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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on WNYC

April 7, 2017

Brian Lehrer: We begin as we usually do on Fridays with our weekly Ask the Mayor segment with Mayor Bill de Blasio. Listeners, your questions for the Mayor at 2-1-2-4-3-3-WNYC, 4-3-3-9-6-9-2 or tweet a questions using the hashtag #AsktheMayor. Mr. Mayor, welcome back to WNYC.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, Brian.

Lehrer: And Syria is not a mayoral issue, obviously, but you’ve taken positions in your life on U.S. military action. Do you want to weigh in?

Mayor: Yeah [inaudible] I would say we should be very, very concerned anytime the United States intervenes in another country. And the way that is supposed to go is through a vote of Congress. It’s quite clear in the Constitution. And the history of U.S. military interventions over many, many decades is not a positive one.

But that being said, you know, responding to an act of genocide is a different reality. I don’t think a simple airstrike in response to a nerve gas attack is necessarily a poorly considered idea in the scheme of things. But I think what we have to get back to here is, look, you said in your lead-in, we’ve now entered into the conflict in Syria. I would argue we’ve been in the conflict in Syria in a lot of ways. I would argue that one of the biggest contradictions here is President Trump’s embrace of Russia when Russia is propping up the regime that perpetrated this gas attack.

So, there’s a lot of strands here but the – even though I think there is a time and place for responding to something so inhumane – large – this would go immediately to the Congress if there’s any sense of the President’s part of the larger involvement in Syria.

Lehrer: And just one thing more on this to see if there’s any local implication. The President is trying to sell this as an act of U.S. national security, not just to try to save Syrians from Assad. Since New York is a terror target – terror target number one – do you see any implications for safety here or is that not a relevant issue?

Mayor: Yeah, it’s always a relevant issue in my view. Any action the United States takes can have – can draw a response. There can be an act of retaliation and obviously, we’re the number one target so we have to take it seriously. I don’t think we should ever think as a nation that we can’t act out of fear of retaliation. We have to decide if what the right thing morally was the right thing to do in terms of security overall.

But, no, we have to now in this environment be concerned about a whole other strand of challenges that could come home to us. That’s a given.

Lehrer: Okay, the State budget. Let me get your brief take on each of those three gridlock issues. You badly want the 421-a take abatement program in some form to incentivize building of affordable housing. What do you understand the dispute to be and what side of it are you on?

Mayor: Brian, I want a little modification of what you said. I think 421-a in the past was a giveaway to developers and it often funded luxury housing. We came forward a few years ago, we said, look, there can’t be any more tax breaks for luxury condos. We have to get a lot more affordable housing done. We have to be a lot better in terms of what the taxpayer gets for this subsidy.  I still feel those are the ground rules. So, what we’re concerned about is anything that would expand the giveaways and cost the taxpayers more, and literally at this hour that situation is still not settled. So, I would say it’s not by any means 421-a at all costs, it’s if there is a fair 421-a – a bill, then the good part is it does help foster the creation of affordable housing we need.  But if it’s too burdensome to New York City, you know, it’s a different matter. So, it’s literally being – last report I hear just minutes before the show – things are still being hashed out.

Lehrer: So, what would be too burdensome to New York City that you hope is not in that bill or is in that bill?

Mayor: I – further subsidies for condominiums is the area where I think there’s the most sensitivity. You know anything that starts us down the road again of subsidizing luxury condos – that’s the red line for me.

Lehrer: On raising the age of adult criminal responsibility. It seems like the Republicans are now agreeing to the basic idea and the only hang-up is whether Correction Officers or the Office of Children and Family Services, which supervise these teenage offenders after they’ve served their prison sentences. Is that your understanding and do you care one way or another?

Mayor: I actually have not gotten a sense of that particular piece of the equation. I care that whatever we do is going to focus on rehabilitating these young people although, obviously, some young people commit very serious crimes. I don’t take that lightly. But the goal here of course underneath the whole concept of Raise the Age is trying to recognize that a lot of our young people who go astray are particularly redeemable because it’s still early in their development. So, I think as those decisions are made that has to be one of the central concerns but I’m not in those details.

We’re obviously very concerned as well that the State continue its financial obligations. That if it changes the nature of how criminal justice is applied to young people which is a good thing that it continues to maintain its financial responsibility.

Lehrer: And on the charter funding issue, the press is using the word tuition – that it’s about a $1,500 a student tuition increase in one of the budget bills. But charter schools are public schools and don’t charge tuition to the public. So, can you explain that? And I’m guessing here that for you as someone who doesn’t want charters to run rush-out over the rest system – I have a guess as to which side you’re on.

