Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on the Brian Lehrer Show

September 21, 2018

Brian Lehrer: It’s the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning everyone and we begin as usual on Fridays with our weekly Ask the Mayor segment, my questions and yours for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Good morning Mr. Mayor, welcome back to WNYC.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning Brian.

Lehrer; And listeners our phone, our phones are open at 212-433-WNYC, 211-433-9692. Or tweet a question with a #AsktheMayor.

Mayor: I think it’s our last day of summer here. Am I right?

Lehrer: Oh my goodness.

Mayor: This is it.

Lehrer: So are you a summer person and you’re depressed? Or a fall person and you’re relieved?

Mayor: I am a East Coast resident who loves all four seasons honestly and I feel bad for people in other parts of the country who don’t have seasons. So I say a happy goodbye to summer and I welcome the fall.

Lehrer: You’ve spoken like a New Yorker and a politician I think.

Mayor: I actually believe it.

[Laughter]

Lehrer: So this is the first time you have been on since the primary and you never did endorse in the governor’s race, did you do right by your conscious and by the needs of the city?

Mayor: Well look, this kind of decision takes in a lot of factors. And I am the shepherd of this city government and have to think of the needs of 8.6 million people and I said in the statement that I put out that was an important part of my consideration. I think the primary was one of the most productive, helpful primaries I’ve ever seen in my whole life because that primary debate for a host of offices, down of course down to state senate – led to a fundamental change. Had it not been for that primary debate, I’m not sure we would have seen the reunification of the democrats in the State Senate. I’m not sure we would have seen the destruction of the IDC which we absolutely needed for the good of this state and this city, and a whole host of other issues, criminal justice reform, electoral reform. We have some of the most backwards election laws in the whole country. That was brought to the floor. So I think this primary moved forward a host of issues that now we can act on 2019 in Albany. And I feel very good about how it all ended and I think I played the role that I needed to play, thinking about the overall needs of the city.

Lehrer: If Nixon was the progressive, Democratic socialist versus Cuomo as the establishment – were you surprised by the geography of the results? For people who don’t know, the counties that Nixon won were upstate, Albany, Rensselaer, Green County, Columbia County, Schoharie County, Saratoga, here in the progressive city, Cuomo got 60 percent in Brooklyn and Manhattan, 70 percent in Queens, 80 percent in the Bronx, the poorest county in the state which arguably could benefit the most from some democratic socialism. And beyond that some districts that roundly threw out those IDC state senators for not being Democrat enough, voted majority for Cuomo, not Nixon. How does it all fit together for you?

Mayor: I don’t think you can take any one election or any one race and extrapolate too conveniently. I think it’s a very fair question but I would argue, look we are talking about a year where it’s been abundantly clear across New York State and across the nation that change is in the air, that progressive candidates, newer candidates are winning all over the place – candidates who look like America, look like New York State. Something very big is happening, there’s tremendous moment for the progressive side of the Democratic Party. That doesn’t mean every race follows the pattern perfectly, there are a whole lot of other issues – how well known candidates are, how much money they have to spend. And that’s not always the decisive factor but you know in this case, I think it’s fair to say there was a huge money mismatch.

But I think what we see here is that folks upstate for a long time have felt they’ve gotten in general a tough situation. They’ve had a tough situation with their economy and we’ve been seeing this for years, for almost a decade or two I would argue that they have been saying in general they want to see more solutions for upstate. I think that’s a different impulse than the kinds of solutions that people are looking for in the city. But there is economic frustration, economic insecurity running through all of it and I think that certainly did play out down ballot in terms of the decisions people made on State Senate.

Lehrer: Should the Working Families Party take Nixon off their ballot line to avoid splitting the Democratic vote and risk electing the Republican Marc Molinaro?

Mayor: Look, first of all I have tremendous, really tremendous respect for the Working Families Party because for 20 years they have been the force that helps us create progressive policies in the state. We would never have gotten a minimum wage increase a decade or more ago and I don’t think we would have gotten the more recent one had it not been for the WFP and a lot of activists who share their values. So they’ve had a very, very productive role. They need to make that decision, I’m not going to tell them what to do. I think it’s fair to say, it’s a time for Democrats to unite. It’s a time for progressives to unite around the Democratic ticket in the age of Donald Trump. I believe that, that’s why I have endorses all of the democrats at the top of the ticket. But I also think that it’s fair to say that this election, thankfully, looks like it’s going to be a very, very strong year for Democrats in this state. So I want to believe, I don’t know what they are going to do but I want to believe whatever else happens out there, we are going to see a strong Democratic victory.

Lehrer: Paulette in Brooklyn, you are on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio, hi Paulette.

Question: Hi, thank you for having me.

Lehrer: Sure.

