June 12, 2019
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Well done, well done. You had a lot to say.
Does everyone agree with what Dolores said? Did that make sense to you?
Mayor: Have you all had experiences like that?
Mayor: Dolores, thank you. Dolores, I want to thank you. You are such a strong voice, and I want to thank you because you represent the American dream. You know, right here – if you want to see the American dream, Dolores is right here.
Dolores Benitez: Woman power.
Mayor: Woman power, there you go.
Benitez: Driver’s power.
Mayor: Thank you for speaking up and helping everyone understand just how hard drivers work. And why do you work so hard? To take care of your family, to make sure that your kids and grandchildren can have a better life.
Benitez: And we [inaudible] future for this country.
Mayor: Exactly – and God bless you for that. Let’s thank Dolores, everybody.
Now, let’s get real, everybody, about what our drivers mean to New York City. This city could not function without these drivers. This city would not work without these drivers.
You keep the City moving. You keep people safe. It’s a lot of hard work, but it makes a huge difference for the greatest city in the world. You are part of why it’s the greatest city in the world. Now, your customers depend on you, the City depends on you, most importantly, your families depend on you. And, it’s clear, everyone behind me and so many thousands of drivers work really, really hard. They have done their fair share, they have worked hard, they have contributed to this city. Now, it’s clear, you deserve a raise. You deserve a raise and we’re going to get you a raise.
A lot of people in our administration have been working intensely on this issue and it’s been a labor of love, because the members of my team understand that what has happened to our drivers has to change. It cannot go on like this. So, they worked hard to find a new way of doing things. I want to thank our Deputy Mayor for Operations, Laura Anglin, for her hard work. Thank you.
Our Finance Commissioner, Jacques Jiha – who is also the acting chair of the TLC. Thank you so much for your leadership.
And the acting Commissioner of the TLC, Bill Heinzen – thank you, Bill.
There you go – thank you so much. I also want to thank all the good people who have been fighting for fairness for drivers and that – and when you say fairness for drivers, when you say making sure their voices are heard, well, you would start right away with the Taxi Workers Alliance. Let’s thank the Taxi Workers Alliance.
Now, there’s another organization that has been shoulder-to-shoulder with drivers and all working people, whether a member of the union or not, they have been shoulder to shoulder with working people and made a huge, huge difference. They have single-handedly helped to do so much to raise the standard of living of working people in New York City. It’s a little organization known as 32 –
Mayor: Very good. 32 –
Mayor: 32BJ SEIU, thank you.
And last but not least, says it all, the Taxis for All campaign. Thank you for the good work you are doing as well.
Now, a little bit of history. When the ride-share apps came along we all were told that they were going to help everyone, that they were going to help the drivers as well. Instead we saw something very different, very quickly. The wages of drivers plummeted. Workers were not treated with the rights they deserve. They should have been treated as full-time employees but they weren’t.
So, something that was supposed to be really good for working people suddenly proved to be something very, very different. And I have to tell you all, this is a symptom of something that is wrong with our economy for everyone because what we saw in this case was these corporations, these ride-share corporations cared more about their profits than about the people who did the work. We saw that over and over.
You didn’t get to share in the wealth that you created. They got to keep it all. And that has to end. For a long time, one of the great ideas of this city, it was something you associated with New York City, that drivers were on a path to the middle class. We thought for a long time, it was one of the classic things you do – you’d drive, you’d work hard, and you’d get to that point where your family reached the middle class. But when these ride-share companies came along unfortunately we found that drivers were on a pathway to poverty. It was the exact opposite of what we had hoped for.
Why did this happen? It was cynical strategy by these big corporations to flood the streets with so many vehicles that there was no way they could all be used at the same time to take as much market share as possible no matter what it did to the city, no matter what it did to the workers. It was very cynical. And what we saw – and it’s been proven – was more and more cars driving with no one in them but the driver, and clogging up the streets, and driving down the wages.
So, everyone was losing except those corporate titans. We are not here to serve the corporate titans, we are here to serve the people.