Mayor: I suspect you have guessed correctly, Brian.


Look, it’s a simple thing. I believe in traditional public schools. My mission, considering that public schools educate well over 90 percent of our kids is to fix that system which has for decades underserved our kids. And I think we are starting to turn around our public schools.

Charters have a role to play and we will certainly work with them. But the notion of favoring them further in funding is troubling to me. Look, I’m the first to say the charter movement is very diverse. There are some charters doing fantastic work and then without a lot of resources. There are other charters that are awash in resources because of course they can turn the private sources in a way our traditional public schools cannot. So, the notion of further stacking the deck in favor of charter schools makes no sense to me.

Lehrer: And this word, tuition, this just means how much government aid goes to each charter school versus – you know out of the total pot of money that’s going to schools in general?

Mayor: Correct. I think that’s the simplest way to say it, exactly. Are we going to further fund charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools? I say no.

Lehrer: One other issue before we get to some calls. When you came on last Friday, the Judge Lippman report of closing Rikers Island had just come out and you weren’t ready to announce yet what your position would be. You did then endorse closing Rikers but, I believe, not specifically the proposal to replace it with a jail in each borough proportional in size to the inmate population of each borough. Are you ready to endorse that now?

Mayor: No, I’m not. I said last Friday I believe that the right thing to do is to get off of Rikers in that ten-year timeframe, ideally – it might take a little longer – and then to create, as few as possible, alternative facilities so that we can permanently never have to go back. I appreciate the Lippman commission but the real issue to me is we have to find locations and we have to make decisions through the land-use process with the City Council vote.

And we have to do that in the scheme of things not too long from now. I want to make sure we get the job done and I want to make sure the City Council takes those votes so that we can once and for all be off of Rikers.

So, I don’t think the five-borough vision is the right way to achieve that goal. But I have said very clearly, I’ll be sitting down with Councilmembers and I am hopeful that Councilmembers will step up and say, “Hey, we believe in this goal and we’re willing to get some skin in the game and actually make decisions on these sites.” The more they do that the faster we can move forward.

Lehrer: Well, I think the Speaker of the Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito has done that. She supports the five-borough plan. And she says the borough jails would be down by the courthouses in each borough not out on some residential blocks. And the Speaker has endorsed it for near the Bronx County Courthouse which is in her own district –

Mayor: Which is commendable and I give her credit for her leadership. Look, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito gets a lot of credit overall on the issue of closing Rikers because, you know, it took us a lot of work to come to the decision that we could actually achieve it.

And remember I say it to everyone – once you close it, you’re never going back. So, you have to make sure you will [inaudible] capacity anymore. You’ve gone to an entirely different place in terms of criminal justice and the number of people incarcerated. We want to obviously drive down mass incarceration for so many reasons. But in the case of Rikers, what New Yorkers need to understand is we are saying every single inmate off in ten years or so, and then you never go back. So, you have to drive down incarceration and keep it down. And you have to have enough facilities.

I commend her for her leadership and I commend her for stepping forward in terms of her own district. I also would remind you the process to make the decision through our land-use process takes a year or two. So, you know, in that district she will no longer be the Councilmember because her term ends at the end of this year.

And what we need is to make sure that the Council – Council members individually and the Council as a whole – will ultimately select sites and stand by them because that’s the only way we can get off of Rikers.

Lehrer: But just one more follow-up on this. Your homeless shelter plan as we’ve talked about on this show is premised on proportional housing to the homeless population roughly by neighborhood. Why would it be different for jails and why doesn’t locating them near the courthouses solve the NIMBY problem?

Mayor: I think there’s definitely an argument on the courthouse point. But the apples and oranges reality here is that the siting of homeless shelters by law is something that is controlled by the executive branch. We obviously have a number of rules we have to follow but we still make the decision. The siting of a jail has to go to a vote of the City Council.

And I think it’s something you and I have talked about a lot, Brian There is such angst in this city right now in general about all the decisions being made on land-use because the city is growing. People are feeling the pressure of that growth. They are feeling the pressure of the cost-of-living etcetera. All these land-use decisions have become ever more controversial. Siting the jail I would argue is the hardest of all land-use decisions and it requires that vote of the City Council after a very long public process, and it has to happen.

We can’t have – when we actually get to the point of the vote, we can’t have time and again the City Council saying, “Oh, after all we don’t like that location and we don’t like the other location, etcetera.” We’re on a schedule. We have to ultimately meet that schedule.

