Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on WNYC

July 7, 2017

Brian Lehrer: It’s the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning, everyone. Well, you’ve been hearing about President Trump attending the G20 conference in Hamburg, Germany today, and his first actual meeting with Vladimir Putin. We’ll follow those developments later this hour.

But did you know that Mayor de Blasio is there, too? If not, it’s because the Mayor did not announce the trip until he was leaving last night. Among other things, it’s reported he’ll be the keynote speaker tomorrow at a peace and human rights event called Hamburg Has Attitude, as the Mayor continues to show attitude toward Trump.

And with me now live from Hamburg, Germany for his weekly Ask the Mayor segment is Mayor Bill de Blasio. Mr. Mayor, thanks for keeping your regularly scheduled appearance despite the last minute travel announcement.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: It’s my pleasure, Brian. This is the most exotic Ask the Mayor we’ve done. So, I look forward to it.

Lehrer: You want to set the scene for us? Where are you right now? What are you doing? What’s it like?

Mayor: I am here at the City Hall in Hamburg, just got through with a meeting with the Mayor of Hamburg and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany. They’re both from the same party, the Social Democratic Party, and we met and had a very productive meeting talking about issues like climate change, immigration, and a number of issues that are being addressed in theory here at the G20 but much more being addressed, bluntly, by actions on the ground in cities and in local governments all over the world.

And the scene here is it’s a very dynamic situation. There are a lot of protesters here, the vast majority of whom are peaceful. There is unfortunately a small group of violent protesters, and it’s been a big challenge for the local authorities to deal with that.

But the Mayor of Hamburg made very clear, you know, this is a progressive city. This is a city that is very inclusive and they chose to host this G20 summit knowing they did not agree with the views of some of the participants but believing that global dialogue was important and believing that the right to protest [inaudible] democratic society was important.

So, I really want to say I’m very moved by the mobility of Hamburg’s choice but it’s obviously, on the other hand a very tense situation here.

Lehrer: And listeners, the Mayor may have world affairs on his plate today but you can still ask the Mayor about city issues as well. 2-1-2-4-3-3-WNYC, 4-3-3-9-6-9-2, or tweet a question @BrianLehrer, use the hashtag #AsktheMayor.

People usually think of the G20 as drawing heads of state. What are you doing there as Mayor of New York and why only announce it at the last minute?

Mayor: Well, first on why I’m here. I was invited by the government of Hamburg – both the city government and the state government which is run by the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party and they invited me as a colleague. They wanted, I think, to represent that fact that there are a variety of views in the United States on how to proceed on the big issues that face this planet particularly on climate change.

And I think they share the view that a lot of us do that while we see many national governments unwilling to address climate change or stumbling to address the larger issues of income inequality or migration, you know, these issues have to be addressed at the local level, and we all help each other, we all offer each other ideas, we all plan together. And I think the point here is that even if this summit meeting doesn’t produce bigger changes, and unfortunately that’s the prediction that it won’t, in the end local governments are going to have to lead the way on these issues until a stronger global consensus emerges.

And we have to support each other in that work. That’s true of mayors around the country. You know we’ve all been working together intensely in recent weeks to stop the Senate health care bill but that’s also true of mayors around the world particularly on issues like climate change where we all have to work together in the absence of our national government.

The announcement of the trip was going to be a few days earlier. The invitation came in something like 10, 12 days ago. We were going to announce it earlier in the week and then of course we had the horrible shooting of Officer Familia and it was important to focus on that and deal with that very painful reality.

I visited the 4-6 Precinct Stationhouse where she had served for so long and met with the officers there. You know obviously I did not want to do anything until we knew when the services would be. Her services will be early next week. So, that’s when it was finally time to announce that I was going to accept this invitation.

Lehrer: The presumptive Republican nominee for mayor, Assemblywoman Malliotakis, says you should be home being mayor in this week after that murder of Officer Familia. And the street homeless count was announced. It’s up by 40 percent over the last year. What’s your response?