And since the beginning of this administration we have been fighting to make the changes needed. In 2015, we proposed a license cap. We saw a huge response from the industry and they fought us with propaganda and they fought us with lies. But we did not give up nor did the City Council last year. We capped new licenses. Last year, we created the driver minimum wage.
Let me tell you what that driver minimum wage has meant for working people. In the first five full months of 2019, $172 million has gone into the pockets of drivers who deserve that money but used to not get it.
80,000 hardworking drivers have benefitted. Now, you will not be surprised to know that those big corporations fought us in court. They took us to court to try to beat us on the minimum wage but we beat them and the minimum wage is the law.
They’re trying to take us out on the license cap but we’re going to beat them again.
And now, we’re going to take another step in this fight. Today, we are announcing that we are renewing the cap for another year to protect our drivers –
And further we are limiting the time that for-hire vehicles can cruise without passengers in them. And this is going to help ensure that working people do better. It’s going to help unclog our streets. It’s going to help reduce pollution.
Our estimate is that the average driver could see as much as $6,000 more per year in their pockets. $6,000 more a year –
And that’s going to allow people to make ends meet, to pay the rent, to pay the medical bills, maybe even save some money. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Mayor: We also believe this plan will allow traffic below 60th Street in Manhattan to speed up by about ten percent. And that is good for everyone. That makes the city more livable for everybody. That’s going to make it easier for our cars to get around, our buses to get around.
Now, I can give you, right now, the preview of what the big corporations are going to say – get ready – they’re going to say, “Oh, no, no, now all the customers will have to wait and wait to get a car.” I’m going to tell you in advance, that is a lie. That is a lie. We have done the estimates. Some passengers will only wait seconds more, some up to a minute more. And we New Yorkers, we care about our time but we care about justice for working people even more, don’t we?
Mayor: And once you get in that car, it’s going to move faster because the streets are going to be less clogged. So, we’ve said throughout the last couple of years – the goal is fairness, the goal is to make this the fairest big city in America. The goal is to make sure that working people are treated decently. You heard it from Dolores, everyone here can tell you their story – it’s a story of consistent hard work and that hard work deserves a real reward. And that’s what we’re doing today. Congratulations, everyone. You fought hard for this and this is another step forward for your movement.
Now, I’m going to say a few words in Spanish –
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
With that, a very strong voice, a fierce voice one might say – but she has been nothing but consistent. She fights for drivers, she fights to improve their lives, she fights for their rights – founding member of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Bhairavi Desai.
Mayor: Okay, a little programming note. We are going to take questions from the media on this announcement, then I am going to have a few things to say on what’s going on in Albany and we’ll take questions on that and then take questions on anything. So, first let’s do –
Mayor: Let’s do questions – we are doing media right now, I’ll come to you, don’t worry. I’ll come to you, I’ll come to you but let’s do media first. Media questions on this announcement, Rich.
Question: Was there ever any consideration to reducing the number of vehicles allowed [inaudible] reducing the cap [inaudible]?
Mayor: I’m going to give a very broad answer, Laura can feel free to add in. We looked at – there’s been research done over the last year since the legislation was passed, and the research confirmed that the cap that was put in place by the legislation made sense and should be continued for another year. And we will continue to do research every year. I never rule out, any, you know, move in any direction. But I think what we found right now, is this is the right cap for now. Yes, Andrew.
Question: In terms of the crack down on cruising, we talked to a couple of customers who said well what happens if they drop somebody off, they are trying to be good drivers and head up north to 96th Street, but they are empty while in the zone while doing that. Aren’t they then doing exactly the opposite of –
Mayor: So again I’ll start and Laura or any of your colleagues, if you hear me leave something out or if something needs to be clarified, you jump right in, don’t be shy anyone. I’ll give the common sense answer. My understanding is the technology obviously allows the company to monitor each driver, and they are going to train the drivers in how to conform with these rules. So, if you are going somewhere to pick up another fare, I mean that’s okay, that’s part of the equation. But the goal and the requirement is to reduce the overall cruising time. Right now there is a lot of unnecessary cruising time. That’s the business model. Let’s be really clear, it’s pretty cynical. We saw – we’ve seen this confirmed, 40 percent of the time no passenger. That’s been confirmed repeatedly.