So, I don’t think it resembles the situation with [inaudible] homeless shelters at all. But I want to say on the plus side, I think there’s, you know, a real strong feeling in New York City that it’s time to get off of Rikers. I think that’s a well – you know, well-intentioned reality, strongly felt reality among New Yorkers.

I think the Council members, so far, have really distinguished themselves both in their support for this vision but also a number of them have come forward and say they are open to having a facility in their district.

But remember, that’s the beginning of the process –

Lehrer: Yeah.

Mayor: It is long – year or two of public response and they have to stay clear about that decision or else we end up without any alternatives.

Lehrer: But just so I understand – are you saying that the politics are different it comes to jails and homeless shelters or that for some reason the rationale should be different than sort of proportional location by area and in this case by borough?

Mayor: I think the politics are profoundly different. The structure – literally having to go through the [inaudible] extensive small deed democratic land-use process – totally different than what we do with homeless shelters.

I think there’s also a reality that, you know, we’ve got five boroughs and each of them have a very different relationship with the criminal justice system in terms of numbers. And so, to me, it’s all of the above. You’re talking about a very practical reality that we have to get through the process successfully. It’s a much more onerous process than what we deal with, for example, with homeless shelters. And the boroughs are very different in terms of the numbers.

So, when I add that up my resolution was simple. The fewer sites the better, achieves both the practical goal and helps us stay on the schedule.

Lehrer: Alright. Ask the Mayor every Friday morning here on the Brian Lehrer Show – 2-1-2-4-3-3-WNYC, 4-3-3-9-6-9-2. Our lines are full right now. And Matt, in East Harlem gets the first question. Matt, you’re on WNYC. Hello –

Question: Hi, Brian. And Mr. Mayor, thank you for taking my call. I’m a big supporter of your campaign and administration. And I wanted to let you know, in case you hadn’t know that I’m also a parent at Central Park East 1 Elementary which is a 40-year-old progressive school in East Harlem; serving [inaudible] social-economically disadvantaged district. Last night after a SLT, eight parents occupied the auditorium after the SLT meeting.

Lehrer: So that’s a School Leadership Team meeting – just for the uninitiated. Go ahead.

Question: Thank you, Brian. In response to the DOE’s lack of support in any substantial way to the principal that was installed there last year. I also wanted to make the Mayor aware, in case he is not aware, that we as a school hold the distinction of being the single worse school in New York City, according to the survey and also we are the worse – we have the worse academic drop. We dropped 1085 seats in the first year of this principal’s tenure. We’re going into our second year –

Lehrer: Let me jump in for time and jump to part of what I see is going on from an email from, I guess, one of your fellow parents. After that demonstration outside the school last night, seven parents stayed and are now inside occupying the school. I’m reading, there are many police at this school, but so far they have not arrested the parents. This is the first time seeing of this. Mr. Mayor, are you aware?

Mayor: It’s the first time hearing of the details as well, but I am familiar with the fact that there has been a lot of concern in this school. There have been strong feelings from the school community about the direction of the school overall. I have spoken to the Chancellor about it. I will obviously be speaking to her again about it today. It is a school with a very powerful history, but, you know, I think – I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I think the simple answer is we obviously have some things to resolve and in many cases we – under mayoral control of education the Chancellor and I have to make decisions constantly on what is the right direction for schools. We know sometimes that there are really strong feelings that parents have and we’ve got to always balance those factors. But obviously this is an unusually strong response by parents. I want to understand it better and I will be following up today.

Lehrer: Matt, are you at the school right now? Is there a scene worth describing?

Question: I just left the school, Brian. And they just came out recently to speak to the press. The police refuse to – apparently refuse to arrest them in the act of civil disobedience because they felt that it was unnecessary. And so, the protesters decided to come out and speak to the press. I just also, lastly, wanted the Mayor to know that since Principal Garg has been installed in the school, every single long-term tenured teacher has been multiply investigated. We have details on all the investigations; two have gone to trial. The rest have been exonerated. Also, 50 percent of our faculty left after Ms. Garg’s first year – 50 percent, an astonishing figure.

Mayor: Matt, thank you for alerting me and again I’ve had conversations with the Chancellor before about this school, I’ll have another one today. But I am really glad you raised it to my attention and I want to understand better why parents feel so strongly and what direction we have to go in.

Lehrer: Mike on the Lower East Side, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hi, Mike.

Question: Hi, how are you doing, Brian? I am a long time listener, first time caller.

Lehrer: Thank you.

Question: Mr. Mayor, it’s a pleasure to speak with you.

Mayor: Thank you, Mike.

