we have zero on this list of struggling schools as well.
What we know very specifically is the last list came out in 2016. It was 88 schools. This time it is 80. That is small progress but still progress. We also know that this list historically has overlapped very intensely with our Renewal schools initiative. So, in 2016, 44 schools that were on the State list were also in our Renewal program meaning we had already identified them as troubled. The State did as well.
A very important fact is that only four schools in the Renewal program are now on this State list. So, again we're going to have more to say in the coming days on what we've learned from the Renewal program, how we're going to handle those schools going forward.
But this is some new objective evidence that is encouraging on what has happened so far that only four of those Renewals remain on the State list.
Again, that does not for a moment negate that we need to attend to these 80 schools and we take this very seriously as a new mandate that we have to focus on.
Also, there is a higher level of designation where a school is particularly troubled. That is called a Chancellor Receivership designated by the State. In 2016, there were 62 New York City public schools placed into the Chancellor Receivership status by the State of New York. This time there are only 12.
So, everything I am saying is with absolute respect for the challenges ahead but this is again some evidence of progress. It's also the first time we have ever seen that New York City had a smaller percentage of schools on the struggling schools list for the state than the rest of the state.
So, a lot of you have watched our schools for a long time. Tragically we used to dominate the entire state in terms of the number of struggling schools. For the first time ever there are fewer struggling schools in New York City than in the rest of the state.
So, we've got a lot of work to do but I do think the strategies that we have been working on are increasingly bearing fruit. I think this chancellor has re-energized a lot of the approaches. And again in the coming days we're going to have a lot more to say on how we're going to address these schools, what's going to happen with the Renewal schools going forward, and other new initiatives that we think are going to help us speed up the Equity and Excellence vision.
Want to add anything Chancellor?
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza: I think you covered it very well, sir. I would just say that the indicators that should be going up are going up, and the indicators that should be going down are going down. So, a lot of work to do but I could not – we could not have this moment pass without giving tremendous credit to the students, to our teachers, to our principals, to our paraprofessionals, our support staff, everyone that makes up the village in our schools. So, this is a good news day, and the work begins immediately.
Mayor: So, let me see if there are any questions. Dave –
Question: Perhaps [inaudible] 88 to 80 on the list of struggling schools, and you've gone from 62 to 12 on the number of schools in the Chancellor Receivership – I mean the Chancellor just mentioned that this is good news but your demeanor here seems troubled –
Mayor: It's really – I hope I'm not projecting trouble as much as resolute that, you know, I'm not going to celebrate that we still have 80 schools that are struggling the way they are. I am happy that I am seeing progress. There's clearly progress by my goal is zero. And again, once upon a time – and I'll look to Marcia because we've been down the road together a while – if I said to you there would be zero New York City schools on the struggling schools list for the state, I would be laughed out of the room. So, I'm saying that we actually now are in a reality where we're making progress compared to the rest of the state in a way we've never seen before. The day when we have zero schools on that list is out there. It's not yet but you know we're seeing some real change.
That said, I got 80 schools that we affirm need some extra help and need it quick and it's our job to come back with a plan to do that.
Question: It seems like there is a pattern of the State every few years basically coming out with a new accountability system for the schools and then changing the criteria –
Mayor: So far you are 100 percent accurate. I want – let the record show I called the New York Post 100 percent accurate. Go ahead.
Question: I'm wondering if you think whether that does a disservice to the attempt to hold the education system accountable, you know schools, principals, the Chancellor, the State. Does that make it harder to actually have accountability when you keep changing the criteria? And do you see kind of any purposeful kind of bid behind this to make it harder – almost like the MTA where it's hard to point at one person. Is this something that's kind of done on purpose so you can't say well –
Mayor: Okay, I got it –
Question: [Inaudible] years because they keep changing it.
Mayor: I think it's a really interesting question. I'm going to offer my perspective and the Chancellor is a fresh set of eyes on the scene here in New York. He will offer his and he also knows a lot education around the country.
