Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at Al Sharpton's National Action Network House of Justice, Holds Q&A With Reporters

January 20, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you. It is an honor to be back at the National Action Network. And I have to tell you, it means so much to me. This is family.

[Applause]

And I just want to notice and note the fact that Rev. – he loves New York City. He loves us. He loves to be here at NAN, but he – he’s cheating with us – he’s cheating on the side. He was in D.C. this morning with the vice president.

[Laughter]

We used to have him all to our own on King Day. Now, we have to share him with Washington D.C. So – but Rev., I have to tell you, you have created – with so many people in NAN a place where we know we can come to hear the truth spoken. That's what we can depend on every week here. The truth will be spoken whether convenient or not. The things that we have to act on – as a city, as a society – will be talked about and focused on with urgency, with energy. And that is a gift beyond anything we could ask for. And we have to thank Reverend Sharpton for what he has done.

[Applause]

And his voice reaches to City Hall; reaches to Albany; it reaches to the White House; it reaches to the Congress. And that is a good thing for all of us. And I have to tell you that Rev. will take the good fight wherever it has to be – all over this country, all over this world. I was particularly touched on the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King's march. You know, my whole family wanted to be a part of it, so Chirlane and Chiara and Dante and I went. And you could feel the urgency that Rev. had created and so many others who made that day what it was – that we were not there to think about something in the gauzy past; something that we wrote about in a history book or saw in a museum. We were there to reunite the spark of social and economic justice. That's what we went to Washington to do and that's what we recommit ourselves to do today.

[Applause]

Now, when these gatherings occur on King Day, everyone comes out. And that is a testament to what's been created here. So, I want to thank all the members of our congressional delegation including Senators Schumer and Gillibrand. They fight for us in Washington – not a fun place to be but they are doing an extraordinary job for us. I want to thank Attorney General Schneiderman, Comptroller DiNapoli. I want to thank all the leaders in our city government, including our new comptroller, Scott Stringer; our new public advocate, Tish James; our new Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito.

[Applause]

And I am so proud that- for the first time, this week – for the first time in the history of our city, we start a week with a Latino citywide official. And that is a great act of justice and progress. I commend Melissa Mark-Viverito for her victory.

[Applause]

I want to thank my dear friend, and Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer – no stranger to the National Action Network.

[Applause]

And so many folks for the labor here today. And I definitely want to thank my dear friend, Bob Master, and all the members of Communication Workers of America.

[Applause]

When injustice is being done, the CWA is there and they are never shy about standing up for what's right. God bless you for that.

[Applause]

Finally, I want to use a phrase I think that Reverend Sharpton will recognize from the life of New York City and the politics of New York City, we say, ‘we remember who we came to the dance with.’ So, Chirlane and I came to the dance with Mayor Dinkins, because he gave us both a start in New York City governments. So, we want to thank our former boss.

[Applause]

When we think about Dr. King, we think about the greatest apostle of social and economic justice in the history of the Republic. The man who in many ways embodied what America was meant to be and what we're struggling to make this great country. So, Dr. King walked among us. He taught us so much in the brief time he was here. And the notion is to take his ideas and his spirit and live them out every day. To really focus ourselves on what it would mean if he were still among us. You know, I spoke at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this morning – which is a beautiful event every year – and I noted that if Dr. King had not been taken from us, he would be 85 years old today. And he could be sitting on this stage today. And we would feel, if he were here, we'd feel energized. We'd feel focused by his presence, but we need to feel energized and focused even though he can't be with us.

[Applause]

In 1964 – 50 years ago – Dr. King wrote a book, it had simple and powerful title, ‘Why We Can't Wait.’ And it said so much because it makes the central point that justice delayed is justice denied. And our task is to focus on the work of today. Dr. King also gave us a phrase that we’ve heard so intensely connected to our president – the fierce urgency of now. These are ideas – these are words that should animate us every single day. And when you think about it, there are clear reasons we can't wait. It's not just a vague idea. We can't wait, because we see the inequality in our society. We see it growing and we see it taking us downward as a society. We see it as a corrosive reality that we simply can't accept. It doesn't align with our values. We can't wait to fight inequality, because inequality is taking away from that – from us – that which we value so deeply. We can't wait, because inequality will take away from us all of our possibilities. It closes doors. It closes doors for people who deserve better, and creates a divided society; one group whose dreams can be realized; another group of people who wonder if they ever will have such a chance. That's not what we're here for. We're here for something better than that.