Question: My question is about monopolies in New York. Over the past 10, 20 years I have seen so many small businesses close. And more and more I am seeing the same businesses; whether it is a Duane Reade on every other block, which is now owned by Walgreens, Dunkin Donuts and 7/11 popping up like mushrooms. And I am concerned that this is really unfair competition and un-American. We got to do something and I am asking you if we can do something here to help small businesses and help the mom and pops? That’s my question.

Mayor: Thank you, Mike. Look, this one we talked about this last week with Tony Danza on this show.

Lehrer: That’s right– called in on a similar question.

Mayor: Yes. Look, I am really troubled by this reality in our city. And I am trying to figure out the public policy solution. I have to be very clear, Mike, that this one has been a tough one to sort through. I think there are a couple of things we can say, this is a problem rooted in the free enterprise system. I often offer my critique of the free enterprise system; this is part of what is wrong where stores that – mom and pop stores developed over years, decades that are part of the fabric of the community get run over by these big chain stores. And a lot of landlords are so hungry for the buck that they will throw out a store that has been part of the community for decades. I don’t find that acceptable on a human or morale level. I think from a landlord perspective there should be more understanding that if someone has been your tenant for a long, long time and a fabric of the community that you should bend over backwards to give them the chance to stay, even if it means making a little less money.

Lehrer: Let me jump in and ask you a specific policy question then because we followed up your interaction with Tony Danza on the show last week with a segment with City Councilman Daniel Garodnick who is proposing that the four percent commercial rent tax in Manhattan below 96th Street kick in at $500,000, not the current $250,000 which he says would spare thousands of neighborhood businesses. Would you sign such a bill?

Mayor: I’d have to look at that proposal. I am very sensitive to wanting to support the neighborhood businesses. I am obviously concerned anytime we give away tax revenue and this is what I was going to say as sort of a follow through. There have been a lot of proposals of how to address this issue. Some folks have said maybe we can do it through zonings; some people said maybe we can do it through tax credits. The problem – and I want to address this to Mike’s concern – is if you’re talking about something that’s a real big impact on revenue that is going to come off with other things we do whether it is schools, police, sanitation whatever it is. And we have to make a decision as a society what we value most. I care a lot about the mom and pop sores, but my first impulse is to say I think we can help them. The City has been trying to help them by simplifying regulations, by reducing fines, by giving them legal help if they are having a problem with their landlord. Those are things we really can do and we are doing right now. And by the way, stores that are having those kinds of problems; if they are having a problem with arbitrary fines, if they are having a problem with a legal issue can call our Department of Small Business Services who can help them directly. In a lot of cases that does help keep them in business. The big kicker kind of solutions like zoning and tax credits – the problem is we haven’t been able to find a way to make them affordable or viable. So, I’ll look at that proposal on commercial rent tax, but the challenges are going to be what it means it terms of revenue as well.

Lehrer: Or next ask the Mayor question comes from Twitter. And somebody or some group, I guess, started Twitter campaign to get a question on the show today and I’m going to ask it because it is a legitimate question. I’ve got 20 of this exact tweet. And folks this is not a promise that anybody who launches a campaign to flood us with the same tweet is going to get your questions asked. But this one is relevant. It says will Mayor de Blasio end Broken Windows policing to bolster New York City’s status as a sanctuary city? And so I guess that connection that they are making is, if you’re concerned with the Trump administration deporting people who have committed relatively smaller crimes than maybe you should stop arresting people who are committing such small crimes.

Mayor: Brian look, I have been asked this question more times than I can count. I am going to answer it again but I’d also ask that you and other journalists look at the facts that we have laid out as an administration. The first obligation we have is public safety. And I believe that quality-of-life policing is part of how we maintain public safety. It is literally derived from community residents calling in complaints and concerns to the police and the police acting on them. That’s just essential to safety and government responding to people’s needs. But what is also clear, and we have laid this out many, many times – Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill has laid this out many times. A lot of the things that people put in the category of broken windows, low-level offenses – a huge percentage of those when there is no arrest to begin with because of a lot of the changes we have made in the approach of the NYPD; because of some of the laws and actions by the City Council. What is happening more and more now is our officers are empowered to give warnings or to give a summons; actions that do not involve an arrest, do not involve fingerprinting. When there is, obviously, on marijuana for example – low-level marijuana possession. Two years ago we made a very clear decision to stop arresting for that and to do summons instead. So unless there is an arrest and a fingerprinting there is no information of any kind flowing to the federal government and then further we have a law that is abundantly clear. It says there are 170 major and serious or violent offenses where we will collaborate with the federal government – with ICE but on all other areas we won’t. So I think in the fear and the confusion created by president Trump’s actions on immigration there has been a huge logical jump by some advocates. I would challenge them on that and ask them to be – to recognize the facts that we keep laying out. If someone does a low-level offense and gets a summons there is no nexus with ICE; there is no immigration ramification whatsoever. And we’re also not going to change a policy that has helped to keep us safe because our first obligation is to keep people here – all 8.5 million including half-a-million undocumented folks, half-a-million permanent resident green card holders – our job is to keep everyone safe and we think quality-of-life policing is a key part of that.