First of all, no – do I think there's a conspiracy, if you will? No. Do I think it may be true that in the past there was real reticence to show the cold, hard truth of what was happening in our school systems around the state? I think there was some of that in the past but I don't feel that now. I think there is an honest effort to try and improve the approach. It is not a disservice. It's interesting. You said two different things – is it a disservice and does it make it more difficult?
It's not a disservice in my view. It does make it more difficult. It's not a disservice because I think it's an honest effort to figure out what measures we need. Once upon a time we weren't measuring at all. Then we were measuring in a very inappropriate way with too much emphasis on high stakes testing.
So, think about the federal level because it's the exact same trajectory. There was chaos, then there was an overreaction with No Child Left Behind, just like you might argue on criminal justice there was mass incarceration, there was minimum sentencing, all sorts of mandatory sentences – all sorts of things that were an overreaction to a crisis and caused a whole new set of crises. I think that happened with No Child Left Behind and undermined public education in a variety of ways. The new federal education legislation I think is an attempt to learn the lessons of the past and create more coherent standards. The new State approaches both in testing and in dealing with struggling schools, I think are far superior to what we had in the past. The moving target – you're absolutely right, it creates a lack of continuity that's frustrating. On the other hand, you could say that about the fact that there are different mayoral administrations under mayoral control and we changed approaches. So, for 12 years you had one approach, for eight years you have another. It's not ideal, but it does reflect the will of the people. So, in the end, I do think the hopeful sign is, we're figuring out more and more about how to reach kids better, and it's starting to show in tangible things like graduation rates, college readiness. The number of kids going to college or going to other training and education, that is a thing, that's a tangible marker of change, and that's at the highest rate ever. That's something we know if happening.
Chancellor Carranza: So, I just want to add – very well spoken, but I just want to add a couple of points to consider. So, the alignment of the State accountability system is aligned to the new federal guidelines, the ESSA. So, there has to be a change whenever there's a change at the federal level. That being said, I do want to congratulate State officials, our Commissioner, the Board of Regents for having a system that solicited lots of input from across the State. There was a working group, lots of different constituencies represented on that working group. My great hope and that of my colleagues is that we will stick with this for a while, because schools need to know where the goal posts are and whenever those goal posts are moved, it makes it difficult for schools. That being said, we're talking about CSI and TSI now that used to be priority and it used to be focused. I think where it makes it very difficult is for our parents and our community members to understand what are the nuances of the accountability system. Everyone wants to say, compare four, five, six years ago to where we are today, and it seems like a very simple, straightforward question, yet with changing goal posts, changing accountability systems, changing requirements, you're really measuring apples and oranges. It's different. And then when you start to explain what the differences are, it just seems like a lot of education speak, so it makes it confusing for the public. I'm hopeful that we will stick with this accountability system. The good news that the Mayor has shared is also that this is not a surprise to us, we've been working with the schools, those 80 schools that have been identified. That was not a surprise to us. We have action plans that are being monitored closely by our executive superintendents and superintendents in those schools, working with our principals. So, the good news is, the coherence in our system is much more systemic than ever before, and we have good working plans for every one of those 80 schools.
Mayor: Let me see if there's anything else. Rich?
Question: [Inaudible] the 80 schools that are struggling academically, are they in neighborhoods that are struggling economically for the most part?
Mayor: Yeah, I'm assuming.