So the business model now is just keep lots of vehicles out there driving around and then if a customer shows up, someone is near a customer. It’s a horrible model for the drivers and their income. It’s a horrible model in terms of congestion and pollution. We are saying, ‘Nope, you can’t do that, you got to tighten it up.’ It can be monitored regularly. And they have to make adjustments. So sometimes a driver may have to go farther, that’s fine. It’s do they keep to the overall standard and the company will know how to do that.
Question: Mayor, this a basic economics question, but if you could further explain, my understanding is it’s just a question of supply and demand economics, but how is limiting the time, instead of 41 percent it will 31 percent of not having a passenger and also continuing the cap of the number of cars – how does that result in more pay for the drivers? If you could explain that.
Mayor: So I’ll start again, my colleagues from the administration, Bhairavi may strong views to explain to you as well. That point about race to the bottom – so it’s something we have seen in the history of many companies, you know, how you drive down wages is that you rather than having a smaller workforce, you have a big workforce and everyone is struggling for whatever share of the pie they can get. And so by purposefully flooding the streets with more cars than were needed, it was great for the companies’ market share, which was all about their stock price considerations and all sorts of other things. It was absolutely the wrong thing to do from the point of view of drivers’ income. It’s the wrong thing to do from the point of view of congestion, the wrong thing to do from the point of view of pollution. But it was very cynical, very purposeful.
Now if you go the other way and you put a cap on and you reduce the cruising time, what you have then is a supply and demand as you referred that comes more into balance. There’s going to be plenty of demand, but fewer drivers to meet that demand, those fewer drivers get more rides proportionally, get more income. No New Yorker will go without a ride. But the drivers will do a lot better and will stop this race to the bottom. Does anyone want to add? I think you want to add, I had a feeling you would have an interpretation to share.
President Bhairavi Desai, National Taxi Workers Alliance: So, I mean, when drivers are cruising around empty, it essentially means they are paying for expenses out of pocket, right? Because you are calculating your expenses based on the number of trips that you are serving and how much fare revenue you are getting every day. And so if you have less passengers you earn less revenue and so you are having to pay out of pocket. And especially when you are cruising empty, it means you are paying for just the gasoline out of your own pocket. There’s no, you know, cost being shared by a passenger because you are alone in that trip. And so the basic equation in this industry in order for drivers to earn a living, it’s all about the rate of fare, the number of passengers, and your expenses. And your number of passengers is always determined by how much competition you are facing on the streets. So when it’s too many cars you are going to be the last one in line to get a passenger or you are just not going to be able to move around. And on top of that, if you have to cruise longer you are burning more gasoline.
Now yellow cab drivers are more used to that because of street hails where you have to pick up the fares yourself. But traditionally for over 40 years in the black car industry, drivers depend on efficient dispatching. So black drivers expect to cruise less than, like, a yellow cab driver would, right? That means your company is efficiently using you, you are not burning up fuel, you’re not, you know, racking up the wear and tear of the car, you are not going aimlessly around. You are waiting for a good fare to be dispatched to you and I think that’s what this regulation would force the companies to return to.
Mayor: Make sense? Okay, yes.
Question: Some critics say that the minimum wage rule already is based on a utilization formula and companies and drivers would be penalized if they are cruising too much without passengers. Is that true and if so, what does this add to it, this new 31 percent?
Mayor: Sure, [inaudible] because I am struggling to fully understand the question – but the, and I do want to say that the idea of reducing the cruising, I think, again, responds to multiple pieces of the equation as you heard, the congestion, the pollution, the wage levels. And that was a conscious piece of the strategy. But you can speak to the specifics.
Deputy Mayor Laura Anglin, Operations: So, you are right. We do use the companies that are very familiar with the utilization rates because we use those in the calculation in determining the minimum income standards. What this is doing is only changing the utilization rate within Manhattan, 96th Street and south. So the companies, the fleets will have to manage that but they are able to dispatch cars to Brooklyn or other areas where we are seeing high demand. So we don’t believe the utilization rate that we are doing within the core or 96th Street and south will really have a negative impact on drivers but actually will force drivers more out of there to other areas that they can actually have drivers and passengers.