Mayor: All the issues that need to be attended to, I’m attending to everyday regardless of where I am and my team’s attending to it.

Look, we have in the last few years added 2,000 officers on patrol for the NYPD. We’ve provided a lot more for our officers – the vests to protect to them, the panels that we put into patrol cars in the doors and windows. Obviously, this tragedy pointed out that we have to do more and we’re going to do more in terms of putting in the protective glass for the command vehicles.

All that work constantly goes on and will keep going on, and I feel so deeply for Officer Familia’s family. I was in the room when Commissioner O’Neill and I had to her 20-year-old daughter what had happened. It’s a very, very difficult experience, as you can imagine. But we also were able to her and all her family members that the NYPD and the City of New York will be with them for the rest of their lives. And so, we’re going to do everything we can to support them.

And when you talk about the HOPE Count that came out recently – look, there’s no question there is a problem there even though I think that count was taken on a day that might have inflated the numbers a little bit because of weather.

The central point is there’s a problem and it’s a problem I’m not going to ignore. There is a growth of the homeless population on the streets.

What I can say on the positive side is the Home-Stat strategy is working. It needs to grow. It needs to deepen. We’re putting more energy and resources into it because we found the kind of success we were hoping for but we got to do a lot more.

So, this is a situation where we have to turn the tide over time but I do believe we have the tools to do it. I believe the heavy, sort of, intensive focus, person by person on the street has proven to work and we’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds of people to come off the streets and stay off the streets.

We’re going to redouble those efforts.

Lehrer: By the way, before we go to phones, I’m going to acknowledge – because people can hear it – that your voice is a little dusky. I’m guessing that maybe you were up all night considering the time change?

Mayor: You are a wise man. The – yeah, the flight that got me here did not involve sleep.


So, just got to do what we got to do.

Lehrer: It’s a common thing. The flights to Europe from New York frequently go overnight and with the time change it means – unless people can sleep on the plane – you just don’t get any sleep. So, my sympathies on that score.

David in Park Slope, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor as we go to him from Hamburg from his hometown, Park Slope. Hi, David.

Question: Hi, how are you doing? Good morning and good afternoon to the Mayor. There seems to be more of a street homeless problem and it seems to be one of these things that is just a little pain in the side that just can’t seem to go away. There happens to be a small homeless encampment about a block away from your Park Slope home or the YMCA, depending on how you look at. And it’s been there for about a month, month-and-a-half or so and it just can’t seem to go away. I’ve dealt with 3-1-1. I’ve dealt with the homeless assistance folks which do a great job at everything else. And the 78th Precinct as well has come there.

But these kids – and it looks they’re young people maybe in their 20s or so, maybe with a drug or opioid problem, who knows. But they need help and it just seems that you’re going against the wall here because there’s only so much legally you can do to get these people off the streets.

What else can you do?

Mayor: David, tell me just – let me start with the exact location. Where are you seeing this?

Question: 10th Street and 7th Avenue, Park Slope.

Mayor: 10th Street and 7th Avenue, which I know very, very well. So, just to affirm a very important point, David, first of all, we’re going to absolutely follow-up on that site and I’ll have the Home-Stat workers get over there right away to address it. Encampment is an important word.

There were encampments as we define them which means physical structures and places that people sleep overnight on a regular basis. That was bluntly tolerated in the city for decades and we ended that in this administration.

My order to Homeless Services, the NYPD is we will not allow any outdoor physical structures that are not legal structures. And we consistently enforce on that. The difference is not only having a clear enforcement approach and the people power, the NYPD officers and the Home-Stat workers to enforce it, but it’s also to offer the services – letting people know they can come into a safe place. These smaller facilities called safe havens. They can get drug treatment if they need that. They can get mental health services. We are now doing that on a citywide scale and again that has gotten a lot of people in.

