March 17, 2017
Mayor Bill de Blasio: We want to talk to you about President Trump’s budget proposal, which I want to say at the outset would have a hugely negative impact on his hometown. New York City is directly in the crosshairs of this budget proposal. The people of our city – their lives would be hurt by it. And I will say from the very beginning – and this may pre-empt some of your questions – we intend to fight many, many items in President Trump’s budget proposal. We intend to work with members of the House and Senate from New York and beyond. We intend to work with mayors and governors all over the country. There are cuts in this proposal that will be met with massive negative response all over the country – not just in blue states but in red and purple states as well. And we’re going to have a lot of allies who will join with us to stop these cuts. This is going to be a long process over the next five or six months until the next federal budget is determined, so if this is the opening salvo from President Trump, I can tell you he’s about to be met with huge resistance all over this country.
I want to go into some of the areas that this will affect, but I want people to understand – and every day New Yorkers should feel this very personally – this will make New Yorkers less safe; it will make it harder to get affordable housing; it will hurt our schools; it will hurt our hospitals. This budget proposal will undermine the lives of millions of New Yorkers in various ways. And that’s why we’re going to fight it. We’re not going to take it lying down and believe that the president’s budget has so many negative elements, and that the fight over this budget – the same time as he’s fighting for the repeal off the Affordable Care Act which is met with massive resistance opposition around the country – those two facts are going to go together. You’re going to see more and more people, including people who voted for President Trump, disillusioned by the things they see in this budget proposal and willing to fight back.
Before we get into details, and you’ll hear from some of my colleagues. I just want to thank a number of colleagues who are here and others you will hear from – all of our deputy mayors Tony Shorris, Richard Buery, Alicia Glen, Herminia Palacio. You’ll hear from Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill of the NYPD. I want to thank our Budget Director Dean Fuleihan, our Social Services Commissioner Steve Banks. You’ll hear from our Chancellor of DOE Carmen Farina. I want to thank Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer who you’ll hear from; NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye – I can do it– and our Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl. Thanks to all of them, and all of the areas they work on are affected by this budget proposal. But again it is a budget proposal – it is not a final budget.
All over the country you’ll see not just big cities hurt by this budget. You’re going to see cities of all sizes hurt by this budget. You’re going to see towns hurt by this budget. This is part of what’s striking about it. The cuts to public education, the cuts to the Community Development Block Grant program – they will hurt all 50 states big cities, medium sizes cities, small towns alike, and that is why I expect an extraordinary level of resistance. I think a lot of things in President Trump’s budget will be very, very difficult for Republicans to vote for, so we should recognize that this is something where it’s not just a big city problem. This budget hurts across the board. Now you’re going to find a lot of mayors around the country willing to fight this, and we’re going to be shoulder to shoulder with them. I know a lot of governors will fight it as well. I think we’re going to be able build a very big collation.
Let me give you just some of the sharpest examples of what this budget would mean for New York City if it were passed in the current form. The – a cut to Homeland Security – and I just want to note that the president has made such a big point of talking about security while simultaneously putting a cut in his budget 2/3rd of a billion dollar being removed for Homeland Security activities. I don’t understand that logic one bit. The cuts to Homeland Security would hurt all over the country. Here in this city the cut could be as much as $190 million for our efforts to keep New York City safe and particularly our efforts to fight terrorism. We’re the number one target in this country – the number one terror target, and President Trump is proposing to take away as much as a$190 million from our effort to fight terrorism. You’ll hear from the commissioner on this point. The proposal on education could mean a cut of up to $100 million from our public schools. That would hurt our efforts to better train our teachers so that they can help our children succeed. It would help our effort to reduce class size. The things that work most powerfully in education would be the things that would be under attack in this budget.
For 700,000 New York City families, they would lose access to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – a program to help people pay for their heat costs or energy costs. 700,000 New York families would lose access to that program entirely.
There are proposed huge cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That absolute elimination of the Community Development Block Grant program would mean a lot of things. It would mean less money for senior citizens, less money for senior centers, cuts to home repairs for seniors. It would be mean that our efforts to protect people who don’t have heat and hot water or have unsafe housing conditions would be undermined. Our efforts to make sure that emergency repairs are done when health and safety are threatened – those efforts would be cut. All of that is part of the HUD budget.
But on top of that – separately and on top of that – for our 400,000 fellow New Yorkers who live in Housing Authority buildings, we could see cuts of as much as 150 million more dollars in operating funds on top of the cuts that we’ve already seen initiated. And as much as $220 million in capital funding. Everyone here knows we’ve been talking about for years the billions of dollars of repairs and capital investment waiting to happen in our Housing Authority. Now, the federal government which has been disinvesting in public housing for years, the proposed will take away – as much as another $220 million. And again, that will meet with a lot of opposition around the country.
The President has talked about infrastructure. It’s one of the areas where some hope to find some common ground with him, and yet he cuts $2 billion in this budget from transit projects. Specific, key projects in this city that could be undermined include the Second Avenue Subway extension, the Gateway Tunnel, and our efforts to protect the people of this city through Vision Zero.