[Applause]

And New York City, in particular, is a place that epitomizes the opportunity for people to dream and achieve dreams regardless of who they are, where they come from. And that spirit we have to reassert in our city. And Dr. King said something else that really puts a point on this, he said, ‘As long as there is poverty, no one can be totally rich;’ he said, ‘I never can be what I ought to be, until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be, until I am what I ought to be.’ A simple concept of how we rise together. We can't wait. We need to build a society based on shared prosperity, and we need to build it now. And so that means now is the time to extend paid sick-day coverage to hundreds of thousands of hardworking New Yorkers. They deserve that basic security and stability and we have the power to get it to them now. And I want to thank Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for her full commitment and her belief in reaching to every New Yorker who is not yet receiving that right.

[Applause]

Now is the time to protect community healthcare. For the last decade, we lost hospitals for no apparent reason. There was no debate. There was no oversight. They were just gone and people suffered – communities suffered. Now is the time to reassert the idea that we will protect community healthcare. That's something our neighborhoods need, our people need.

[Applause]

And yes – yes, I am referring to Interfaith Hospital and Long Island College Hospital.

[Applause]

And in our City Hall, they are at the top of the agenda. So, no matter what you've heard – no matter what the confusion in the last few days, I keep telling people over and over again, these two hospitals have been threatened for months and months and we keep bringing them back every single time – together, community, labor, leaders – together. And I remind everyone in life, in politics, in government, it ain't over until it's over. So, we're going to protect healthcare in our communities. And I want to thank the National Action Network which has been extraordinary, particularly in the fight to save Interfaith. And Rev., you were there every single week with your able lieutenant, Kirsten John Foy.

[Applause]

I actually taught him all he knows.

[Laughter]

And you fought that fight, and we're going to continue that fight until we secure permanent healthcare to protect the community. Now is also the time to reform a broken stop-and-frisk policy.

[Applause]

It's time to do that now. And we do that to protect the dignity and the rights of young men of color who are the future of this city.

[Applause]

And we also do it – we simultaneously do it – to give to our good police officers, our men and women of the NYPD, the partnership, the collegiality at the community level they need to keep us all safe. Safety and respect go hand in hand.

[Applause]

And now is the time – I think I'll get a rise out of Hazel Dukes with this –

[Laughter]

Now is the time for Universal, full day, Pre-K for every child in this city.

[Applause]

Now is the time for every middle school child to have after-school guaranteed, so they’re safe and secure and learning more every single day.

[Applause]

Now, I'll finish with this – and when I finish I'd like to call up my partner in all I do.

Unknown: Ladies first.

Mayor: Was that my conscience?

[Laughter]

Thank you, Bertha. Dr. King wrote another book. Sadly it was the last one he wrote. It was published just before his death. The title of his book asked something fundamental that we in our time have to answer. The book's title, ‘Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community?’ Well, we don't get to just abstractly answer that question. We get to live it out. In our city, in our time, we get to answer the question through action. And in this city, in this time – in our time we choose community. We choose a city for everyone; a city where everyone has a shot. We will answer that question through our actions. And this will be a city where everyone rises together. And we won't wait. We will do it now.

[Applause]

Now, I think Rev. Sharpton, in the last few days, has hinted at something that I'd like to reference today. We talked about a very big agenda today – much we have to achieve. Chirlane and I have been talking from day one, about the work it will take to get this done, and the team we need to bring together to get it done. We need the best and the brightest and the most committed and the most progressive – people who feel deeply what our communities are going through and how urgent this work is. And so I'm proud to say that, in fact sometimes the rumors are true – and young Rachael Noerdlinger [inaudible].

[Applause]

I called you young. Who has so ably served Reverend Sharpton's National Action Network will be joining our team at City Hall.

[Applause]

And I think everyone in this room knows that Rachel is an extraordinary organizer. She has a great mind, a great vision, and she's been a voice of conscience. And Chirlane and I are honored and thrilled that she will be joining us.

[Applause]

Now I believe the first lady would like to offer a word or two.

[Applause]

First Lady Chirlane McCray: How you doing?

Audience: Good. All right.

First Lady McCray: Thank you, Reverend Sharpton, for once again organizing this forum and bringing community and government together on such an important day. And thank you for sharing the young Rachel Noerdlinger.

[Inaudible]

First Lady McCray: To all our friends in government, thank you for your partnership and service to this city. I am very excited that Rachael Noerdlinger is going to be my chief of staff.

[Applause]

She brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and know-how to the job. And she has served one of the most prominent African-Americans in the nation with tremendous effectiveness. During the campaign we talked a lot about New York and the tale of two cities. Well, it's going to be helpful to have a pro, like Rachael, on our team – someone who believes in and has been working toward Dr. King's vision of equality. Dr. King once said that, ‘Whoever we are, whether we know it or not, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.’ And that's what Bill meant when he spoke a moment ago about us becoming one city, rising together. That's our vision. That's our goal. And with your help and support this team will make New York one city, rising together, worthy of Dr. King's memory. Thank you.

