January 28, 2020
Errol Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. New York City remains on alert as the death toll in China continues to rise thanks to an outbreak of the coronavirus. Here in the U.S. there are now five confirmed cases of that virus. Joining me now to talk about that and much more is Mayor de Blasio. Very good to see you. What can you tell us? What are your public health officials telling you about this virus?
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Well, some of our top public health officials and I got together on Friday to brief the city and let folks know that we have to expect to see this here. What we now know is this virus was underestimated by the Chinese government. It was actually beginning to spread and was not recognized sufficiently and talked about openly. And you know, that has a lot to do with the situation in China and the way things are governed. But we now have a worldwide phenomenon that we have to take very seriously and it's a new disease in the eyes of medical science. And that's the thing I have to tell you. You know, you get briefed by your team and typically they're like, okay, here's everything we know. And it's pretty exhaustive. I wouldn't – this is the New York City Department of Health, the best public health agency in the country. But this one's new. It's on a spectrum of diseases. If we're lucky, it's more like the common cold. If we're unlucky, it's more like SARS and so far it sure seems more like SARS, obviously a number of people have died but medical science still doesn't fully understand this disease and there is no cure at this moment. So really emphasizing to New Yorkers, it's probably here already. That's the sad reality. It’s probably here in the form of individuals who in the, you know, existing in individuals who have been to Wuhan or have family members who've been to Wuhan and have had some prolonged exposure and the symptoms, you know, flu-like symptoms, symptoms similar in some ways to what you see with pneumonia. But if anyone matches those criteria, they need to get to a doctor right away. The best chance of protecting them, but also stopping the spread, is quick medical attention.
Louis: Okay, with that warning, let's move on. We've seen a sharp rise in citywide crime numbers according to the CompStat numbers and I guess some of the highlights just in the first three weeks up to the 19th, 5,000 cases up from 4,500 of serious crimes, 32 percent surge in robberies, this is all from the Daily News, up 40 percent shooting victims and so forth. So your Police Commissioner said, and this is an exact quote, “either we forgot how to police New York City or there's a correlation with the bail reform laws.” And I was wondering if that's your opinion as well?
Mayor: Look, something's going on for sure. We're always going to look at multiple factors and we're always going to look at, you know, the whole timeframe, this is obviously a few weeks, but it sure raises a real concern. And look, I believe fundamentally the bail reform was necessary to address decades and decades of injustice. And we're talking about large numbers of people who were held behind bars only because they could not afford a modest bail. That was wrong, that did not help drive down crime. In fact, that probably made some people connected to a life of crime. But we also have to with any policy look at intended and unintended consequences. So we're going to work closely with everyone in Albany as we see the facts emerge. And one of the things that I've talked about for years and years, well before the bail reform was a possibility, is the importance of judicial discretion and improving that.
Errol, you'll remember the very horrible tragedy for the city when Officer Randolph Holder was killed and I talked about it at that time years ago, that his killer was someone who, if a judge had had the ability to act on threat to the community and have that discretion, that's someone I think, based on all the offenses they committed previously, and the lack of regard for judicial orders would have been held in, could not be held in as a flight risk. So there's a bigger issue about judicial discretion or that's needed to have been addressed for years and years and years. And I think we have a chance now to look at it again.
Louis: Well look, you're from Brooklyn. I'm from Brooklyn. You know where these judges come from. I mean that in turn leads to yet another reform issue on the table, right? I mean you know, the general public might believe that these judges have put in years and years of sort of hard study and hard work and have the kind of temperament that would enable them to make those kinds of decisions. You and I know that it's driven by clubhouses and you know, and that's okay. We have elected judges in, in our state, that's the way the state has chosen to go, but it's party bosses who are picking many of these people at the nomination stage.
Mayor: I would argue to you – obviously I know the history of how it's all been done, but look, I appoint a number of judges too, and we have a very, very rigorous judicial screening panel. And you know, lots of checks and balances. But it is really because not only the killing of Officer Holder, but what I heard from judges during those interviews, both with folks aspiring to be judge and folks who were judges coming up for renewal, they constantly talked about this challenge that a flight risk – look, that's the reason you were supposed to set bail by and large with some exceptions. But that was the essential notion and that did not account for all sorts of situations including you know, a drug dealer who had plenty of money and you set a high bail and they could make the bail and they were out on the street. And that existed well before this new law in Albany, by the way, before this law, you know, 85% or more of folks were making bail. So we got to see the whole picture here. The need for judicial discretion has existed for years and decades and even the best judges, the most meticulously chosen judges have one hand tied behind their back, if they can't exercise that discretion when they see a direct threat to a community.
Louis: Okay. Have judges has been saying that to you, by the way? I think they're one of the few groups that have not weighed in. I'm going to try and get some clarity on that later—
Mayor: And I understand why judges have to be very careful, judicious in what they say publicly, but in the private interview process, it's been a regular concern.
Louis: Okay. Let's move on. You're launching anti-hate crimes neighborhood safety coalitions.