So, it’s extraordinary how many negative things have been packed into one budget, but again that is also the reason why you will see extraordinary opposition. We have the best allies possible in Senators Schumer and Gillibrand. And obviously Senator Schumer’s leadership role gives me great confidence in the ability of not only this city, but people all over the country, to fight back. Our Congressional delegation I know will have our back, and we again will work with many, many others. We’ll work with mayors, governors, business community, faith community, labor community. There’s going to be a lot of people willing to come together to here to fight these budget cuts.
And in the end, every budget is a statement of values. And I regret to say that this budget confirms that President Trump does not value working families because they are going to bear the brunt. The budget consistently contradicts his campaign promises. People who voted for him were looking for economic relief. They were looking for a way to address real challenges they were having only to find the things that they depend on are now going to be taken from them at the same time as the wealthy and corporations are going to be given tax breaks. So it’s the exact opposite of the vision he portrayed. I don’t think people are going to take kindly to that.
And this all comes at the very same time as President Trump and Speaker Ryan’s proposal to repeal Obamacare is being considered. And it’s now been confirmed by the Congressional Budget Office – 24 million Americans would lose their health insurance. So again, that fact is sinking in very quickly in this country, and that is going to have a direct impact on this budget discussion as well because a lot of people are very angry about what’s happening on ACA. Two million of those people live in New York City – 2 million people. Now, because of all the extra efforts to increase enrollment, we now have almost 2 million New Yorkers who have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act who would be directly threatened by the President’s ACA proposal.
So, I’ll just say to this before turning to my colleagues: it’s clear before this budget proposal, people of this country were mobilizing. We saw it on January 21st. We saw it in response to the travel ban. We saw it at the town hall meetings, where people have come out in droves in every part of the country. We saw it in Arkansas; we saw it in Utah; we’ve seen it in every part of the country. People have come out to fight the repeal of the ACA – talk about what it would mean for themselves, and their families, and their health, and their ability to survive. Now, a whole additional set of cuts that will hurt everyday people, working people, middle-class people. I think you’re going to see an extraordinary response to this as well.
I want to make one request of our President. I want to ask President Trump to think about what this budget means for his hometown. I want to ask him to come here and talk to the people affected. Talk to members of the NYPD and understand what those Homeland Security cuts will mean. Talk to working people – folks struggling to make ends meet. Ask them what it would mean to lose access to affordable housing. Talk to seniors. Ask them what it will mean to not have the support they need to make ends meet. President Trump should remember where he comes from, and New York City – New York City stands to lose so much in this budget. And the people of New York City – millions of people will be affected. And maybe, if he remembers where he comes from, maybe if he heard the voices of New Yorkers, it would help him to realize that he needs to take a different path if he actually wants us to be safe and if he wants this country to succeed.
With that, let me say a few words in Spanish before turning to Commissioner O’Neill.
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish.]
With that, I turn to Commissioner O’Neill.
Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. We don’t know exactly what the implications of the President’s proposed budget will have on the NYPD’s daily efforts yet to fight traditional crime and terrorism, and to keep New York City safe, but this is what we do know.
This preliminary budget outline stands to completely cut state and local grant funding under Homeland Security by nearly $700 million nationwide. Included in that is roughly $110 million the NYPD receives annually as part of the Homeland Security Grant Program. And Dean – I think – did the total number for New York City is $190 million and $110 million is for the NYPD.
Under the President’s proposal, nearly all federal funding to the NYPD would be eradicated. This funding is absolutely critical. It is the backbone of our entire counterterrorism apparatus. It is the cornerstone of an effective preparedness and prevention against terrorist threats. It enables us to do what we can do to keep this city secure. Everyone who lives in, works in, and visits New York City – this money is critical to keeping everybody safe.
Simply put: we cannot afford to cut corners in fighting terrorism. This money is essential to continuing the NYPD’s revolutionary Domain Awareness System, which is our Lower Manhattan security initiative; our network of thousands of public and private security cameras that aid in numerous investigations and safeguard New Yorkers every day; all of our radiological and chemical protection equipment; our highly trained Vapor Wake dogs; our entire intelligence analyst program; the active shooter training we provide to tens of thousands of NYPD officers who are on patrol; and the training and equipment of our NYPD Bomb Squad, which proved itself invaluable again during its last high profile assignment – removing and dismantling a pressure cooker bomb placed by a terrorist in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.
New York City remains one of the top terror targets in the world and certainly the number one target in the United States. The federal government has long acknowledged that fact and to cut this funding would make us increasingly less safe.
Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: Thank you, Commissioner. Now to hear about the impact on education – our Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Department of Education: Education is where we go to learn how to be productive citizens and citizens of a democracy. And I think it’s very important that our students understand that they have a high value – even those that don’t vote.
So I want to be clear that two of the impacts that we’re seeing in this budget immediately are a cut of $100 million for Title II, A money, which is one of the few discretionary pieces of money that we have in the budget, which allows us to do professional training for teachers, allows us to do training for administrators, and in effect, has been the recipient of some of the most productive things that we’ve done here in the last three years.
The other big piece of the budget cuts would be $40 million to afterschool programs, and this is something that we’ve enhanced in the last few years because we know that the longer the kids are in school – and also that it allows working parents to feel comfortable in having their students in schools.
So to lose $140 million – and that’s just preliminarily, right off the top – would really change the way we work within our schools. And I, along with the Mayor, am willing to fight this because I don’t think it’s fair to the kids who can’t vote.
Mayor: Thank you, Chancellor. Now, I’d like you to hear from our Housing Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer.
Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, Department of Housing Preservation & Development: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I’m proud to join the Mayor and my colleagues in this fight to protect the millions of New Yorkers who will be affected by these cuts. The Housing Preservation, Development agency receives the majority of its expense funding from HUD – that’s about 86 percent. Any reduction would undermine critical services New Yorkers depend on every day and the agency’s ability to serve the most vulnerable New Yorkers.
The elimination, for instance, of the Community Development Block Grants – and that’s about a $136 million cut to us – would severely undermine our ability to enforce housing quality. Every day, HPD inspectors are out in neighborhoods across the city, inspecting homes, making emergency repairs, so that residents have heat and hot water during cold, winter months and are able to live in safe, quality homes. These essential services are at risk. The grants and the elimination of them also undermine our ability to protect tenants from being harassed out of their homes and neighborhoods and our ability to provide emergency shelter to families vacated from their homes.
The elimination of HOME funds – and that’s about $50 million to our budget – would slash our funding for supportive housing and down payment assistance, so that low-income families can fulfill the American dream of owning a home.
And cuts to Section 8 put in jeopardy 39,000 New Yorkers who rely on our vouchers for housing. Close to 30 percent of voucher holders are families with children. Another third are seniors. Almost half of our vouchers serve New Yorkers with disabilities. Clearly, these cuts could have devastating impacts on our most vulnerable households. This funding is critical. It is critical to the safety and well-being of the millions of New Yorkers who we serve every day. It’s why we must come together as a united front to really ask Congress to meet their obligations to serve our poorest families, stabilize our neighborhoods, provide affordable housing, and protect our residents.
Mayor: Thank you, Commissioner. Finally the Chair of the Housing Authority, Shola Olatoye.
Chair & Chief Executive Officer Shola Olatoye, NYCHA: Thank you, Mayor. Good afternoon. Many of you have heard me talk about the challenges that the New York City Housing Authority already experiences with a $17 billion capital need. And I think the work that we have done as part of this administration and NextGeneration NYCHA has pushed us forward.
The cuts outlined in today’s – in the President’s budget – simply turns the federal government’s back on the 1 in 14 New Yorkers who rely on the New York City Housing Authority for home.
In short, a 68 percent cut to our capital fund, which would actually mean about $220 million less or essentially two-thirds of our capital budget would disappear. Elevators, roofs, windows, kitchens, and baths – all things that you all have reported on, and we know our residents need.
On the operating side – about a 13 percent cut, essentially about $150 million disappears from our budget – the ability to move trash, and respond to maintenance, and service repairs.
In addition to my colleague at HPD, we also run the country’s largest Section 8 program. 85,000 households rely on us in the form of the Section 8 program – an almost $400 million decrease nationally and about a 40 percent decrease in our program locally would certainly have an impact on those families. So we stand with our Mayor, with our colleagues, and our colleagues around the country in fighting these cuts to ensure that a safe, clean, and connected community is a reality for New Yorkers.
Mayor: Thank you. All right, we’re going to take questions on the federal budget proposal, and then after those questions, I want to raise one other topic. Willie?
Question: I’m going to start with the news of the day, Mr. Mayor. In the statement by the federal prosecutor –
Mayor: Okay, Willie, we’re taking questions –
Mayor: Willie, We’re taking questions on the federal budget proposal, and then we’ll go to that topic. Go ahead –
Question: Your comments were entirely about cuts to the budget [inaudible] I’m wondering, Mr. Mayor, if you believe that there are any places where it is appropriate to cut spending?
Mayor: By definition, we understand in any budget process you have to get to a bottom line, you have to balance a budget. But, that being said, you remember the President is making a series of choices – he’s increasing spending in a whole host of areas as well, some of which, again, I think are less crucial, for sure, than the things we’re talking about.
Mayor: Again, it’s not my job to offer you a federal budget, let’s be clear. I’m talking about the impact this would have on the people of New York City.
Question: One of the biggest cuts the President is making is to the EPA budget. Do you have any sense of how that’s going to affect the city’s clean water – drinking water and wastewater treatment?
Mayor: I will start and if Deputy Mayor Shorris, or anyone else, wants to jump in, feel free. I don’t think we have a clear enough picture yet on what those EPA cuts would mean. I think we absolutely understand that the EPA has been one of the reasons why the City of New York went from decades ago having very unclean air and not-clean-enough water, and now we have such a much better situation. So, I worry deeply about any diminution of the EPA in terms of the quality of life of New Yorkers and obviously the fight against climate change – but I don’t have chapter and verse. Do we have anything specific? We’ll come back to you on that.
Question: You guys are already over-budget on Build it Back and are using resiliency funding for that now. Given that you’re still not done with [inaudible] family households [inaudible] any concern that you’ll not have enough federal funding to actually finish out the program?
Mayor: I would argue that, that is a reality that’s separate from this budget proposal as far as I can tell. We already knew we had to achieve that goal – we intend to achieve that goal. We’ve been using a mix of federal resources and city resources. There’s a lot of things this budget does affect – I’m not sure it affects Build it Back, but we can go and check on that.