Question: Mayor de Blasio my question for you is – first I work in Brooklyn and I work with many homeless New Yorkers across the city. So my question to you is you campaigned on a promise to end the tale of two cities and clearly we have, still a homelessness crisis in New York City. Over 61,000 people are homeless. Homeless single adults continues to rise in New York City so my question to you is your affordable housing plan currently has 300,000 units dedicated to New York but only five percent of those units, or 15,000 units of those are going to homeless people. Will you commit to dedicate ten percent of that affordable housing plan, so 30,000 units to homeless New Yorkers with 24,000 of those units going to new construction so that homeless New Yorkers can be quickly rehoused?

Mayor: Paulette thank you for the work you do and I appreciate the intent of the question but I disagree with the premise and I want to be straight forward. I have been asked this question Brian in public at town hall meetings before and I am going to give you the same answer. No is the answer and I ‘ll tell you why. The fact is that right now we are through our initiatives at the Department of Homeless Services and other agencies, stopping the number of people from ending up homeless. HRA is another agency that does this by providing anti-eviction legal services, by providing rental subsidies, there’s a huge initiative to stop people from ever becoming homeless to begin with. That has reduced, for example the eviction rate markedly, to have those legal services in place. So we are focused on prevention.

Second of all we’ve had about in the five years I’ve been in office, about 90,000 people I believe have gone through the shelter system and on to some form of affordable housing. And that initiative has worked but we, I believe fundamentally have to address homelessness with a variety of strategies and it is not as simple as saying we are going to create affordable housing specifically dedicated to the homeless. I just don’t believe that’s the best approach. I believe the best approach is to create the maximum amount of affordable housing as quickly as possible. In the last fiscal year that was almost 30,000 apartments, were either subsidized and preserved or financed to be made, built as permanent affordable housing, that’s the highest number in a year in the city’s history. We are going to keep up that very intensive pace. But those apartments are needed for every kind of New Yorker. Homeless folks get some of them, seniors get some of them, veterans , folks who are disabled, lower income New Yorkers, middle class New Yorkers, working class New Yorkers, that plan is predicated on the notion that there are units are available for a whole host of different needs and we are going to keep it that way.

But the notion that we can – given the dynamicness of the homelessness crisis, simply take people you know into shelter and automatically into affordable housing, it’s a much more complex dynamic than that. And I think our best hope going forward is the preventative efforts and the broader efforts to raise wages and benefits to get at the heart of the matter. So much of homeless today is economic, we’ve made progress in the state, we all pushed hard for it – higher minimum wage, paid family leave, paid sick leave, the things we are doing in the city like paid sick leave. All of that has to keep growing to stop homelessness of an economic level. That prevention strategy to me is our biggest hope.

Lehrer: So when will we see more results, really lower numbers?

Mayor: Well we put forward a plan a year and a half ago and we said this is going to be a long, difficult fight to get those numbers down because of the overall economics of the city. Everyone who is listening right now understands what’s happened to the price of housing and our job is to do this prevention work better and better, stopping the evictions, we have proof that is working, providing the subsidies that keep people in their apartments, we have proof that is working, and continuing to build the affordable housing. And also gaining the benefits of the higher wages and benefits, now that’s happening as we speak. The minimum wages increases have been coming in year after year, that’s really going to start to change things as they fully are felt by people in this city. The economy keeps growing thank God and the wage levels are starting to go up. All of these things are going to have an impact. The other X factor here, it’s really important – we’ve got almost 2,000 people who were living on the street, who we have gotten off the street and into shelter and who have stayed in shelter and off the street. I think it’s – most New Yorkers I talk to, their number one concern related to homelessness is folks who are living on the street. It’s very, very important to reduce that number but when we do that it does increase shelter population for a period of time while we are building more supportive housing. That’s the kind of housing that is not only affordable but comes with social services and mental health services. We have a 15,000 apartment plan to build supportive housing. I think all of these pieces start to come together but it will be – I have been very honest from the beginning. It will be incremental progress. We are not going to see a massive reduction in the short term. We lost a huge opportunity in 2011 when the then City and State administrations took away our best subsidy program and that shot the amount of homelessness upward, shelter population upward. We are still trying to rebound from that

We’re still trying to rebound from that but I do think the strategies we’re putting in place are ultimately going to reduce the number steadily and then we’re building a lot of more shelters that are purposely built to get out of the paid by the day hotel, to get out of the cluster sites which were substandard. Those shelters when they’re no longer needed will be converted to permanent affordable housing. That’s how the plan ultimately plays out.

Lehrer: [Inaudible] in the Bronx, you’re on the WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, [inaudible].

Question: Hi, I’ve been impressed with de-escalation training for police. And I wonder are there any plans for de-escalation training to be available to the NYPD?