Chancellor Carranza: Yeah, so there's a strong correlation. So, again, the characteristics of a struggling school, we tend to call them historically underserved schools in school communities. The good news is that one of the big lessons that we learned as part of the renewal effort was that schools academically don't just improve by focusing only on academics, you have to take into account the other characteristics in a school. So our Community Schools initiative where we build relationships with not only nonprofit partnerships, CBO's, municipal agencies to meet the needs of the students in that community as they come to school. So once they're taken care of and have all of those needs taken care of, or, at least, addressed, they can also focus on their academics, is showing some real results. It's important to understand that the CSI list that comes out from the State is always predicated on a five-percent – the lowest five percent across the State. So, there will always be a five percent. That does not mean that those 80 schools identified as CSI schools are schools that parents shouldn't send their children to or that students shouldn't go to. It just means that in terms of comparison to all of the schools across the State of New York, they happen to fall in that five percent. Many of those schools are doing really incredible work around meeting some of those needs. So, as I've mentioned, there is a plan for every one of those schools. We know who they are. We know what the challenges are. But there is a strong correlation between poverty, homelessness, etcetera, and some of the challenges in terms of academic performance.
Question: So, if I'm understanding the plans that are required under this new accountability [inaudible] they've already been developed for these schools. So, can you talk about how you expect the schools to be impacted? Like, what will this actually feel like in schools?
Chancellor Carranza: So, it's important to understand that the accountability list and designations come from the State. So, for the 80 schools that have been identified as CSI schools, the State will send a team to actually walk each one of those schools, do an assessment of what then needs are in the schools, and then will ask the school to come up with a plan to address the needs that have been identified for those schools. That's part of the State process for working with those CSI schools. The good news that the Mayor shared is that, because we've already – through our process of identifying needs – have already been working with these schools. We are two, three steps ahead of that plan already. We've already done a needs assessment. We've done a lot of work with those schools to identify what are the root-cause analysis. Remember, this is based on the data from last year. So, we've already gotten a head start on doing the same kind of process the State will now come in and help us with. We'll validate and the schools already having their plans should be able to fit seamlessly into the plans that they have to develop.
Mayor: But in terms of – I'm sorry to interrupt – in terms of how to describe it broadly, because one of the things we're going to be talking about in the next few weeks is the need to have individual school plans as one of the things that really get you to move forward. But as I said, we're going to be announcing both the update on what's going on with the Renewal program, but also some additional ways that we're going to go about helping schools that need help. So, rather than preempt that because a couple of pieces are still being worked on, I think you'll see soon what the strategic approach is that unites all of these schools, but then there will be a heavy emphasis on each school will have an individual set of solutions that it needs.
Let's see if there's anything else on – yes?
Question: You mentioned you'll be updating us on the Renewal Schools? Anything you can give us now in terms of whether that will be phased out, or altered, or changed?
Mayor: I want to do that as part of the update, and that will be coming very soon.
Question: Do you know how soon?
Mayor: When I say soon, it's usually a good indicator that we're talking days or a few weeks kind of thing.
Mayor: Mostly it's sooner.
Question: So the State now requires evidence-based intervention. So, that these schools – do you have any idea of what these evidence-based interventions might look like?
Mayor: What the State's idea is?
Question: And is integration on that list?
Chancellor Carranza: So, evidence-based interventions is music to my ears, because we know that –
Mayor: Because it involves evidence.
Chancellor Carranza: Because it involves evidence, and actual evidence of efficacy. So, as we're working with the schools, we already are looking at evidence-based interventions. I will tell you that some of the evidence that we have are right here from New York City's public schools as part of the Renewal program, practices that we know have made a difference and moved the ball forward academically for some of our schools. So, we have ideas of what those are. We have concrete plans in which those are already embedded. And, as the Mayor has stated, we're going to share more information in the very near future.
Mayor: Okay, last call. Let's see if there's anything else on these –
Question: Can you talk about – it seems there's so many layers of interventions [inaudible] can you just talk about how you're going to make it all make sense?