So, on this location we’re going to go at that right away. I think what I’m hearing here is it’s a place where people congregate but not the encampment in the sense of the physical structures. But we’re going to get all over that right away.

On the bigger point you raised, David, look I think we know with street homeless – and this is very, very different than the homeless in shelter. Homeless in shelter, more and more, have been people who are working or have been working, family members rather than singles, families that the only problem they had was an economic one not a substance abuse problem, an economic problem – the cost of living in New York City. They could not keep up.

That’s what the shelter population looks like more and more, and those folks we can help in many, many way. And we’re also trying to stop people from ever entering shelter by giving them rental subsidies or legal assistance to avoid eviction. But on the street, it is sort of the more traditional face of homelessness – folks who do have, in many cases, substance abuse problems or mental health problems.

That’s where the very intensive hands-on work by the Home-Stat workers – constantly coming back, winning the trust individually of each homeless person, convincing them there is a safe place, a better place to be – that is working.

Now, sometimes we see people on the street who are bluntly just panhandlers, who are actually not even homeless, who – and we see this with some folks in their 20s and we see it with some older folks as well who are just out there making money by panhandling.

I wish that were illegal. It’s not illegal – to your point. But a lot of those folks do have a place to live but they could appear to be homeless. What our workers do is they differentiate is if someone really is homeless and needs that help to get off the street. We have that. It’s available.

Literally, we have plenty ability to reach people right now and bring them in. The panhandling is a much more subtle problem that we’re working on some solution for but we don’t have it yet.

Lehrer: Did you say you wish panhandling – just asking people for money – would be illegal?

Mayor: I’m saying that not as a matter of policy, I’m saying that as a human being, bluntly, Brian. To so many people, I think it’s off-putting and again it gets confused understandably for homelessness because you don’t whether someone has a home and is panhandling versus someone who literally has no place to sleep last night. I just wish it didn’t exist.

I know constitutionally, of course, it cannot be banned but I’m just expressing a frustration because I think it hurts the quality of life in many ways.

Lehrer: I’m just trying to clarify. Are you saying that you’re objecting to people making up being homeless when they’re not homeless? Or do you really not like poor people on the street asking others for money?

Mayor: What I’m responding to is, I think it, to many people, it does appear that someone is homeless. And, yeah, they give help to someone thinking that they are homeless. And I think some people are out there panhandling because they are truly in need. And obviously I’d rather address their problem directly not having them be out on the street panhandling. I’d rather help them because we would help them. Anyone in real need, we’re going to help them get a roof over their head. We’re going to help them if they need any kind of service.

We’re going to help them try and find a job. That’s what the City of New York does. But there are also people out there who are just begging for money and it’s not out of dire economic need, and that is frustrating to me.

Again, I know there’s no legal way to get rid of that per say but it is frustrating.

Lehrer: Martha from Brooklyn, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Martha.

Question: Hi. How’s it going? Can you hear me okay?

Lehrer: Can hear you just fine.

Mayor: Yes, we can, how you doing?

Question: Okay. So, I’m in Dayton, Ohio actually for the next four weeks but I live in Brooklyn, New York. And I think when I was here I must have missed the news story about the shooting of the police officer. So, I want to add my condolences –

Mayor: Thank you very much.

Question: This is actually about the police. My younger son who actually used to be on a baseball team with your son, Mr. Mayor, was just taken down by two uniformed police officers about two weeks ago in the middle of the day in Midtown, Manhattan in a case of mistaken identity. They roughed him up a little, not terribly, handcuffed him, pushed him down on the ground, performed what I think might be an illegal search of his backpack, and then accused him of robbing a 7/11. And when it became clear that they had the wrong guy, they let him go.