Mayor: Well, I want to make sure I heard the question. You said the police, and then you said the NYPD. So I want to make sure I am hearing you correctly. The de-escalation training has been given to all officers on patrol in the NYPD, and certainly it is being given to all new recruits who are coming on the job. And I’ve been impressed by it too. It unquestionably has reduced the number of problematic incidents, and I think it’s been a key part of neighborhood policing, and improving the relationship between our police and our communities. So this is working for sure. It is now absolutely required training of anyone who puts on a uniform and walks the streets of the city.

Lehrer: But I also saw an article this week that said the NYPD is missing its training goal for dealing with emotionally disturbed people by thousands. Why is that? And is that not the same thing the caller is talking about?

Mayor: Well, the caller said de-escalation, which is a different question than the what’s called the CIT training, which is the training to deal with emotionally disturbed folks, folks with mental health challenges. That number of officers is about 10,000. We need that number to go up quickly. So we do have to go back and improve that situation rapidly. I think the challenge right now is – I’ll give you the whole host of things right now we’re dealing with. We of course have to constantly train new recruits in general to get them ready to be officers. We have now 2,000 more officers on patrol than we had two years ago. So our training needs are bigger there. All officers are getting regular retraining in areas like de-escalation. That’s all officers, that never happened in the past. That’s a constant updated training. We’re doing the implicit biased training, which we never did before in the city and is necessary to help improve the relationship between police and community. And we’re doing the CIT training on mental health. That’s a lot of activity, and a lot of our trainers’ time taken up in all of our facilities being taken up. So what we’ve got to do is find a way to rapidly increase that mental health training. It has been working with our officers – the ones who get training, certainly have benefited greatly from it. Now, that said and I want to be straight forward. There are times where even with all the right training, even with all the right backup, still something happens where an officer’s life is immediately in danger and they have to respond. But we do believe fundamentally in the training, and we will find a way to speed up that timeline.

Lehrer: I want to ask you about the announcement that you made yesterday, approving the integration plan for school District 15 in Brooklyn, Park Slope, Red Hook, Sunset Park. Including at M.S. 51 where your kids attended. For people who don’t know it eliminates middle school screening in pursuit of genuine race, and class integration. For some parents who might have their doubts Mr. Mayor. What’s your vision of how it will work when kids with maybe very different academic starting points after elementary school all start the term together in sixth grade?

Mayor: So I want to start by saying this is my home district where I first got involved with the community as a school board member, when we had elected school boards. And I know this district very [inaudible]. You pointed out, it’s a district that has some areas that are economically very strong, and some areas where people are struggling more like Red Hook, and Sunset Park. The community based process here was outstanding. I really want to commend everyone. There was a diversity working group in District 15 that really thought long and hard about how to create diverse learning environments while ensuring a high quality education for everyone. And I can say about District 15 that when I was first was on the school board almost 20 years ago there were probably only a few middle schools of people that say we’re really top notch. Now just like elementary schools in the district, a lot more are stronger and can provide a great education for a whole range of kids. I give credit to the previous administration, the Bloomberg administration for some of the work they did. I think my team over the last five years has done a lot of work to expand on it. So now we have a lot better options to choose from. And I think parents increasingly know that. So what the balance has been struck here is to say we’re going to create a system that really gives everyone an opportunity and takes some of the arbitrary elements out of the equation and then we’re going to provide the support and the resources to our principals and our teachers to make sure that each school can really maximize and live up to its potential. It will take a while to get all the pieces to work perfectly. But I do think the energy for it among the principals and the educators and teachers, and the parents at District 15 is outstanding and I said yesterday this how we will make a real change. This is as you know Brian, extraordinary complex decades and decade of challenges and complexities around the question of how do you create diverse classrooms. Rarely has it been addressed productivity through public policy. This is a grassroots solution where there’s really a high level of buy in. And I think that’s the wave of the future and that’s something were going to have to take across the city.

Lehrer: I think the history includes that screening only started in that district in the early 2000’s promptly as a way to keep white families from fleeing the public schools. Why be confident that while families won’t flee the public schools now?

Mayor: Excellent question – and Brian to your credit and to the credit of this show. These are the kinds of things we need to talk more about in our city. Because I think you’re right. I think the way these schools were created. I don’t think it was ignoble, I don’t think it was badly intended. I do think there was a point – certainly think about the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s even into the beginning of the 90’s where we were losing middle class people of all races by the way and that was a danger to the future of the city, and a danger to the future of our school system. And I think there was a very noble effort by a lot of folks to come up with better public school options that would keep every kind of family in the public schools to create that mix alone. To bring kids of all different abilities together strengthen the public schools, but also have a lot parents invested in the public schools I think that makes sense. But I think there’s a massive unintended consequence. And it’s – I’ll make a parallel. We couldn’t address some other issues in this city as a whole until we got safe. We’re now the safest big city in America. Well, we also probably couldn’t address some of these education fully enough until we became a stronger school system overall. And now since the advent of mayoral control our graduation rate is up 50 percent. We have the highest graduation rate we’ve ever had, lowest dropout rates, the highest college readiness rate. All of these indicators show that this is a school system that really can work for everyone. Obviously we have things like pre-K that change the dynamic and make it appealing to everyone and more effective for everyone. So I think we’re poised now to make a historic changed that honestly I am not sure would have played out the same way 20 years ago but can work now.