Mayor: Well, let me start as the layman, because maybe it'll make it simpler. I understand why if people hear a bunch of different initiatives they would be tempted to think they're going off in different directions. I actually think there's a lot of good, complimentary stuff happening. Think about, you know, if you give a school pre-K for all its kids, for an elementary school that's going to strengthen everything else. If you give them 3-K, that's going to strengthen it further. If you're in a high school and there's AP for All, or Computer Science for All, or College Access for all, that's strengthening the school overall. Obviously, what was achieved in the first contract, the professional development. These things are all, we believe, complimenting each other, which is why we see increases in test scores and graduation rate and the number of kids going on to higher education. So, I really believe these things are starting to take hold. The Renewal Schools, the Rise Schools – that's obviously a very small part of our school system, but they're schools that needed extra help, and we gave them a lot of help, and we see in these some evidence that, that extra help really had a pervasive impact. If the Renewal initiative hadn't worked in some very meaningful ways, you would not have only four of these schools on this list. So, I do think these pieces come together. The Bronx plan is, to me, particular in the fact that it is answering an age-old problem. The other things I mentioned, we had the ability to control by-and-large, but what we were stymied on year after year, and certainly my predecessor felt the same way, is we wanted to get some of the very best teachers to where the need was greatest and the contract really didn't allow that to happen properly. The reform we achieved with the UFT I think is going to be looked at historically as one of the biggest steps forward for struggling schools, that now we have a green light to get the very best talent to them and keep that talent there. So, I think that was honestly one of the big missing links and now we're going to see that brought to bear to help these schools.
Let's see if there's anything else on the State designation –
Question: [Inaudible] some words in Spanish?
[Chancellor Carranza speaks in Spanish]
Mayor: No script, no nothing. Alright.
Last call on this issue. Okay, thanks. We're going to say thanks to the Chancellor and bring Georgia over for the last part.
Mayor: Okay, so I'm going to read a statement in a moment about the sexual harassment story in the Times this morning. But I want to say upfront sort of by way of ground rules – these are very sensitive matters we're discussing here that are obviously very serious legal issues. And this discussion has a real impact on the lives of some innocent people who were victimized. So, for the sake of those people victimized and for their demand – this is very central to understand – their demand that their privacy be protected and that their confidentiality be protected, there are things that we will not say. And I will also say, and, again, a lot of the questions are going to be best be handled by our First Assistant Corporation Counsel Georgia Pestana. There are things that I do not have detail on in this case, and that was done on purpose. So, as our First Assistant Corporation Counsel, the number-two role at the Law Department, Georgia Pestana has been the person in charge of this process and she, again, will be in the position to take a number of the questions. Again, she cannot get into everything, and we will affirm upfront that our very intense belief that protecting the confidentiality of victims, protecting the confidentiality of those who make complaints is absolutely essential to bringing justice, because we will not get complaints from people in many cases if they do not believe their identity will be protected.
So, please bear with us with that understanding. But within those ground rules, we'll do our best to respond to your questions. Now, let me offer my statement.
People should come into public service because they actually want to help other people. I want to express to the many, many people in the City government who do their job the right way, I want to express my admiration and respect. But as for the individual named in the article this morning, the misconduct in this case literally makes me sick to my stomach. Angry does not describe my view. I am livid. I am disgusted by what happened. I am deeply disappointed in this individual. The standards for people in public service should be higher than anywhere else and we have no tolerance for people who abuse their positions. The urgency, the speed, and the severity with which this case was handled are an indication of just how seriously we take these matters.
I know today must be a difficult one for the women who came forward and reported this harassment. I want to thank them and commend them for their courage. And let me say to them, that I am deeply sorry. I am deeply sorry this happened on our team.
It shocks me and it is absolutely inconsistent with the values of this administration. It's my job and that of everyone in a position of leadership to foster a culture where people can come forward, where they are believed, and where their complaints are quickly acted upon, and that happened here. And we're again making clear to every member of this administration, everyone who works in the City government, if you experience harassment, you should come forward. You will be believed. You complaint will be kept confidential if that's what you choose. And it will be investigated with urgency.
I won't ever regard any progress we make in this effort as compete. It is a necessary part of the bigger changes we need to make in our society.
Again, with reference to the ground rules I told you at the beginning, we'll now take your questions.
Question: I'd like to ask you two questions. The first one is that, November 2017, you named Kevin O'Brien and you said that he had done an outstanding job. When you said that, at that time were you aware of any concerns or allegations regarding his behavior?