My bigger point is that he has had several interactions with the New York City Police Department, as had my older son who is now 23. And those interactions have been 100 percent negative and often physical. So, I know that there’s sort of a larger discussion about immigrant communities who don’t trust the police – my thing is that if this is happening to my son who happens to be biracial but doesn’t really look it, looks white to most people, I think, then it’s happening to dozens of other young people in the city which means there’s another demographic that don’t trust the police. So, I want to kind of point that out that I think that we have a lot of young people in New York City who when they see police officers, they see the enemy. And – 

Lehrer: And your question is what more is the Mayor going to do about it?

Question: My question is – is there any kind of official de-escalation training happening for the New York City Police Department? Because this is alarming to me, especially in light of this recent shooting – this horrible shooting of this officer – this us versus them with the police.

Mayor: Yeah, no, Martha – very powerful question. Look, I just want to tell you at the outset – before I talk about your son, and I’m very sorry for what he went through – that you hit a really important chord at the end there. We have got to deepen the change in the relationship between police and community. We have got to get people on the same side and feeling they’re on the same side. And it’s about mutual respect and an ability to talk to each other.

I was talking to an officer the other day in the subway who said that – and he offered this just spontaneously, it was a very powerful point – he said you know more and more people are talking to the police and offering the police information they need and trying to be helpful to police. And I said – why do you think that is? And he said because I think they don’t feel afraid of us anymore. And he said that positively. He said you know that we’ve made the beginning of a change where there can be an openness and a dialogue. And that’s very, very important. We need respect for police, but we need people to feel that they can have an actual open working relationship with police.

It gets to one of the things you pointed out at the end there, which is the de-escalation training. Yes, every single police officer is getting de-escalation training now – all the new recruits, and also as officers are retrained regularly – because we want to avoid the conflicts that have caused so much pain in the past for everyone involved. So and on top of that, we’re doing implicit bias training, which is absolutely crucial to helping everyone of all backgrounds weed out their biases so they can do the best public service. And of course, body cameras are on the way too. Those will be in place – all patrol officers by the end of 2019. I think that’s going to really deepen respect and a sense of accountability and transparency. So these are all very important pieces.

But I’m very sorry for what happened to your son because that’s not the intention. You know, it’s – even if officers obviously believe they have found someone who has committed a crime and they have to – if they think someone fits the description – of course they have to confront that person and pursue that. We do not want it to be in a way that creates those ill-feelings. And obviously we want to make sure there’s care given until it’s absolutely confirmed that the individual involved is in fact the suspect. I know it’s tough for police in the middle of an operation sometimes. I understand those challenges. But we do not want what you’re pointing out that young people get the conclusion in their mind that the police don’t understand them or are not positive towards them. That’s not going to get us where we need to go. I want to get to a day where young people see police officers and absolutely in the core of their being know that they can trust and communicate with that officer. That’s what we’re building. I think the NYPD is doing a very, very good job moving in that direction. And our officers are doing a very good job. But this pains me –

Lehrer: But more to go.

Mayor: This pains me.

Lehrer: Martha, thank you for your call. And good luck to you and your son.

After the horrible murder of Officer Familia, Mr. Mayor, there are questions being raised about whether St. Barnabas Hospital should have released the man who went on to kill the officer. He was reportedly released just an hour after his sister I think it was brought him in as a psychiatric threat. Is there a role for your office in that?

Mayor: Well, we are going to look very carefully at this. Obviously, the State, which regulates hospitals is looking at the situation, which makes sense. But we’re going to look at it too because I think, Brian, this gets to a much, much bigger challenge that we’re trying to take on through things like ThriveNYC, which is our big mental health initiative that my wife has spearheaded. And the hotline we created, which all of your listeners should know about – 8-8-8-NYC-WELL. Which by the way, if anybody, if a family member or a loved one thinks anyone might be a danger to others or to themselves, you can make contact with the police, but also if you’re trying to get some kind of counseling for someone, you can get that through 8-8-8-NYC-WELL.