Question: Just so we are clear, for the cruising – it will be the companies that get penalized for cruising?
Deputy Mayor Anglin: That is correct.
Question: Is there any concern that then the drivers cruising, just not on purpose, but just matter of circumstance, that the companies would then penalize the drivers once they get fined?
Deputy Mayor Anglin: So, let’s understand, the for-hire vehicle apps, they already dispatch the drivers, so they will have to manage that on a monthly basis to meet the utilization rate. There’s many different ways they can do that. They can send them to other areas of the city where we know there’s high demand and what we will be doing is making sure the companies stay within the utilization rate if not penalizing them. But we are also going to watch, and TLC will watch very closely, on the impact of what the companies may be doing to the drivers, whether it’s increasing lease rates, and things like that, that will be able to monitor and make sure they don’t do it. Because if they do penalize or increase expenses to the drivers, we then just increase their minimum income levels and make sure that it’s like a circular thing. We are going to make sure that they are kept whole.
Question: The Times just reported that $10 million have been provided to assist taxi drivers, do you know how that will be distributed and what about [inaudible]?
Mayor: Well I’ve heard it – driver’s assistance, who do you want to take that? I could hear the last part, what?
Mayor: How will the assistance work and for anyone who’s already gone bankrupt?
Deputy Mayor Anglin: So we are going to create driver assistance centers. We already do this locally but we are going to have a permanent operation where drivers can come in to file any type of complaints, also work with individuals for financial counseling. We also want to help them try to negotiate their loans or renegotiate their loans on the medallions or anything else. So this will be – we will have mental health services. So this will be a permanent operation which we have not had before. We’ve had pop up ones here and there. But this is going to be permanent. Obviously this will not help the people who have already filed for bankruptcy, they have gone through that process but our goal is to try to help them not have to do that going forward.
Question: [Inaudible] concept of extending the cap for another year, [inaudible] year by year thing or do this for the long term?
Mayor: Look, it’s a year by year in terms of the procedural. We obviously believe in the concept of setting a number. That was clear in the legislation, the legislation also empowered the TLC now to have that power. So remember, there is a permanent change structurally, procedurally that the TLC now will have that power on an ongoing basis. The way we will use that power is every year to assess the situation and determine what that number should be.
Question: In the future it could go up or down or stay the same [inaudible]?
Mayor: Yes, in theory but it’s going to be based on a regular, annual study and telling us what we see. What we are establishing is that we will have a number on an ongoing basis. Before, it was an absolute free form situation. We know that the ride-sharing companies never sought to work with governments to determine what would be a fair approach to regulation, what would be the right amount of vehicles. They had, I think, a reckless approach where they thought they could do whatever they wanted. This establishes, once and for all, that the City of New York will set a number and that number has to be abided to. Yes.
Question: Mr. Mayor, can you just talk about the fees that are going to be waved. I know it’s in the announcement. Can you just talk a little about what those fees are, how it will translate to the drivers, what it means for them in terms of saving and what is the City going to do to make up that money?
Deputy Mayor Anglin: I’m pretty tall.
Deputy Mayor Anglin: So, this is a fee that medallion owners have to pay every other year, every two years, it’s $11,000. So we will be waiving that and we will seek City Council authorization to do that. It’s about $10 million over the two-year period and that will just be incorporated within the City’s finical plan. That is an investment that we think is well worth it.
Question: So you will put in $10 million to make up the –
Mayor: Over two years.
Deputy Mayor Anglin: It goes into the City’s general treasury so we will just continue to balance that. Like any new proposal we have to ensure it’s funded.
Question: And I also wanted to ask, I’m not sure if I understand correctly how cruising is enforced, how do you – I know you said there’s a way that the companies can do that but – so could you just put it in lay terms?