Question: My question is really – what makes you assume, or think, that this president really wants to protect the United States? And what makes you assume that the voters, or a substantial number of them, really care about these issues more than they care about irrational reasonings for the bias against certain ethnic groups, their xenophobia, their tendency towards racism. I think he’s appealing to that – and he appealed to that for a year. He was successful in the appeal. And if you look at this budget, basically it’s a budget that dismantles a lot of things that keep us safe. I mean, the Police Commissioner just –
Mayor: Okay. I mean, c’mon – get me to a point here.
Question: [Inaudible] assume that this president has the goals of keeping America safe?
Mayor: I thank you for the question, and I appreciate that it is an elemental question, so let me answer it in two ways. I’m not here to get inside his mind. He states that it’s his intention. I am responding to the fact that he is not achieving his stated goal. By taking away Homeland Security money from the NYPD and other resources that help keep New York City safe from terrorism – that’s a direct contradiction of his goal of keeping us safe, if he is sincere about that goal. To your larger question about the nature of the American people and how they think about these issues – I just have a very different worldview. There was an election – that is a true statement. There was a 3 million vote – almost 3 million-vote differential in opposition to President Trump’s platform. He won because a small number of votes shifted in a small number of states. I argue vehemently that a lot of those very same swing voters are now extremely upset that their health insurance might be taken away. And we can do the math – 24 million people who are going to lose health insurance, we’ve seen them in a lot of the areas that voted for President Trump. Now, they’re going to find out that there’s less money for Homeland Security. They’re going to find out there’s less money for their public schools. And, in most of America, the public schools are the form of education that’s available. I think there is a tremendous concern for senior citizens all over the country – cuts to senior citizens’ needs are not going to be – you can disagree all you want. I think I’ve been working on – I appreciate your self-confidence and your worldview, but I have been working on these issues in this city and around this country for many years. I think you overstate what President Trump’s victory meant about the American people. I believe the fights that are going on now tell us a lot more about the true nature of the American people, and I think you’re going to see a lot of pushback to this budget.
Question: Mr. Mayor, do you envision having to dip into rainy day accounts?
Mayor: Here’s my simple statement to all of those kinds of questions – this is the beginning of an almost six-month budget process. And, guys, I’m going to say this a couple of times, and then if you ask it a hundred more times, I’m going to remind you I said it a couple of times, okay?
Six-month budget process that will be exceedingly hard fought and dramatic. If you want a little preview, look at what’s been going on on the Affordable Care Act already. This, in many ways, is even more directly aimed at the immediate needs of millions and millions of Americans, again, in all 50 states. We are not going to take any of this laying down. Every single one of these items can be fought, and, I believe in many cases, successfully pushed back. So, that’s what we’re going to focus on – this fight over – and this budget does not take effect until October. So, a proposal – as you know, this is a very broad initial proposal. We’ll see a lot more detail later on. But I think the fight that’s going to happen even in the first weeks – it’s going to affect that next proposal because the pushback is going to have a real impact.
Question: I’m going to ask a two-part [inaudible]. How much out of the total federal aid that New York City was planning to receive for the next fiscal year is jeopardized by what the President proposed today. Can you give either a percentage or a whole-dollar figure? And you mentioned hospitals initially, but I don’t think anyone got up and said anything about that – can you outline what you understand [inaudible] specific hospital-related custody or social services –
Mayor: I’ll start and then if Dean, or Steve, or Herminia want to jump in, feel free. But I want to do a disclaimer that’s an important disclaimer – there’s a reason they call this the “skinny budget.” It is a very broad proposal. There are areas like a lot of the resources that go to public housing where there’s no delineation whatsoever, where we’re doing extrapolations based on what we’ve seen so far. So, I don’t, myself, know the exact figures around public hospitals, etcetera. We know a lot of the issues related to public hospitals are tied up in Medicaid, which is tied up in the Affordable Care Act debate. So, I think it’s fair to say there are some areas where we have very specific indicators in this initial budget proposal – other areas where we do not. So, I’m look to Dean, Hermina, Steve – okay. So, on anything –
Mayor: Let me finish. On anything else that there are specifics, we will get out to you, meaning, this is like many times we’ve talked about budgets. We do an initial briefing and then there’s a more technical briefing as we get more information. So, as we get a fuller analysis, we’ll provide it to you, but this is just the opening act and more detailed documents will come from the administration as this goes along.
Question: What does it mean specifically to fight? And, if it doesn’t work, would you commit to giving more money to NYCHA?
Mayor: Again, I don’t do hypotheticals on this one. We are going to fight. It means getting together with mayors around the country, governors around the country – again, a lot of key members of the business community are going to oppose a lot of these cuts. It certainly means working with allies in the House and Senate. I wish I could explain more viscerally to you how something like Community Development Block Grant, which, again, affects cities of every conceivable size around the country – how the removal of something that’s bread and butter to the operation of cities is going to light up the screen in red states and purple states for whom it is a very important part of their local budgets. Remember, a lot of red states and purple states – those states provide a lot less support to localities. This federal money is crucial for every-day operations of the cities. That’s going to bring not only mayors into this, but the local business community, and chambers of commerce, and many others are going to be exceedingly agitated that things that they depend on for their quality of life are being taken away by the federal government.