But we are trying to deepen our strategies for identifying those who are not getting mental health treatment and may have any propensity to violence. We have an initiative NYC Safe that is all about finding those people and getting them treatment. Bluntly, huge numbers of people in our society in New York City and everywhere else are supposed to get mental health treatment and don’t get it. It’s not easily accessible. There’s no follow-up, there’s no enforcement. We’re trying to change that through a variety of city policies. The hospitals have to be allies in that. So we do need to know what happened here. But I think bluntly this goes way beyond St. Barnabas Hospital to a societal and governmental change we have to make.

Lehrer: And you announced funding for bulletproof glass for all police cars after this killing. Is there a new – 

Mayor: Well police cars already had it. This was for the command vehicles now, which are something that were not covered. You know, police cars got bulletproof glass and bulletproof doors in the previous announcements we made last year. Now we are going to obviously cover the command vehicles as well.

Lehrer: Peter in Flatlands, you’re on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio who’s joining us from Hamburg, Germany today where he is at a Hamburg city event in conjunction with the G20 summit. Peter, you’re on WNYC.

Question: Hi, good morning. Good afternoon, Mr. Mayor. I’m just asking very, very quickly – why the sea change in your decision to hand to the taxpayers your $2 million legal bill incurred due to your I guess meddling or trying to persuade the State Assembly through nonprofits?

Lehrer: State Senate. But yes, well let me explain to the listeners and correct me if I’m getting any facts wrong here. But you revealed since we last spoke that the taxpayers will be footing about $2 million of your team’s legal expenses in conjunction with those investigations into fundraising that ended earlier this year with no indictment, but a critical prosecutor’s report. You had previously indicated the taxpayers would not be on the hook, right?

Mayor: Yes, and it refers to my expenses specifically, not to other members of my administration. And let me clarify because I think the question muddled one piece of it. Anything that’s regarding elections – I did obviously work to elect a Democratic State Senate in Albany in 2014. We did not succeed. But that was an effort with I undertook with a whole heart and I thought was very important for New York State and New York City. That – any legal bills related to that have nothing to do with my City employment. Those have to be paid separately. We have to create a legal defense fund to do it. There is no City law governing that right now. So we’d have to wait until there is a City law passed to then be able to establish a proper legal defense fund.

But on the $2 million, which is related to my government service and things I did as part of my government work, my message is clear – I want to affirm I did try to go a different route. And I thought a lot about it and I came to the conclusion it just didn’t make sense that the consistent and appropriate thing is any employee who has not done anything wrong and obviously not as you said – clear, not indicted, etcetera – deserves legal representation from the City of New York just like, God forbid you had a legal problem, WNYC should cover your legal bills if it has to do with your employment. That to me is a fair and consistent standard. And I thought about it more and I thought you know, this is the standard that I ultimately think makes sense. That should be the standard for everyone going forward. It should be understood that this is going to be the standard if anything like this ever happens. But on anything that’s not about government work, that’s a separate reality. That has to be covered through a legal defense fund. And again, we need a new law to actually govern over that.

Lehrer: Regarding the trip you’re on right now, Politico New York says your basic trip expenses are being paid for by the sponsoring organization in Hamburg, but the taxpayers typically foot the bill for security and staff overtime on a trip like this. Is that right? And if so, why is it worth our money?

Mayor: So it’s not, I don’t think that’s accurate, let me clarify. The sponsors paid for my trip, my flight, my hotel, and for three staff members. The security costs – hard for New Yorkers to understand this – because it hasn’t really been explained well in the past, but I have by virtue of being Mayor of the biggest city in the country, and the number one terror target in the United States of America, our city – I have 24/7 security. It does not matter where I am in the world or in the country, I’m going to have that security. It is paid for as a matter of public service. That’s just a given. So that’s something I want people to understand. Whether I was at City Hall or Gracie Mansion, or in another state, or in another country, that security is going to be there and paid for any way you slice it.

Lehrer: Are you the keynote speaker tomorrow as I’ve read for an event billing itself as for peace and human rights and against the new nationalism?