Question: And then the second question is that, he was allowed to resign, he was not fired, he was kept on the payroll for five weeks and paid approximately $20,000 in additional pay, no announcement was made of what had happened so he left with his reputation intact, and he went on to work at a consulting and lobbying firm very close to your administration. Why not fire him? Why pay him more than he had already been paid? Why not alert his new employer? It seems like the message there is one of we're going to let this guy slink away.
Mayor: I'm only going to say I'm going to defer to the First Assistant Corporation Council and say I absolutely want to make clear that is not the message. Go ahead.
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Georgia Pestana: So we told Mr. O'Brien that he was going to be terminated and at that point he requested the opportunity to resign. When you terminate someone that can be challenged and the offer to resign was one that would take the risk that he would challenge the termination away. If he challenged the termination the women would likely have been exposed so my interest was always to protect them and accepting his resignation in lieu of termination was the choice that I made in order to reduce the risk to those women.
As to why he was allowed to get his accrued annual leave, which was what it was, under city policy that dates back to 1988, or it's actually an executive order – anyone who was separated, whether that's terminated, resigned, or retired, is entitled to their accrued leave. You're only able to take away that accrued leave if you have a hearing and prove the misconduct. Again, that would have exposed the women and that was not something that I was willing to do. I promised them confidentiality, it was very important to them, I was guided by them, and that's why he was allowed to resign in lieu of termination and he got his accrued leave time.
Mayor: Speak to this – I'm sorry, let me – let me just I think it's really important to speak to the reference check protocol.
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: We did not know that he had gone to Hilltop until recently and his reference was not checked. If it had been, we would have said he resigned in lieu of termination, which is a flag isn't it?
Question: Just a follow-up, you're close to Nick Baldick, you speak often. Did you tell him what had happened with the person he recommended to you and did you tell him "watch out this guy is a bad apple"?
Mayor: I'm only going to say and let the First Assistant Corporation Counsel again reiterate what we were governed by which was determined by her – no, I don't talk to him that often, and only recently did I even know that Mr. O'Brien had gone to work for him. But again, to the ground rules…
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: We were governed by the desires and the – for the women to maintain their confidentiality and those – and the choices that we made were always driven by that.
Question: Just following up on that same point, I imagine you can see how some people would argue that that approach then ensures that someone who has substantiated allegations of sexual harassment against them can go on and get another job and potentially do what they did here in a different workplace and that there's been no broader effort to ensure that that behavior is put to a stop or that future employers are alerted to it and the fact that he went to a firm that is so close to this administration I think does raise questions about why it wasn't flagged.
Mayor: I'm going to start and I'm going to speak very broadly.
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: Okay, I'll stop you if you're going –
Mayor: [Inaudible] you're watching me. I understand that question fully, and I think we have a very challenging dynamic that we have to navigate, and again, I'm not the lawyer, Georgia can speak to this, but if you have a complainant that says "I want my story told, I want all this to be public" then we are dealing with a very different scenario. In that situation, we could fire someone outright, we could put out a press release, we could do all sorts of things, but when the complainant comes forward and says this is my requirement, we have to respect the complainant. But I think what answers your question is, again, I want to affirm, it was only very recently that I even heard that Mr. O'Brien had a job and where it was, any reference check from anywhere about him would have yielded the simple statement – he was, he resigned in lieu of being of fired. Any employer in the world can make sense of that.
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: And I just want to add that you need to balance the fact that women would be reluctant – would be deterred from coming forward if we did not honor their request for confidentiality. The privacy interest of these women was paramount. If we don't create a space where people can believe us when we say we will hold your information and your identity is confidential, women are not going to come forward. So that's a countervailing interest to the one you assert.