[Applause]

Mayor: So, let me just say up front, that it is a very moving day. Earlier today, at the Brooklyn Academy [inaudible] extraordinary gathering of the year. We were at the Harlem Community Kitchen, helping prepare meals for seniors. And it was very touching. There were a bunch of volunteers from all over the city doing service on a day that’s all about service. There was also a Girl Scout troop from Bed Stuy – eight years olds from Bed Stuy doing service. It was very moving – in the sense that everyone was learning together, experiencing something together, in the spirit of Dr. King. And obviously we’re here today at National Action Network talking about how Dr. King’s vision is a living, breathing idea. Certainly our agenda – in terms of fighting inequality – is inspired deeply by the ideas that came out of the Civil Rights movement [inaudible]. So, it’s a day that is energizing and focusing in terms of [inaudible]. With that, we welcome your questions.

Question: Mayor de Blasio, you talk about fighting inequality. What is it like coming to somewhere like Harlem today? What is the reaction you’ve had from people about your vision of fighting inequality? What about the backlash from people who say it’s a mistake to tax the rich?

Mayor: Well, I don’t hear a lot of backlash from the people of New York City. I hear a lot of support. Because, I think, before our very eyes, it’s become a city that’s very hard for a lot of people to live in, for a lot of people to afford. And it’s become an affordability crisis within the last decade. So, I think the people of this city are ready for change. They certainly think that asking the wealthy to pay a little more so we can have full-day pre-k and after-school programs is fair. And, as I said in my inauguration speech, asking those who are doing very well to give us what is the equivalent of the cost of a small soy latte each day is not unfair – it’s actually something that’s an investment in our society and our future. And I think a lot of people who are wealthy actually understand that and support that.

Question: Mr. Mayor, yesterday an 84-year-old pedestrian on the West Side was given a jaywalking ticket and in the process sustained head injuries needing staples to close his head. The family is threatening to sue. I wonder your reaction and if you think that that was appropriate and the message also of telling people not to jaywalk.

Question: First of all, I’m waiting for all the facts and I haven’t gotten all the facts on the case. So, I’m not going to comment on something until I have a better sense of it. Obviously, I wish him a speedy recovery. Look, on the question of safety for our pedestrians and our bicyclists, I said this the other day, it’s an epidemic we’re facing. You heard when I was out in Queens and I talked about our plan to address the crashes and the traffic fatalities, the danger to pedestrians, the danger to bicyclists. This is now a problem that is almost reaching in terms of numbers the level of our murder rate. And so we have to address it. We are moving very aggressively in terms of new enforcement measures, additional personnel at the NYPD focused on traffic issues, speed cameras, changing speed limits, there’s a lot we’re putting in motion right now. And in the precinct in question, the precinct commander was doing exactly what we want our precinct commanders to do. He was responding to local conditions and making a local decision as to what had to be done. That particular intersection has been a problem in recent weeks and before, I think. And so he was taking an action that was appropriate to that location. Obviously we depend on our precinct commanders to do that. There is no larger policy in terms of jaywalking – and ticketing and jaywalking – that’s not part of our plan. But it is something a local precinct commander can act on if they perceive there to be a real danger.

Question: This particular intersection has a subway right in the center. There’s a lot of jaywalking that goes on there. Do you think you need to do more education to tell people that they shouldn’t jaywalk? And, also, New Yorkers seem to think it’s their inalienable right to jaywalk and how do you change that behavior?

Mayor: Look, we do need to do more education. And we need to be sensitive to the fact that we do have a way of life – and any of us who have been here know that. But we have to educate people to the dangers. There’s a lot more vehicles in this town than there used to be – and it’s something that people need to recognize. And education is a part of the solution; more enforcement is a part of the solution; the changing of the speed limits; obviously the speed cameras, which, I emphasize again now, the ones that we just put up, do now give fines, so we’re getting more serious about the consequences of people’s actions. All of this adds up. So we’re going to find a way to better educate the people in this city so they’ll be safer.

Question: We saw four police officers and traffic agents at 96th Street and Broadway this morning. Is it still that kind of manpower at some of the city’s more dangerous intersections?

Mayor: Well, look, I think when there is a particular focal point, when there is a particular problem, we do beef up enforcement. And it could be regarding traffic – it could be other areas as well. And what we try to do is break the cycle. And I think if motorists in that area see that there’s real enforcement going on, it’s going to send a powerful message to change their habits. I think, to the pedestrian, it’s going to send a powerful message to be careful. We want to act on all of the above fronts, so I don’t think it’s going to be permanent. I think it’s intended to change the cycle that we’re in now.