That’s one example, but I think there are many others where the gameplay is pretty straightforward because, again, you know, look at the Senate. Forty-eight Republicans – excuse me, 48 Democratic Senators – you only need three more Republicans to – on a 51-vote situation – stop things from happening. Other times you need 60 votes, as you know, in the Senate. So, a lot of these things are going to meet with tremendous opposition and the votes are not going to add up in the Senate, in particular. Even in the House you’re going to see a tremendous fight because of the nature of the districts. I won’t speak for Congressman Dan Donovan, but I’ll use him as an example. There are a lot of Republican Congress members who have major cities in their district. He’s already – and I appreciate some of the things he’s said about the Affordable Care Act as an indicator of things that he’s deeply concerned about. You’re going to see other Republican Congressmembers not comfortable owning a budge that hurts their districts so directly. So, that’s how we organize to fight a lot of these things.
Question: Do you have plans to go to Washington in the near future [inaudible] actively talking to [inaudible] Senate and lobbying on these issues?
Mayor: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we don’t have a day, but, yeah, I’ll be certainly spending time in Washington on this, and I’ll be doing a lot of work with my fellow mayors in the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and that’s important because that’s a bi-partisan organization. There are a lot of Republican mayors who would be right here next to me telling you why these cuts would hurt their cities. And we’ve already seen a lot of bipartisanship from mayors on the Affordable Care Act, for example. They, in particular, are going to have a very big impact on some of their Republican Senators and Congress members, but we want to do a grassroots strategy all over the country. We need to build on the ground so those members of the House and Senate who are sensitive to these issues start to feel the heat. But, of course, there will also be direct lobbying in Washington.
Question: Have you had any conversations with other mayors today?
Mayor: Not today, but, in anticipation to this, the last time I was in Washington a few weeks ago, we literally at the Conference of Mayors did a working session where we went over a number of these areas because we thought they would be in the crosshairs – particularly things like CDBG – and people were already readying their battle plans on how to fight them. So, I think there’s going to be a lot of readiness to fight.
Question: So, if all of these proposals come to pass, how are you managing your budget?
Mayor: Again, I appreciate the question, but I want to emphasize our game plan. This is a six-month fight, and we have a lot of ammunition, and we’re going to have a lot of allies. A number of these cuts are going to be absolutely unpopular in districts all over the country. And, job-one – the best thing I can do for people in New York City is work with my colleagues around the country to stop these cuts. New York City spends – gives a lot more money to Washington than we get back. Remember Senator Moynihan decades ago who pointed it out? It’s just as true today – we send a lot more money to Washington than we get back. We’re going to fight for our fair share, and cities and counties all over the country are going to do the same thing. So, my view is, we don’t talk about scenarios and hypotheticals, we go and fight, and then we see how many of these things we can get back.
Question: You and the Commissioner suggested that Homeland Security cuts would have an impact on the security of New York City residents. What impact would these cuts have on, let’s say, fighting the rise of anti-Semitism [inaudible]?
Mayor: I’ll start and turn to the Commissioner. I think the ability of the NYPD to fight terror is directly connected to all of the ways it has presence in this city. The Commissioner laid out a number of the pieces that allow the NYPD to be very present, very visible, ready, well-trained, etcetera. We obviously use a lot of those same approaches when we see anything happening around the world that suggests there may be an attack on any community. So, we’ve talked about this before – when there’s an attack on a Jewish community anywhere in the world, we recognize that as a potential dangerous signal and we reinforce locations, and a lot of that is funded with the same resources.
Commissioner O’Neill: So, if you just take a look at the way the bomb threats are investigated and resulted in the arrest of a man out in St. Louis – that was done through the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is a joint federal task force. So, you know, as we go forward, we’re a resilient organization. Whatever we need to do to keep New York City safe, we’ll do that, but this is a tremendous amount of money, and we need every penny of it to help keep New Yorkers safe.
Question: Mr. Mayor, now that it’s not longer under investigation –
Mayor: Again, we’re doing the budget and then I’ll speak to that matter.
Mayor: We’re doing the budget – are you going to talk about the budget?
Mayor: I can walk and chew gum by talking about the budget, which is of concern to millions of New Yorkers –
Mayor: Guys, it’s real simple – who has a budget question? And then we’ll go to that matter.
Question: You say that counter-terrorism money is the backbone of the your counter-terrorism apparatus. I’m wondering how big that budget is and how much of a slice is [inaudible]?
Commissioner O’Neill: I’m not going to go into exactly the exact amount of money we spend on counter-terrorism, but the $110 million is a significant part of that – that’s other than personnel services. I went through the list of things that could be possibly affected and if you need me to run through it again I most certainly will.
Mayor: On the budget? Go ahead.
Question: Would you ever consider negotiating with him? Or is it kind of like negotiating with terrorists? Like, you don’t want to shuffle your cards –
Mayor: Anna Sanders is making news, ladies and gentlemen.
Question: It’s not meant to be funny.
Mayor: No, I’m obviously not going to characterize it that way. I’ve said many times, I believe President Trump is best dealt with from a position of strength. I really mean this and I think anyone who has studied him would see some of the reasoning here – deal with him from a position of strength, not weakness, which means if he hears an outcry from cities all over the country, from business communities all over the country, from the same districts that supported him – that will change his behavior. He at least, I think, has his finger on the pulse enough to tell when one of his ideas is losing support. I believe that is happening with the Affordable Care Act in some ways. So, the best thing we can do is be strong, get as many other people on our side, be as loud as possible, and show that this is going to hurt people in every part of the country. I believe that’s the game plan.