Deputy Mayor Anglin: Sure, so right now the companies have to report to us every two weeks about data where they do pick-ups, where they do drop-offs, and they track that by GPS which is in their vehicles. That information will be reported to the TLC and there are staff there who are very great with data, and they will compile that on a monthly basis to ensure that the company is meeting the 31 percent utilization rate and if not, the company will be penalized. So we are very – we already do this, and we were able to do this based on the GPS within the cars.
Question: When you look at the fees that drivers won’t have to pay, that amounts to [inaudible] per year for the driver, a lot of these guys are really suffering huge amounts of debt, that’s not going to assist – what are you going to do to help these drivers [inaudible]?
Mayor: Yeah, we – look, we’re doing the things that we think will make a structural change. The use of the caps, having a minimum wage, reducing the cruising, these are the regulatory things we can do that will really put money back in the hands of drivers. We’re also relieving some of the expense by taking away that additional fee. The structural problem underneath this – look, I wish had lived in a world where the for-hire vehicle sector could not have done what they did originally. Federal law, state law is a very open environment, they took full advantage of it, and they came in and created a reality that was not regulated properly. And I think it’s a cautionary tale for the future that we need to have regulation first, before the impact of all these new technologies is felt, because a lot of people suffered. We can do the things we can do as government to correct for our piece of the equation. We can’t correct the entire equation, but there are things the city can do to really help people here and now. And that’s what this plan is. Yes?
Question: Do you regret not getting the cap set back in 2015 when there –
Mayor: I regret that – with deepest respect to the City Council, I regret that they didn’t vote for it in 2015. It was staring them in the face. Yes it is a complex issue, I want to be fair, I understand that there are many, many interests with many specific needs. But I think the Council back then made a mistake because we could have done a lot to help people. And people suffered because that cap was not in place. And what they did three years later looked awfully like we tried to do in 2015. So I’m very unhappy it didn’t happen. I think they made a mistake, but I want to always give credit where credit is due and people turn around and get it right, and they got it right in 2018.
Last call on this topic?
Alright, let me roll into Albany for a moment. And I am being handed more stuff. The – let me speak to the situation with this really important package that is now moving in Albany on rent regulation. This is historic, you know we use that term sometimes lightly. This is really the right occasion to say historic. This was absolutely necessary legislation if we were going to protect New York City, and protect the affordability of this place for working people. We needed this. We’ve been waiting decades for this moment, literally decades for this moment. And a lot of people said it would never happen.
But what has happened now in the last 24 hours in Albany will guarantee basic fairness for over two million New York City renters. This is a crucial moment in ensuring that this can remain a place for everyone. If this legislation hadn’t happened, we were going to continue to see more and more people displaced and not be able to stay in their home, and not be able to stay in their neighborhood. This is one of those moments in history where things are really changing. So I want to thank Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins of the Senate, and Speaker Carl Heastie of the Assembly. I want to state what I hope everyone is recognizing – elections do matter. The fact that the Democrats now control the State Senate has made a world of difference. This package of reform and change could never have happened with a Republican State Senate. And I have to say, the Assembly has been outstanding. They have continued throughout the years to fight for this day. The day has finally come. All the tenants, all the advocates out there who fought for this, your struggle was not in vain. This moment has finally come. And I have to tell you, all the people I talk to, and this is by far the number one issue that New Yorkers talk to me about is affordability. There is a consistent fear in this city of displacement. We have been trying with every tool we had to address it, the free lawyers to stop the evictions, the biggest affordable housing program in the history of New York City. But we knew we needed bigger help from Albany and we never could get it. And so now what Albany has done is they finally put the law on the side of the tenants, and the loop holes that used to allow for huge rent increases have been closed. They have ended the high end vacancy decontrol, the high income decontrol. All of that has been ended. This is now permanent protection for tenants. And I want to remind you that a very powerful landlord lobby spent a quarter century trying to reduce the rights of tenants and they often won, particularly in the Republican State Senate. For the first time in that quarter century, the tenants have won hands down, there is no question about it, hands down.