Question: Just a follow-up, I guess I don't understand why something like that couldn't be flagged without protecting the confidentiality of the women and there is a – isn't there not some sort of greater responsibility –
Mayor: Wait, wait, wait. That's – I'm sorry to interrupt – that's common sense and I'll let Georgia explain it in more legal terms. It's common sense that if you tell additional people you run the risk of exposing the complainant. More information flows, more questions are asked, and there's a greater likelihood of the complainant being exposed.
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: You got it exactly right. The more people that know, the more people are trying to figure it out, "well, who was it" and that's what puts the women at risk.
Mayor: And if the reverse common sense scenario was someone came forward and said "I want to do this entirely confidentially" and we said "we can't do that, we're going to do the following things that will expose what happened here," and the person said "well that may bring out my identity, I don't want that," then they would pull back the complaint, which is the worst of all worlds. We need the complaints. There was swift justice here – I think this was about a week from the time of the original complaint until the time the guy had lost his job. That is swift and resolute justice. That's what we had to do and we had to honor the wishes of the person raising the complaint.
Go ahead, Marcia.
Question: Mr. Mayor, I think there's a transparency question here. This incident happened in February of 2018 – it's almost a year later. Why are you now talking about it a year later and not making it public at the time it happened?
Mayor: Exactly the reason I described and Georgia can go into detail, we are going to – the complainants wanted confidentiality, there was no way to put out public information and guarantee their confidentiality.
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: If we put out a press release that Kevin O'Brien is being fired because of a [inaudible] sexual harassment complaint, we would have this spectacle, and everyone would have been trying to determine the identities of the women. That is a fact, look what's happening here today. The story comes out and everybody's got questions. I made the promise to these women that we would keep their confidences, and I know that they would not have come forward and pursued their complaints if they knew that the allegations would have become public.
Question: [Inaudible] this happened at a time when the MeToo movement was in full steam and you yourself had press conference where you were questioned extensively about the number of sexual harassment complaints that were made or not made in the Department of Education and you at the time said that you thought that some of the complaints were inflated for lack of a better word, so the question is don't you think it would have been better, in terms of other people hiring him, to know that this was a man who had been fired [inaudible]—
Mayor: They would get that simply by calling for a reference check.
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: They should have asked.
Question: And you don't think that covering it up was not—
Mayor: It's not – if you – respectfully, Marcia, the women who came forward asked for confidentiality, we respected their wishes. Your phrasing is absolutely unfair and inappropriate. The women came forward and asked for confidentiality. Georgia handled this, the second ranking person in the Law Department handled it personally, and honored those wishes. But any employer who did a routine reference check would have been given a red flag sufficient to act on.
Question: Mr. Mayor, I do want to ask about this but I just want to pivot for one second, unless you want to save those questions for later, but I wanted to ask you about the Black Lives Matter—
Mayor: Can we just stay on this and then we'll see if we have time?
Question: That's fine. On this issue, can I ask you, I guess, is there a way – obviously nobody wants somebody to repeat the same – go somewhere else and repeat the same offense.
Question: The way this was done was kind of – there was kind of a – not a proactive step taken, kind of reactive like "they can call us, and check for the records." Can you conceive of perhaps a more proactive way to try to prevent the same thing from happening wherever that person –
Mayor: Any time a complainant is comfortable with the situation being public? Sure. But again put yourself in the shoes of the complainant. A lot of people want – all they want to do is go on with their lives, they don't want their names out in the media, they don't want to be dragged through the mud, they don't want to be prodded and poked. They want to be left alone. They were just trying to do their jobs. And so if someone came forward and said I insist this be public, we can do that immediately. But I would also say it is a rare employers who doesn't do a reference check on an employee. So I don't think you should undercount that that red flag would have been perfectly, abundantly clear. See if there is any others on this, we can take a few others on other topics – go ahead, Jill.
Question: Mayor, when your administration put our figures about sexual harassment complaints in the administration, there had been a, I believe there was less than five for the Mayor's Office. Obviously this would be one of those, based on the timeline, I'm curious if you can tell us at this point, can you give us a firm number, was this the only one? Where there other instances?