Okay, on this side – anyone in the back? Going once on this side – no? On this side – anything else on budget? Budget – budget – budget? Okay, let me just speak to the investigations for a moment and then I’ll take questions.
So, I received the information the same way you did – with the media reports today – and it simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation. I said throughout that we cooperated in every way – that what’s asked of us. And I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s office and the District Attorney’s office for diligently looking into this matter, for coming to conclusions and publishing those conclusions in a timely manner, given the fact that an election is looming. But we made clear throughout that we would cooperate in every way and we proceeded to do that.
I’d finally say, a lot of time and energy has been spent on this. I’m happy to take some questions today, but, after that, it is time to get back to work. We are facing these budget cuts, which will affect millions of people. We have huge issues we have to address in this city and time and energy, again, has been devoted to these other matters. I want to make sure we get back to work focusing on the things that affect everyday New Yorkers’ lives.
Yes, in the back?
Okay, I thought that was a hand. Go ahead.
Question: Do you think it’s a coincidence Preet Bharara was fired just days before the federal investigation was dropped? And what do you think of Preet Bharara personally now that you’re at liberty to speak?
Mayor: Again, I’m not going to comment at this moment at him personally. Again, I appreciate that he and his office conducted a diligent investigation and that we said we were going to cooperate, and they certainly received that cooperation fully, and that they made a determination on a timely basis. But as to any other reasons to how they came to their conclusions or timing, I can conjecture on that.
Mayor: Say again?
Question: You said most recently – a couple of weeks ago – that once the investigation was over you’d be prepared to give a list of donors who did not receive any favors. Are you now prepared to do that?
Mayor: Not this hour, but soon, sure.
Question: Mayor, you say now, going forward, you hope – you’ll take questions today but you don’t really want to speak about this anymore. In the past you’ve said that you couldn’t speak about it because it was under investigation. I mean, do you think there’s a necessity here to speak about more? You know, the Board of Elections – the letter from the District Attorney’s office outlined some conduct that they said while they didn’t think it met the criteria to prosecute anyone for, you know, skirted ethical lines. Do you think –
Mayor: That’s your characterization. I believe they have an assessment – I don’t share their assessment. But, most importantly, they confirmed – they had to make a judgement on whether anything inappropriate happened and their judgement was it did not. So, we can continue to debate, but it’s not going to get us anywhere. We comported ourselves in a legal and appropriate and ethical manner. This situation has been resolved and now we’ve got to get back to work serving the people of New York City 24/7.
Question: [Inaudible] appropriate to have the flow of money the way that it was on the State Senate issue with the money going to county committees that could accept much larger –
Mayor: Again, guys, we have discussed that issue many times, and I’ve said that everything was done with advice of counsel. Everything was done in accordance to the law. I feel exactly as I’ve felt before.
Question: Do you intend the revive the Committee for One New York?
Mayor: No. It has served its purpose.
Question: Would you ever consider setting up another 501(c)(4) similar to the –
Mayor: No plans to do that.
Question: Why not?
Mayor: Just no plans to do it. It – those served – that effort served its purpose. Obviously – tremendous amount of distraction, as I’ve said previously. We have no plans to use that methodology, going forward.
Question: [Inaudible] those kinds of nonprofits have – are inherently distracting or inherently problematic? Are they more trouble than they’re worth?
Mayor: Again, I think it’s simple. That initiative was about securing pre-K for the children of New York City, affordable housing for people in need in this city. It served its purpose. I think everything was done appropriately. But there’s just no reason to go down that road again. We have other ways we will get things done. Simple – I’m not taking multiple follow-ups. Keep going.
Question: But you’re ruling that out in the future? Can you just – but are you ruling out –
Mayor: I just said we have no plans to do it. Go ahead.
Question: In the future, if a donor calls you with a problem with an agency, would you – or would you direct a staff to reach out to that agency to look at the problem?
Mayor: If anybody brings an issue to me – an elected official, a community leader, a business person, a constituency leader, an individual – we pass that to an agency to assess the situation and come up with a determination. That’s been true throughout my work. And I think it is normal for an elected official to receive concerns from people and pass them along for an agency to make sense of them. That’s how we have done things. That’s how we’ll continue to do things. Go ahead.
Question: What was your reaction when it finally came down today that you had not been charged by either office?
Mayor: Just that it was what I thought would happen all along and it’s been a long process, obviously, and a lot of time and energy that I believe could have been used to serve the people of New York City. Doesn’t mean that we didn’t get a lot done in the meantime, but just a certain amount of time and energy went into that effort. So this simply confirmed what I’d been saying all along, and I was obviously pleased to see the issue closed.
Question: How much do you owe in legal fees?
Mayor: I don’t know yet. I’ll need to get that final figure. I think that’s still being tabulated.
Question: Mr. Mayor, can you tell us like from your gut like how you felt? I mean were you singing Happy Days or [inaudible]? Did you call Chirlane? I mean what’s your –
Question: And secondly, let me just ask you, your – one of your opponents Paul Massey says that you should reimburse the [inaudible] for $11.6 million that was spent –
Mayor: Look, that’s – let’s be real. People all in this administration have done their job and have served, I think, with tremendous distinction and followed the rules, followed the law, acted ethically. And aspersions were cast, and they had a right to legal reputation. That would be true in any other situation. That was necessary. So, I’m perfectly comfortable that things were done properly in terms of legal representation.