And I will finish by saying just in English, and then Spanish, that in the course of that quarter century we’ve lost about 300,000 affordable apartments. And that came at a very, very steep cost for working families. Today, for the first time in 25 years we can say, not one more, not one more affordable housing unit will be lost, not one more affordable housing unit that people depend on, that families depend on. We will not lose anymore. And I always say the goal has been to keep New York, New York. To keep this place, its spirit, its soul intact, and that means it has to be a place for everyone. What’s happening in Albany right now is one of the biggest things that has happened in a long, long time to keep this beautiful city the way we love it. So there is a lot to be proud of, everyone here is going to benefit. Everyone here, thank you, because a lot of are you tenants too.
Audience: Thank you, Mr. Mayor, Thank you, Mr. Mayor, Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: Do you have a chant for every occasion? I’m impressed. A few words in Spanish.
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
A victory for all New Yorkers for sure. Any questions on Albany, and then we’ll go to other matters? Yes.
Question: So, an analysis published today in the Wall Street Journal found that actually it’s white and affluent residents in New York City that benefit the most from these rent regulations. Upper West Side tenants get $2,000 off their rent, and in less affluent neighborhoods there is not much of a difference from the market and the rent regulated rent. I mean, do you think there is more that the City can do, particularly given the kind of homelessness crisis we have in keeping less affluent tenants in protecting them from [inaudible]?
Mayor: I haven’t seen this study, but I want to just challenge one piece of the logic. We’re dealing with a gentrification reality, in many, many neighborhoods, including in neighborhoods we never would have thought would be gentrified, even just a few years ago. So that notion of that difference in rent levels, that’s moving all the time, that’s changing all the time. I don’t think it is the whole story to stay, oh well, here is certain white neighborhoods where rents are higher, and other communities rents are lower and that’s just static. I think the rent levels are going up more precipitously in gentrifying communities. And that’s why this was so important. So I think this serves people across the board.
To your bigger question, this was the missing link. The affordable housing program is now beyond any level anyone imagined, the anti-eviction legal services are working intensely, they’re growing all the time, they’re really reducing the eviction levels. A lot of pieces are coming together. But what we always struggled with was the loss of affordable housing, because the laws were still too lax. So it was a little bit like we pushed the boulder up the hill and it would come rolling back down. This is the first time ever that we’ve been able to combine the biggest affordable housing program in our history, unprecedented pro-tenant actions like free lawyers to stop evictions, and the most muscular rent protection we’ve ever had. I think what we’re going to see is now net-gains in affordable housing going forward. You know, we had the last couple of years we not only stopped the hemorrhaging and the loss, we started to turn toward net-gain. Now were going to see big net-gains in affordable housing. So this is like a watershed moment in my view.
Anything else on the rent situation? Okay, anything else on anything else? Yes.
Question: [Inaudible] homeless in the subways – the NYPD is talking about a summons [inaudible]. Do you think [inaudible] shelters [inaudible]?
Mayor: Well, we have been building – that’s a great question. We’ve been building the safer shelters. So, the plan I put out two years ago was to close a lot of the shelters that had been a problem and build new purpose-built shelters that would be much more appropriate and where we needed them all over the city. Remember also in the last few years, the NYPD has taken over the supervision of shelter security, the training of the shelter security. That was not true for decades. Homelessness – the kind of homelessness crisis of today goes back to the early 80s. Only in the last few years in this administration has the NYPD directly supervised the in-shelter security and that’s changing things a lot. We see real progress.
But also this idea of diverting people out of the subways – a lot of times that’s not going to be into a larger shelter, that’s going to be into the smaller facilities called Safe Havens. That could be five beds, ten beds – a much more controlled, smaller atmosphere. And we found with our big diversion effort called HomeStat, we got about 2,000 people off the streets in the last two years. They have not gone back to the streets because they start in those much smaller facilities and we help them get the mental health support or the substance misuse treatment, whatever they need.
So, yeah, I think that long answer to a short question – yes, I do think this diversion will help but there’s more we have to do on top of that and we’ll have more to say in the coming weeks on that for sure.
Question: [Inaudible] summons if you go get help –
Question: Is that really effective? I mean [inaudible]?