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: I didn't, I wasn't involved in the others, there were two or three others. That's all I know.
Question: And then Mayor, this is someone who had served as your acting chief of staff, obviously somebody who was a close –
Mayor: Let me just say I think, I'm sorry to interrupt, just to finish the [inaudible] I think it's fair to say, nothing like this incident on those two, I think it's two or three. But nothing like this incident nothing –
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: Yes, I only get involved when it's a high level official so –
Mayor: Or a serious matter.
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: – serious matters.
Mayor: So I think we are talking about neither.
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: Right, I know nothing about these other ones so.
Question: You know this is someone who worked closely with you, did you have any conversation with him after this all came out or when he left?
Mayor: No the only people I dealt with in this matter were Ms. Pestana, my Chief of Staff Emma Wolfe, First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan. I had no conversation with Kevin O'Brien from the moment of the first allegations and you know Emma Wolfe telling me that there were serious allegations and she was suspending him from his work and literally a matter of days later a conversation with Emma saying that at the suggestion of the First Assistant Corporation Counsel that the next steps were being taken – never talked to him during that time, haven't talked to him since, never want to talk to him again in my life.
Unknown: We can take a few on a couple of other things.
Mayor: Okay so, hold on one second. I just want to – we are going to do a few more on this or are we switching to other things?
Unknown: A few more on anything you want.
Mayor: A few more on anything you want. Okay, so let me give Yoav that chance and then we will go to the other stuff.
Question: Yes, just wanted to ask you about the certain surveillance of the Black Lives Matter protests. Just what you know about it and what you think about it?
Mayor: I'm concerned. I have not seen details but I want to affirm publically that Black Lives Matter is a non-violent political movement that I don't always agree with but I think is trying to achieve important goals and has played a productive role in this country. I have no understanding of why there would need to be any monitoring so I will of course wait for the details. But they are not a security risk in any way shape or form so I don't know why that monitoring would have taken place. I'll have a lot more to say after I see more. Go ahead Bob.
Question: Yes, we are coming up on the annual MLK Jr. celebration as you know, and the last campaign Dr. King was on was for Sanitation workers. During your campaign you made equity and social justice top priorities. How can you square that with the city's continuing gap in pay for FDNY EMTs who are primarily women and people of color compared to other first responders like police and fire on, you know, the FDNY fire side. And also the inability to seemingly resolve longstanding CWA 1180 EOC compliant –
Mayor: Okay so –
Question: -- let me finish, where administrative managers may have been treated –
Mayor: I know the history, don't worry. I got it. I got it. We have worked very long and hard to resolve that. We share the same goals and values as CWA. I thought several times we were on the verge on resolution. I hope we will be soon. On the other matter, I have deep, deep respect for our EMTs and everyone who works at EMS. I think the work is different. We are trying to make sure people are treated fairly and paid fairly but I do think the work is different. But it is a conversation that we continue to have with their representatives. Go ahead.
Question: Yes, I just wanted to get back to the O'Brien situation for a moment. So I just want to make sure that I am clear on this. Are you saying that there is no way to maintain the women's anonymity and their privacy if for example you would have waited like a month after he resigned to announce that he had resigned?
Mayor: Can I do the common sense and then you will do the law? So right now I would be absolutely, perfectly shocked if one or more of you is not trying to find the identity of these women and if that might not lead to their name coming out today, tomorrow. If we had done it publically, the chance of their name being disclosed would have been very high. It's just the honest truth and that's what they said they couldn't abide. So we are dealing with some tough realities here. The harassment should have never have happened and this, I think really, really misguided individual has paid for it with his job and probably will pay for it with his career. And unfortunately that's what he deserves. But you cannot put out a little bit of public information and expect it to stay there. The minute we said what happened, of course you all and a lot of other people would start trying to find and potentially divulge the name of the women.