Lehrer: Paul from the Bronx, you’re on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio. Hi, Paul.

Question: Good morning and thank you for taking my call. I have been trying to reach you for a month.

Lehrer: It’s hard to get on – a lot of callers want to talk to the Mayor.

Question: [Inaudible] and particularly last week speaking about racial hatred. I live across the street from Yankee Stadium and Monday is opening night for the Yankees.

Lehrer: Day game, just a traffic alert – it’s a day game.

Question: Yes, but just curious in every other city even in poorer cities like Cleveland and Baltimore and Detroit, Oakland the news stadiums are surrounded by enterprise and business. You can’t even sit down and have a sandwich and a beer in walking distance of Yankee Stadium. And a lot of what you called racial hatred is in fact simply lack of economic opportunity. Why don’t the Yankees support the community that there stadium stands in. Give them a cut off the top for goodness sake.

Lehrer: What are you asking for in terms of –

Question: I want –

Lehrer: Better stores around there and bars and stuff.

Question: Yes, [inaudible] 161st street between River Avenue and Grand Concourse is a natural place to replace the ghetto style businesses that now stand there with outdoor facilities including all of the –

Mayor: Let me jump in.

Lehrer: Go ahead, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor: Paul, I appreciate your call, but I don’t agree with your terminology at all, respectfully. You know, stores in the community serve the community. I don’t like the way you termed that a moment ago. I think it’s – maybe you didn’t mean it to be derogatory but I think people would take it as derogatory. Stores that serve a surrounding community – and it is a great community – they are there year around. I think one of the things we learned about sport franchises a long time ago is that they have their games and in that moment people come in and people come out. But there is community there – they are 24 hours a day as a part of the fabric of New York City. And the stores and the institutions that serve that community need to be valued and respected. There is a separate question about whether the Yankees, that are a very, very wealthy franchise, are doing enough for this surrounding neighborhood. I would argue that all wealthy institutions could be doing a lot more to foster economic development in their surrounding areas but I don’t want to – I want to really say clearly I have a lot of respect for the store owners in that community and there stores serve our people. It’s simple.

Lehrer: We’re almost out of time, but I want to alert you if you haven’t heard it yet to another breaking news story and see if there is any particular New York City response because of what is going on in Stockholm, Sweden. You may have seen this already – two people have been killed after a vehicle was driven onto the busiest street in the center of Stockholm, according to the Swedish security police. I’m reading from the CNN version of that it says, “Parliament and the Stockholm subway are in lockdown and [inaudible] the Swedish police spokesman says some kind of vehicle has been driven into a full street of pedestrians. We have a lot of police officers on the scene. We don’t have numbers yet.” Is there any reaction on the part of New York City to this – any heightened security level or I know we have spoken before about particular measures against this type of terrorist attack, if that was a terrorist attack which is becoming more common driving a vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians.

Mayor: It is tragically becoming more common and we’re doing a lot to protect against that as best we can with our Critical Response Command and our other specialized elements of the NYPD that prevent terror. Look, we have had incidents now so frequently – the attack on the St. Petersburg subway last week. We adjust every single time. That’s the bottom-line. The NYPD is at a very agile place at this point where we have to – because of the world we’re living in – make very fast adjustments. So, for example if we see an attack on a Swedish city we immediately reinforce locations associated with Sweden and the Swedish government here in New York City like their Mission to the U.N. or the Consulate. We also watch for any patterns that suggest there may be other attacks. When there was the attack on the subway at St. Petersburg we put a lot of additional resources into our subway system. We can move a lot of officers very quickly because we now have much stronger anti-terror capacity than we had a few years ago. That is why one of the most important things that was achieved when the City Council and I agreed to raise – increase our police force by 2,000 officers. A lot of that went into anti-terror efforts and developing a much more professional and larger capacity to do that. So, the sad reality is, Brian, it has now become a protocol. We immediately make those adjustments and we’ll keep doing that until this part of our history is over.

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, thank you as always. I’ll talk to you next week.

Mayor: Thank you, Brian.


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