As to reaction – Marcia, I’m sorry I can’t help you today. I fully expected that when all was said and done, this conclusion would be reached. And my only feeling was we can finally put this behind us and now focus even more on the needs of everyday people. Yeah?
Question: You said you’re still figuring out your legal fees. But can you tell us, in particular, how much you spent on Lawrence Laufer?
Mayor: I can’t. But it’s – that’s depending on what you’re talking about. If you’re talking about campaign expenses, that’s all in campaign filings.
Mayor: Anything – there’s a filing related to his employment, which show that figure.
Question: Can you describe your relationship with Harendra Singh and do you think that either you or your agents, or someone acting on your behalf interfered with DCAS matters about Water’s Edge?
Mayor: I’ve said previously – not someone I was particularly close to. And no, no one interfered in anyway.
Mayor: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Actually, guys, you don’t get to say no. I will be the one to decide how many hours I’m spending here.
Question: Now that the investigation is over, if you can confirm whether or not you made that call to Moishe Indig in September 2014 to help get the vacate order lifted on that school?
Mayor: No, I did not.
Question: The acting US Attorney said in a statement that you and others working on his – on your behalf quote “solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the city after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant city agencies on behalf of those donors.” Can you commit to not doing that in the future?
Mayor: I think – very clearly I’ve said I do not agree with some of the characterization. I’ve only looked at it glancingly. I’m not a lawyer. I haven’t looked at all the nuances, but I don’t agree with some of the characterization. What matters is the fact that this was extensively investigated for a year and no charges have been brought, and this is the end of the matter. I just said a moment ago if people raise concerns, I will pass them to agencies for agencies to adjudicate.
Question: I’m going to re-read what David was saying a little more slowly. The statement from the U.S. Attorney says “we have conducted a thorough investigation into several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals you sought official favors from the City after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant city agencies on behalf of those donors.” New Yorkers need a full accounting of every instance that matches the behavior described in that statement. Will you commit to giving New Yorkers a full accounting –
Mayor: Willie. I disagree with your characterization. It’s as simple as that.
Question: [inaudible] I’m reading what.
Mayor: I disagree with your characterization.
Question: [Inaudible] will you tell us which instances you discussed or were questioned about by the U.S. Attorney in the four hours you spent with them?
Mayor: Now Willie, the issue has been exhaustively investigated. It’s concluded.
Question: Do you refuse to give New Yorkers a full accounting of what’s described? You’re refusing to give New Yorkers a full accounting of what’s described here.
Mayor: The issue has been exhaustively investigated. Go ahead.
Question: I’d like to ask about the future rather than the past. Although you were not charged, do you believe there are any changes you have to make to how you raise funds or any changes made in your reelection campaign as opposed to your first campaign?
Mayor: Look, we are very carefully – as always – following the laws, accepting any and all guidance from the different regulatory entities – Campaign Finance Board; Conflict of Interest Board – whatever it may be. And the one thing I think has been evident is we are focusing more and more of our energies on everyday people, lower dollar donations, trying to build in that manner. I think it’s the best way to do things going forward. It’s not the only way we’ll get resources, but –
Question: [Inaudible] specifically doing differently in the reelection campaign because of these [inaudible]
Mayor: It’s not because of. I would say it is – if you noticed the 2016 election, we are now as a democracy – we have more and more ability of everyday people to fund campaigns to be the core of where the support comes from. I’m going to follow the law. I’m going to follow the rules. I will take resources from different folks who want to support what we’re trying to achieve. All within the letter of the law, the spirit of the law, etc. But I can tell you for a fact more and more of our energy is going into grassroots donations.
Question: Mayor, I understand you disagree with the assessment that some folks are making and the assessment that is in these statement today from both the U.S. Attorney and also the Manhattan District Attorney, but do you feel despite these statements from both of these prosecutors – do you feel exonerated?
Mayor: Dave, I would say I feel it confirms what I’ve said all along – that we handled things in a legal manner, an ethically appropriate manner throughout, me and all of my colleagues both in the government and outside – period. I don’t use words like that because I think it makes it personal and emotional. I don’t think this is a personal and emotional matter. I think this is a very straightforward matter. A yearlong investigation by multiple entities resulted in – from my point of view – a very clear result. Nothing was done that was illegal or inappropriate – period. I think we need to put it behind us and get back to work.
Question: [Inaudible] talking about what is to many people emotional or would like to see an emotional reaction, did you seemed that perhaps whole and legal and just to the point of the law and not at all what the bigger issue is –
Mayor: Dave, I disagree. I think – I think the exhaustive investigation has come to a clear conclusion, and I’m very comfortable doing things in an appropriate manner, and we’ve got a lot of work to do in this city. You can keep asking, and if this is what you guys want to ask about for months to come that’s your choice. I think everyday New Yorkers – and I’ve seen this over the last year – they care about healthcare. They care about jobs. They care about making sure their child’s school is good. They care about getting affordable housing and not being forced out of their neighborhood. That’s what I’m going to focus on. If you guys want to write about a whole set of other things that’s your choice, but I guarantee you this is what everyday people want our full attention on.