Mayor: Well, I think it’s a human reality. I think the NYPD would say this too. No one wants one of those summonses. If you don’t address them, you know, you have consequences. You could be arrested at a certain point. So, I don’t think there’s anybody who takes it lightly. I think the fact is that the offer of help – for years and years the offer of help was inconsistent. There was versions of outreach but they weren’t persistent and broad enough. We created HomeStat which is very, very intensive.
If you or someone, God forbid, were on the street – the HomeStat approach means you could have someone from the team come to you dozens and dozens of times trying to convince you to come in. Like, no one-shots – they’ll just keep coming back and keep coming back. So, I think the new approach is much deeper and being able to show that there are safer places to go, to your point, being able to show that you can really get the help you need, which in a lot of cases wasn’t true in the past.
And the word spreads. So, yes, it will take time but I believe it will make a difference.
Question: On the Strand Bookstore, your administration said that the owner’s concerns were addressed but Nancy Bass Wyden [inaudible] told us that they weren’t, that this landmark status will make an already brutal retail environment even worse. I’m wondering if you have any hesitations about making it more onerous for a bookstore to stay in business [inaudible] –
Mayor: It’s an amazing bookstore. It’s a really wonderful part of this city. I’ve definitely spent some great time there and I know her, I respect here. The building is a special building. It fits preservation status by any measure. But more importantly, and we’ll have more – you’ll hear from our Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission who has been talking to her directly and has gone over the specifics to show her that it does not have to have a negative impact on her bottom line. So, I respect her but I just – we disagree. We think she’s interpreting it wrongly and that we can show her where there is not going to add cost to her operation.
Question: [Inaudible] the City knows better than a – I think it’s a third generation business?
Mayor: I think when the City hears someone – and if you talk to the folks at Landmark Preservation – they’ve spent real time trying to address this. And they hear someone’s concern and they show them point by point why it does not have to create an additional cost. I do trust that the City is being real responsive here. Everyone respects Strand quite a bit and I believe that we can prove that this is not going to be the problem that she projects it to be. Anna?
Question: So, there’s been a spat going on between Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Comptroller Stringer. Stringer’s campaign says that the legislation that the Council is set to pass tomorrow that would tweak the campaign finance public matching system is essentially what happened ten years ago with overturning term limits. So, I know you were a big opponent of that. I was curious of your thoughts.
Mayor: I heard something like this earlier. I’m astounded. It makes no sense – with all due respect to the Comptroller – I don’t know how on Earth he could make that parallel. What the City Council is doing is strengthening campaign finance reform and they’re deciding we should have even more public matching funds and less need for candidates to turn to private donors. I agree with public matching funds. I think the Council’s acting in the right direction but for Scott Stringer to suggest there’s a parallel to the term limits fight – and I think I can safely say no one knows more about that fight than I do, I led the opposition to Michael Bloomberg on the term limits question.
And I remember vividly that Scott Stringer was the biggest booster of Michael Bloomberg’s plan to give himself a third term. I believe he testified publicly in favor of it. So, I don’t like the parallel because it doesn’t make sense. What Bloomberg did on term limits was another example of the rich getting richer. He used his money and his power to give himself a third term and ignored the will of the people. What the Council is trying to do is to improve public financing so that powerful interests have less influence.
But the greatest irony here is how is Scott Stringer making that parallel when he was one of the leading Democratic voices in favor of what Bloomberg was doing and ignoring the will of the people? Yeah?
Question: Mayor, on 2020 – can you clarify what the DNC has told you about inclusion in the debate. Have they definitely said you are on the debate stage or have they said you’ve met the threshold [inaudible]?
Mayor: The text I received from Chair Perez said I would be in the debate. We’re waiting for the 100 percent final calculation tomorrow but every projection that we’ve gone through has me in on the basis of six polls – six national polls that put me at the minimum level.
Question: Just a quick follow-up – Beto O’Rourke was in New York this morning and was asked if he weren’t running would he support your candidacy and he said probably not. I wonder if you had a response [inaudible] –
Mayor: If he were running or weren’t running?
Question: [Inaudible] were not a candidate would he consider –
Mayor: God bless him. Or as they say in the south, bless his heart.