Louis: How is this different from the precinct councils? I mean—
Mayor: Neighborhood safety coalitions. So this is an idea in light of this spate of hate crimes that we've seen that we have to address very energetically and from the grassroots – look, the NYPD presence, the expanded presence is always a piece of the equation, but the lasting change will come at the grassroots. So we're taking organizations of all different parts of the community, all different ethnic backgrounds. They're going to be involved with literally street presence, visible street presence, multi-ethnic patrols. That's going to achieve a couple of different things. First of all, the more presence, the less likelihood anyone commits an antisocial act. Second, there's going to be to show unity. And I think for a lot of folks, there's been a fear lately of hatred spreading, it has been particularly acute in the Jewish community. I think showing that people of all different backgrounds are banding together in Crown Heights, Williamsburg, Borough Park to support each other is really important. But the next and last piece is we're going to make this more and more youth centric over time. And that's based on the Cure Violence model and that's worked to reduce crime and reduce shootings in particular – young people connecting with other young people who might be vulnerable and having a dialogue with people that can actually understand and connect with to encourage anyone who's feeling hateful or feeling like they might do something to know that it's not the right path and it's a really unproductive path. And if it's anything like what we've seen with Cure Violence, it will contribute a lot to turning things around.
Louis: Okay. Is this related at all to the fact that we know that U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr is coming to, I think to Borough Park tomorrow to talk about and meet with some people and talk about hate crimes.
Mayor: No, this idea, obviously, was announced weeks and weeks ago. Look I'm glad the Attorney General is paying attention to the issue. What I hope here is that since this is a new initiative by New York City, this is something we have not done before that we can develop a model here that actually the Justice Department and the Federal Government can help spread around the country. Because if this works the way we hope and really inhibits hate crimes and builds more of a community dialogue, that's something that's going to be needed in a lot of other places. Will you be meeting with the Attorney General? There's not been that invitation on the table, but I'd be happy to talk to them at any point and certainly would love to share with him the results of what we find and from this effort.
Louis: Okay. Very good. We've got more to talk about. We're going to take a short break though. Then we'll be back with Mayor de Blasio. Stay with us.
Louis: Welcome back to Inside City Hall. I'm joined once again by Mayor de Blasio – and Mr. Mayor, as we reported a little bit earlier, we heard that there was an intervention, a raid, or something at Children's Community Services, one of the biggest of the contractors dealing with homeless families. I was wondering if there's anything you could tell us about that.
Mayor: Look, I am going to give you the broad strokes. So, this is not a good situation. So, last year our Department of Homeless Services, our officials thought they saw some things going on in that organization that looked like they were a problem, duly reported that to our Department of Investigation, which then proceeded to do a thorough investigation, which culminated with today's action. But in the meantime, while an investigation is going on, of course, you have to keep working. With any organization, you have to keep providing services to homeless folks.
So this organization was told, you know, openly – they were not told they were under investigation, but they were told there was some issues that had to be – you know, some things had to be handled better, given a corrective action plan. But when we found out today that, unfortunately, investigation proved that there was something very troubling about the organization. Now there's going to be a receiver brought in. Someone will take over the organization and run it because the services are still needed for folks who are homeless. But you know, we think there's something seriously wrong here. And I commended the Department of Investigation for following through and getting to the bottom of it.
Louis: While we're waiting to see whatever report they come up with, wasn't this almost – maybe not inevitable but likely to happen. I mean, this was a group that did attract attention because I think they had like a negative balance in 2014. They were a very, very small group. Suddenly they're getting hundreds of millions of dollars in City contracts.
Mayor: Yeah. I don't know all that history to be honest with you. Look, there are only so many organizations who provide homeless services and some do it better than others. We try to be very careful. The Department of Homeless Services tries to be very careful, and they're not going to contract with someone they're convinced can't do the job. But I do want to say there's been a lot of work that's had to be done. There's only so many nonprofits that do it. The investigation will tell us whether there were earlier warning signs and what needs to be done going forward. But what I think is crucial to know is once something appeared to be truly problematic DOI did step in as needed.
Louis: Okay. Let me switch topics to the MTA. The President of New York City Transit Andy Byford has announced his resignation. Have you spoken with him?
Mayor: I did. I did. I spoke to him on Friday and I – look, I just urged him to stick around. I just said, you know, there's so much support for him. He has done such a great job. You know, first of all, you can see the way the subways are starting to get better. Second of all, he can handle New York City, which a lot of people can't. He seems like someone who was really meant for this place. And I just urged him to reconsider and said, you know, we all want to support him in every way we can.
Louis: Do you think there's a realistic chance that he might change his mind?
Mayor: I have seen a lot stranger things happen, Errol. I mean, look, people sometimes feel like they're not going to be able to get done what they need to get done and then they get a real groundswell of support and they change their mind. I mean I think it's quite clear a lot of New Yorkers have reached out and supported him. So I hope there is a way to turn it around. He is a proven quantity on what is one of the most dire issues we face. And look, the public knows now – and this has been a very important step for the people in New York City – the public knows in a way they haven't in generations, honestly, that the State of New York runs the MTA. There's accountability, there's responsibility, and that has led to real improvements. Now there's finally a sense of who's in charge and the great legislation, I was proud to work on and support, to provide the long-term funding for the MTA. We've actually made some big progress in the last year. Andy Byford has been a big part of that. So I just – I hope it can be worked out that he can continue.