Question: You talked about putting a defense fund together. How are you going to structure that so that it avoids donation problem issues and avoids a future investigation?
Mayor: Well, we’re certainly going to seek all the guidance in the world to figure out the right way to structure that. You know legal defense funds have been around for a long time. Certainly going to disclose anyone who supports them. I am not an expert on how these things are structured. It has not been thought through yet. It will have to be now, and then we’ll announce something when it’s prepared.
Question: So then will donors then necessarily writing a check get a leg up on having some –
Mayor: No, of course not. I mean this is what this investigation again confirms. There’s no leg up. People can donate. In a democracy – guys, there’s laws. There’s laws. They delineate what people are allowed to donate. And we followed those laws. We went further than those laws. We disclosed – I think a lot of you know of campaign committees that took in millions and millions of dollars and never disclosed who gave the money. I’ve mentioned a lot of the advertising that was directed at me. I think it’s $13 million since I took office. A lot of that came from hedge fund people. You don’t know their names. I don’t know their names. We know they’re hedge fund people. But anything that I’m associated with we disclose who the donors are.
Question: Mr. Mayor, so I know that this was kind of an expected conclusion that you’ve talked about, but if I were investigated for a year and then cleared, if you will, I might go down and have a beer or maybe a glass of champagne.
Is there any little celebration that is in mind? Nothing at all?
Mayor: Rich, look, it’s been a year. A lot of time and energy that I wish we could’ve put into things that could’ve helped everyday people. I just want to close it and move on. It’s as simple as that.
Question: Mayor, you’ve said that you think –
Mayor: And I’ll do a few more, but I’m not going to be here all night. Go ahead.
Question: You’ve said that you think powerful and wealthy forces in New York City have conspired against you or tried to block your progressive agenda at City Hall, and I’m wondering if you think that those forces that you’ve described are in any way or were in any way behind these investigations?
Mayor: I’m not going to get into that at this moment. I think, you know, I’ve talked long ago – I’ll only reference obliquely out of an abundance of restraint the fact that when some of these started I made very clear some of my views. I’m just not going to get into that now.
Question: Mr. Mayor, this is [inaudible] conclusion but there has been damage done. Certainly there’s impressions that have been put in people’s minds. It’s certainly still fodder for your challengers who talk about why they ae – why they want to replace you in City Hall. Do you think you need to reset your image with voters, and how will you do that?
Mayor: Brigid, I – again I really fundamentally understand the role of media in society, and I respect in greatly. I think there’s a natural tension, and that’s part of our democracy and our constitutional structure and reality. But I have said to you many times – to all of you – I think you think this is on the minds of everyday people, and I think it is not on the minds of everyday people. They saw a whole year play out where nothing was proven. Lots of allegations and no charges brought. There were people who did some things they shouldn’t have done. It turns out that happened and began in the previous administration as Mr. Bharara made clear in terms of the Police Department – certain individuals in the Police Department. That’s the only thing that came out of all of this. But no, I think the people want to see their government serve them on the bread and butter issues that affect their lives, their families every single day. They would like to see all the attention we got going into that. I think if anything they were frustrated that so much of the energy coming out of everywhere else wanted to talk about a set of things that had no proof whereas their lives were going on and they needed help. We still moved forward on our affordable housing efforts, our efforts to improve our schools, our opioid plan, our homeless plan. We’re going to keep moving forward, and that’s what people want to talk about.
Yes? Hold on, hold on. Go ahead.
Question: Mr. Mayor as you just did it I was going to ask you – you’ve alluded to in the past at least around the State Board of Elections matter that the letter spurring the Manhattan D.A.’s investigation was politically motivated. Can you speak to that now that that investigation has concluded and the letter from the Manhattan D.A. is back to the B.O.E. saying you can now proceed with civil or other penalties or investigations? Are you concerned about where this may head?
Mayor: Again, I’m not going to speak to that. I think what I’ve said in the past speaks for itself.
Question: Mr. Mayor every time you directed action toward – related to a donor, did you seek our Conflict of Interest Board advice, and if so would you be willing to release the written, at least, advice by –
Mayor: Of course there’s so many people who I come across every day – elected officials, community leaders, individual citizens, business figures – everyone raising concerns. That has happened for years and years. Those issues get looked at, but what’s very clear is each agency looks at these matters objectively, and they come up with a view that they think is the right one in terms of serving people as a whole. Period.
Question: When you took that action did you call over to the Conflict of Interest Board –
Mayor: Again, I’ve been guided – all of us have gotten ethics training from the beginning of this administration. Everything I did conformed with that training.
Okay, we’re getting a little redundant, so anyone who hasn’t had a question?
Mayor: Jillian, I’m sorry, we’re going to other people.
Question: Mayor, did you take any action to intercede on behalf of Joseph Dussich, the guy who made the mint trash bags.
Mayor: Again, everything related to him was based on the decisions of the agencies involved.
So guys, we’ve covered a lot of ground. I’m sorry. I’m sorry –
Mayor: Willie, Willie, I’m in the middle of a sentence. I’m going to finish the sentence. No, I’m not going to let you finish your question.
I’ve tried to give everyone a chance to ask their questions, and the bottom line – the bottom line is I’m going to get back to work 110 percent on behalf of the people of New York City as is everyone around me. So we’re going to proceed with that principle.
Thank you, everyone.