Question: Mayor, today you announced that Rachel will be your wife’s chief of staff. There was a poll released last week – a Quinnipiac poll – that showed that most New Yorkers don’t actually want your wife to have a formal role in the administration.

Mayor: That’s not accurate, with all due respect. You should read the poll more carefully. Next question please.

Question: [Inaudible] your wife’s role in City Hall, Rachel’s job, and just a little bit about the influence of Al Sharpton – someone who Mayor Giuliani wouldn’t even meet with.

Mayor: Mayor Giuliani was absolutely wrong to not meet with Reverend Sharpton. And, by the way, he wouldn’t meet with the Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields at times. It was just not the way you’re supposed to govern. So, I think Reverend Sharpton is a very important leader of this city and this country. And I think he’s someone who’s often been right about the kind of changes we need to make for a more equal society. And certainly a lot of the talent he’s developed over the years have contributed greatly. I was honored to have Kirsten John Foy on my staff for several years in the Public Advocate’s office. And I’m thrilled that Rachel’s going to join us as Chirlane’s chief of staff. Over time, we’re going to have more announcements about specific areas that Chirlane will focus on. But today we simply want to make clear that she’s bringing in a great chief of staff to help her.

Question: The NYPD seems to be somewhat unaware of their role as far as enforcing ASPCA regulations and animal protection. What do you have to do say – there’s a story about how they don’t seem to be fully aware of their responsibilities?

Mayor: I’m going to be talking to Commissioner Bratton about this. We obviously communicate constantly to make sure that we’re moving forward policies that require the kind of reform that I’ve talked about in the last year. I think we have a problem in this town in terms of the treatment of animals. I’ve talked about the animal care and control apparatus that right now is not functioning the way that it needs to. So we will work together – not just with the NYPD, but with other agencies – to create real coordination to make sure the animals are treated properly.

Question: You announced the chief of staff for the first lady. Where will her office be located?

Mayor: Everything as it’s ready will be announced. So what we’re announcing today is who her chief of staff will be. And as we have other developments we’ll [inaudible].

Question: Will she be paid by the city?

Mayor: We utilized the model from the last person who had a similar role, which was Donna Hannover – obviously was very active as chief of staff. We looked at how her staff was done, to try to base it off that model.

Question: There’s a big cold front coming in. I guess sanitation has to be ready. Is the city prepared?

Mayor: What we’re hearing is, as early as tomorrow morning, or by noon tomorrow, we’re starting to feel the effects of this storm. We have activated all of our emergency preparation systems. Office of Emergency Management is preparing now to be fully operational by morning. We’ll be having all our agencies coordinating again, as we did during the last storm. So we’re taking this very seriously. I’m going to be very personally involved in the preparations. Right now, we still haven’t gotten a clear enough sense of how big this could be. But we’re preparing with the idea in mind that it could be like the one from two weeks ago. So that’s the level of preparation.

Question: What role did you play in getting PS 106 their furniture?  

Mayor: Well, I’m happy to say it was a group effort. I met with Chancellor Farina, whose been very, very focused. We talked about a number of issues, we meet regularly. This is something she was resolute about getting the deputy chancellor out there immediately to assess the situation. It became clear there were things that needed immediate action. And, so, altogether, and certainly with Chancellor Farina’s leadership, we took those actions. In terms of cleaning up the school and the area around the school, in terms of making more space available so the kids wouldn’t have to have their classes in inappropriate locations, and that’s been done already – obviously getting the school books there. So, we’re going to consistently work to make sure that that school is functioning well for the kids.

Question: Mr. Mayor, you’re a politician; you’re also Chirlane’s partner – as she prepares to take on a role in your administration, do you ever have any hesitation about the additional scrutiny that that can invite onto a family member taking a role?

Mayor: You know, we’ve talked about this a lot over the last year. We are a very close and united family. We also happen to be a family that’s been involved in public work for a long, long time. I mentioned earlier on Reverend Sharpton’s radio show – long before Chirlane met me she was a very vigorous activist – she was involved in Art Against Apartheid and a lot of other causes. We met in City Hall. I like to say, just to give sort of the clarity about what my children have experienced from the very beginning, that when I ran for school board in 1999, one of the first times I went out leafleting – Chiara came with me because it was in front of her school. So at the age of four she was already leafleting. Our children stayed overnight at the White House during Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which was a very gracious act by the first lady – First Lady Clinton, at that time. So, I mean to say that this has been the water we swim in, this has been our lives. And we’re comfortable with that. And, yes, of course we know that some scrutiny comes with it. We think people should be respectful and mindful that we’re still a family and everyone should understand that line. But we expect a certain level of scrutiny. Chirlane is my partner in all that I do – said that for the last year. I’m proud of that fact. And it’s going to allow us to do a lot of good for the people of New York City.

Phil: Thanks guys.
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