Louis: Okay. I'm not suggesting this particular role, but you have some unfilled vacancies on the MTA board, right?
Mayor: Yes, and we are going to put forward those names in a matter of days and then would look forward to the Governor and the Legislature approving them.
Louis: None of those names rhyme with Byford?
Mayor: No, no, just – very probing journalism, Errol.
Louis: I wanted to point out that –
Mayor: If it rhymed with Byford, it wouldn't be him. Did you just figured that [inaudible] –
Louis: I was going to lead you there.
Mayor: You needed to really work on that.
Louis: There's this story – there's a story in one of the newspapers, in the New York Post, saying that City Councilman Robert Holden, who's been talking about this for quite a while, saying that he believes there's academic fraud being committed in Queens, that there are school officials who are giving out grades and giving out diplomas that have not been properly earned. And according to Mr. Holden, reports the Post, he's been talking with the U. S. Attorney's Office and says that they are taking his allegations seriously. I was wondering if you had a reaction.
Mayor: Look, I don't know what those conversations were. I don't know of anything that the U.S. Attorney's Office has said to the City of New York or the DOE that suggests, you know, a particular course of action. I have no indication of that whatsoever. I do understand there's been some concerns raised about the school and that the appropriate investigatory entity within the DOE is looking into it seriously. Anything like that is going to be taken seriously, but I have no indication of any further activity.
Louis: Let's talk politics in our last few minutes. Were you surprised that Ruben Diaz Jr. will not be running for mayor?
Mayor: You know, I was on one level because obviously there was only a handful of people who were serious candidates and he was one of them. And he's done some good work in the Bronx for sure. But I've spent enough time with him to know he's very much of a family man. He's very focused on being, you know, a good father, a good husband. And when I heard it and I saw the details in the interview, it actually made some sense to me that that was, you know, him really wanting to think about the kind of life he wanted to live and what he wanted for his family going forward. And there was even – I mean, the interview I saw went into some real detail. There seemed to be a little bit of agony that he felt bad about not – those times he couldn't be with his family and with his kids in particular. Look, every public servant struggles with that. So I felt for him and I felt – it sounded like he made the right decision for himself and his family.
Louis: A related note, the stunning resignation of Rafael Espinal from the City Council. Now he's term-limited.
Louis: From what I can tell, the job that he's going to get pays about 76 percent more than he currently make as a Council member.
Mayor: Not that that's a factor, Errol.
Louis: You know, is this an unintended consequence of term limits among other things? Right. Because he was term-limited and so he’d either have to find another office to look for or, you know, basically the idea behind term limits is start looking for another job. I guess –
Mayor: Yeah, I would just argue I'm a believer in term limits. I think it has worked really well and I think we've had a huge amount of talent. I was a Council member, obviously. I got into the City Council because of term limits. I've seen a lot of talented people get to the City Council because term limits gave them that chance. And I think mostly you see people either get to a point where they're looking for another opportunity in public service, usually elected office, sometimes appointed office or some get to a point of retirement. But this is pretty rare.
I'm thinking about all the times over the last 20 years I've sort of watched what people did, but what I give him a lot of credit for it, he has been a great legislator. We worked with him on getting rid of the outdated Cabaret Law. We worked with him on creating the Nightlife Office, obviously, standing up for freelancer rights – and the fact that he worked on the issues related to the needs of freelancers very smartly, I think, and now is going to go work for that union and have a national impact, well, that's public service. So I don't think that's a bad outcome. I think that means he's applying his skills in a really good way, but in another venue.
Louis: Okay. Very good. We'll see how all of that settles out. What do you make of Bloomberg's call for statehood for Puerto Rico, by the way?
Mayor: Look, I'm sure that is a calculation, you know, just like apologizing for stop-and-frisk on the dawn of a new campaign. But I will tell you this, here's how I look at it. The Congress is where the action is. The Congress should vote in the case of Puerto Rico, in the case of D. C. for the right of both those two locales to have a binding referendum and whatever they vote becomes the law. If Puerto Rico decided they wanted statehood, continued commonwealth, or independence, or any status, they should get it. So we all have this conversation. It really should be about the self determination of these two places and they both should be considered in the same breath.
But what we're not brave enough as a country to do is demand – and this is what I'm certainly committed to, going long term about what kind of country we should be. We should demand our Congress grant those two places the right to make the decision with no strings attached. Now I will say that's what I believe as a progressive. That's what I believe as a matter of being a country that honors all people, because by the way, one place primarily Latino, the other place, primarily African American. How about a country that actually treats everyone equally and doesn't keep them from their rights. But I would also say as a Democrat and a progressive, it's not a guarantee of four more Democrat and progressive Senate seats, but I think it's a likelihood. I think it would change the reality of America politically while also giving people self-determination. So I think that's where we need to put our focus.
Louis: Okay. We'll say good night for now. We'll see you next week. Thanks very much.
Mayor: Take care now.