Mayor: Yes, it’s a – you know, Hamburg as I said, and both the city government and the state government here in Hamburg – it is, by the way, a city very much like New York City in many ways. It’s the second biggest city in Germany. So it’s smaller than us on one level, but it’s very much a cosmopolitan city, a city with a long connection to the rest of the world, a very tolerant and open city. They’re hosting this summit, again knowing that they have real disagreements with a lot of the people who are attending the summit, but to amplify democratic values – a right to free speech, right to worship regardless of your faith, a belief in the power of a democratic society. And I’m honored to be the speaker at this rally. There will be other speakers obviously as well locally.

But to speak to those values, and now cities are going to keep acting on them, bluntly, regardless of what our national governments do because this is the new reality. And I’ll tell you, I’ve talked to my colleagues in Paris, and London, and all over the world, and certainly all over the cities of the United States. We increasingly recognize that cities are going to have to lead the way – in very material ways, it’s not just symbolism. We’re going to have to literally change policies around climate change by our own actions; on income inequality and raising wages and benefits by our own actions. You know, we’re more and more having to create the policies because our national governments don’t. So this rally is really to affirm both the positive values, but also the role that the grassroots have in keeping those values alive regardless of what happens in national elections or in national governments.

Lehrer: And by way of political analysis of this trip, the Times says it seems to be an international extension of your effort to portray yourself as a foil to Donald Trump and a national progressive leader. Politico New York also says foil to Trump and that you’ve made opposition to Trump a central plank of your re-election campaign. How much of those analyses of the trip do you accept?

Mayor: Well, I don’t. You know, when I started thinking about re-election, I like everyone else did not assume there would be a President Trump. And I looked forward to talking about the things that will be the core of my re-election – what we’ve done to get pre-K for all our kids, reduce crime, improve relationships between police and community, raise wages and benefits. That’s what I’m going to talk about. We’ve done those things. We’re going to do a lot more if the people give me a second term. But then Trump became a reality, and I think it was incumbent on me as the leader of the biggest city in the country to set a tone and to say we’re not going to be intimidated by President Trump and we’re not going to turn away from our values. And I’ve said many times this is not someone you get something done by compromising with or yielding to. He only understands strength, and we have to show strength. So that is the reality.

This invitation was offered to me by the hosts. It was not something I expected. It was not something I had talked to anyone about. It came in, and I was honored and I thought it was an important moment to stand up and speak out for these values. But the re-election campaign is going to be about the everyday, bread-and-butter issues that matter to New York families. And I think we have a lot to show for these last 3.5 years and have a lot more to do.

Lehrer: And before you go, one quick follow-up on what you were saying before about panhandlers. Considering your feelings about them – would you urge the public not to give money to panhandlers, so as not to encourage them?

Mayor: Yeah, I’ll tell you, and this one’s always a challenge, Brian. New Yorkers, I always say we have rough exteriors, but behind our exteriors beat hearts of gold. I think New Yorkers are compassionate people. And we often see someone panhandling and our better angels tell us you know, let’s help them out. But I often know that’s not ultimately the way to change anyone’s life. And for those truly in need – I always say the best thing to do is if you see someone you think is really homeless and really in need, call 3-1-1 and we will send a HOME-STAT worker right away to try and get them the help they need because standing on a street corner collecting change isn’t going to change their life. Things like mental health services and anti-addiction services and all are what’s really going to make the difference. But I, also again, I am frustrated because I know some people are out there who are not particularly in need and just are finding a way to get some easy money, and that does frustrate me. So I would urge all New Yorkers – if you see someone in need, call 3-1-1. If you don’t think someone’s for real, certainly do not get them money. I understand if your heartstrings are pulled and you see someone you think is in real desperate need, that’s human, that’s normal. But be careful, be discerning, I would say.

Lehrer: Thanks, Mr. Mayor. Good luck in Hamburg. Talk to you next week.

Mayor: Thanks so much, Brian. Take care.

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