Do they say that in Texas, Dave? No. Okay.
Unknown: In Alabama.
Mayor: In Alabama, okay. Yes, Gloria?
Question: So, you’re guaranteeing the debates –
Mayor: Again, I’m telling you what I know. Two things – one, that the chair who I have a long standing relationship with sent a text and said, ‘you’re going to be in,’ based on the information that was already publicly available; and two, that we have six qualifying polls at the minimum level. And from my understanding, there’s a group of candidates who do not have that. It does matter, that’s the level but it’s also how many you got at that level.
Now, like everybody else, I want to see the final announcement from the DNC tomorrow but every indication we’ve been given is that I will be in. Please –
Question: What’s your reaction to the House passing the 9/11 Victims Fund Bill –
Mayor: Louder please.
Question: What’s your reaction to the House passing the Victims Fund bill – the 9/11 Victims Fund, and why do you think it took public shaming by a celebrity for it to pass?
Mayor: This one astounds me also. Every time that something is needed in Washington to help victims of 9/11 it seems like it’s a big fight. I don’t understand how it’s possible. And it should never have been this way. This should have been done automatically. So many people are suffering, so many families are suffering, and they need help. And they all did everything they were supposed to do in a moment of tragedy. Why can’t the Congress get its act together and just do this stuff immediately every time it’s needed?
And I think there are some – and I’ll call them conservatives to be charitable – who don’t like to spend money but they should get their priorities straight. These are heroes; these are people who suffered from the worst terror attack in American history. They deserve all the support that they can get.
Question: So, the City is planning on closing the Harlem food stamp center. It’s the third SNAP benefits center that has since been closed since September. Are you at all concerned that people might not have access to benefits because of that?
Mayor: It’s a fine question but I’ll tell you – and I worked on this issue a lot when I was in the City Council in particular – a lot has changed over the years and my understanding is the overwhelming majority of the clients now either get their benefits online or by phone, and the usage in those centers has gone down quite a bit. We have to be smart about how we spend our money. You’ve watched the last budget – or the budget process we’re in now and you know we have to make some smart moves to keep our fiscal strength. If a center is getting less and less use, there are times when you make a decision to close it and I think it’s appropriate but there has to be alternatives that are nearby enough. So in that case, I think the nearest is East Harlem. It’s not that far in the scheme of things.
But much more importantly, the vast majority of folks aren’t even going into those centers anymore and they are getting their benefits. Anyone else – Rich?
Question: Mr. Mayor [inaudible] again on the for-hire vehicles. The average driver, the average pedestrian in New York City be able to discern any difference in traffic?
Mayor: Yeah, so we’re projecting a ten percent increase in speeds in Manhattan below 60th Street. So, you know, that’s real. You know, if a trip took you ten minutes before, it’ll take you nine minutes. If it took you 20 minutes, it’ll take you 18 minutes. So, yeah, people are going to actually save some time. That will be good for people in their own cars and buses, passengers in for-hire vehicles will benefit from that. As we said, people might wait a little bit longer to get that for-hire vehicle or a certain number of seconds but we think it’s actually going to net out favorably. Yes?
Question: Mr. Mayor, there has been two people who died in the custody of Corrections in the last couple of days – the transgender woman and a homeless man who I believe was sick and was going back and forth from Bellevue to Rikers. Can you talk about that and have you – is there anything that the City is going to do in terms of investigating what happened to them and those circumstances that they died in?
Mayor: Yeah, absolutely. The – everything is initial so far. There is no evidence of foul play in either incident. One of them was – the more recent case was someone who had very profound health problems and it was in a medical facility. But the case of Layleen Polanco worries me a lot because of what trans people have gone through all over this country and certainly even here, and the fear that they live in.
We’re going to look at this very carefully. There’s no indication of foul play but with full investigation we want to know exactly what happened. And look, under the new law passed in Albany, she wouldn’t even have been in Rikers and she shouldn’t have been in my view. But we will get to the bottom of what happened here. And we have reached out to the family to offer all the support we can. Last call – anything else? Going once, twice –