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Pestana: We spoke – it's not like we haven't spoken to the women in this time period. And they have maintained the desire to continue maintaining their privacy and confidentiality. Should the day come that either one of them would come forward, I suspect they would talk to the other to make sure it was okay – but that there's choice to make. It's not a choice that we are going to make for them.
Question: [Inaudible] storm coming this weekend, potentially snow, ice, serious issues. How is the City preparing?
Mayor: We are on high alert. This is a serious situation. Look, as the Who once said, we won't be fooled again. Whatever the National Weather Service, we're now like multiplying by four. So, the first one that's supposed to hit later on is projected to be very minor but we're preparing like it could be a lot more. We'll have all the Sanitation equipment deployed in advance. The one for Saturday night could be much more serious. We easily could see that being a foot of snow or more.
Again, it could change up, it could change down, but we're taking a very, very conservative approach. So, I would say to people tonight assume there could be something serious. Saturday, Sunday assume like an actual blizzard.
Mayor: Go ahead.
Question: Mayor, Whoopi Goldberg, today on The View, held up our paper and seemed to double down on what she said about the bike lanes today –
Mayor: She does have strong views on this matter.
Question: You've had 24 hours to reflect. Do you think she –
[Inaudible] 24 hours to reflect, do you think she made any valid points and when you were you caught off guard at all that she actually –
Mayor: I didn't expect in the context of, you know, a national show and we were talking about health care, a big issue that concerned everyone around the country – I actually didn't expect it to get so local and so specific. But I want to talk to her further. I think the world of Whoopi Goldberg. She's a great New Yorker. She's a tremendous New York personality. She's done a lot of good to help this city and to help people in need. I absolutely want to talk it through with here. I think, of course, she's raising valid concerns.
But it was not exactly the perfect place for a detailed conversation –
Question: [Inaudible] but she also spread misinformation and fear on one of your prime initiatives, Vision Zero, talking about how bike lanes congest the city. You know they bring safety. And this is not just one person who lives in a mansion, this is also [inaudible] Avenue who complain about some of your changes –
Mayor: I don't, respectfully – I'm not sure most viewers could understand what she was trying to get across because I was trying to figure out exactly what she was saying and this is why I think it deserves a longer conversation. I tried to say to her very simply, we believe in Vision Zero and bike lanes are a big part of Vision Zero. And the one thing I think the audience did get is if we have had the fewest fatalities since 1910, something meaningful is happening here.
But I don't actually think you have to worry about a lot of people listening to that and suddenly changing their mind. I'm very resolute about where I stand. I'm not changing. But I do think if someone says, 'I think it may be causing more congestion,' that's a dialogue worth having.
Mayor: I think I've been very –
Mayor: I believe I've been perfectly aggressive. Julia and Gloria [inaudible] go.
Question: Yes, Mr. Mayor, given that you think perhaps there could be a blizzard this weekend, are you still going out of town?
Mayor: No, if the weather continues as projected, I'll stay. I mean we're going to just – as I said, the National Weather Service, this is not a diss on them, but the reports change a lot and then you have assume even more in both directions. I'll make the decision as it gets closer. I was going to fly out on Friday night. I'll make the decision as it gets closer. But if it looks like a snow storm, of course I'm not going anywhere.
Question: Mr. Mayor, we have a story out today about a woman who lost her rental voucher –
Mayor: Yes –
Question: – who was a victim of domestic violence that unable to have the voucher changed [inaudible] originally in her husband's name. There is now a lawsuit from the Legal Aid Society against the City. I know you won't comment on the lawsuit specifically but do you have a position on that policy?
Mayor: Sure, one – for the individual in question, we're going to make sure she gets the housing she needs. Two – we have a federal rule problem with HUD. Of course it should be changed that rule. Of course survivors should not have to share a voucher with the person who abused them. But that is a federal policy that we have to navigate. In the meantime, anyone in that situation, we would accommodate with housing regardless of the status of the voucher.
Mayor: They have been already. Absolutely. We're going to make sure she gets the housing she needs.