Lehrer: Bell, in East New York, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Bell.

Question: Hi, I’ve been tweeting about this concern. I’ve made multiple complaints to 3-1-1. There are excessive numbers of commercial traffic trailer unhitched parked in East New York, particularly on Flatlands Avenue. Every compliant comes back with there’s no finding. But the tractor trailer unhitched stays there weeks, and months, and years on end, and nothing is being done about it. Now when you developed – when they developed Gateway Estates they included a plan for parking but they probably did not consider the fact that they were going to be using it as a commercial parking space and as a result the residents in East New York in that area are getting an excess number of parking tickets because they can’t park.

Mayor: I – first of all, will you please give your information to WNYC and we’ll follow up with you right away. I really appreciate you raising this and Brian one of the things we’ve learned in this process over the last few years with your show is that it is a very effective way to get attentions acted – issues acted on, and members of my staff are listening as we speak. So I will instruct them through you that I’d like the precinct captain for the area being discussed to call directly to this caller and lay out a plan for how to address this issue.

This is a big issue all over the city. I have had I think 58 town hall meetings and this is really extreme. This issue comes up at a very high percentage of town hall meetings and NYPD is able to very aggressively, not only fine, but tow even the biggest vehicles and make a big impact. But we have to make sure there is focus on it. We will have the precinct captain talk to you directly about what that plan will be.

Lehrer: Bell, we’ll take your contact info off the air right now, hang on. Mr. Mayor can you update us on the school bus situation, 100,000 bus hotline complaints so far this school year, as I’ve seen it reported, up 20 percent from last year. So many kids not being picked up or dropped off correctly or at all and now revelations from the Daily News I believe about lack of screening for past criminal convictions by drivers. How big a mess and what’s the solution?

Mayor: It’s a real problem. The – it’s unacceptable. I just want to make it really, really clear for all New Yorkers and all parents. My kids used to ride the school bus, you know, this is not acceptable for anybody. I can relate to this. It’s not acceptable. A lot of these issues have come up very starkly in the last few weeks in a way they did not come up previously. So we’re changing a whole host of things.

The Chancellor announced today that he will appoint a new “bus czar.” So there will be a new leadership structure for our school busses. All bus drivers are now going to be fingerprinted. Everyone who is on – they’re not our employees. It’s very important to point out right at this moment. We contract with private companies and I think there are some good elements of that but also some problematic elements and we have to look at that situation more closely and see how to address that reality unto itself.

But what we will do now is, all current bus drivers will be fingerprinted, background checked. If any issues come up, we’ll go through a full investigation formally through the legal department at the DOE. We’ll not accept any driver who has any kind of inappropriate criminal history and we have to get this right both in terms of the safety of our kids and our kids getting around and getting to school on time.

And I’m not going to accept anything less than a school bus system that actually works. And if we have to take stronger measures, we will.

Lehrer: Sheila in Manhattan, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Sheila.

Question: Hi, thank you. Mr. Mayor, I really want to applaud you for taking steps to cap the growth of Uber and Lyft and for-hire vehicles. But I don’t think the City has gone far enough to restore the devastation to the small yellow cab medallion owners who are really the segment that’s been hurt the most.

I was at a hearing at City Hall on Monday and didn’t feel that there was a real interest in restoring the loss to the small yellow cab medallion owners and I think it’s really the wrong side of history to be on.

I’m glad that drivers are being helped – that all drivers are being helped but many of them are new to the industry and are not facing the same devastations. Without yellow cab medallion owners there won’t be yellow cab drivers. In the future, are we all going to be forced to have smart phones and credit cards in order to get a cab –

Mayor: No, Sheila, I appreciate the question but – I really – I know you didn’t you mean it as a statement as much as a question. And will answer the question – no, I do not believe for a moment that we’ll have a future without yellow cabs. They play a very, very important role in this city – not only are they iconic and they’re one of the historic ways that people have come here and worked their way to the middle class but they also fill a niche that’s really needed.

There’s a whole lot of people who do not want to go through the process with a smartphone or want the speed and spontaneity of stepping out on the street and putting out your up and there’s a cab. There’s obviously the airports – there’s a whole host of reasons why yellow cabs will certainly be an important part of our future.

And I look – a couple things real quick. Thank you for what you said about the decision to cap the for-hire vehicles. It was the right thing to do. My only regret is that when I called for it three years ago and tried to get that to the City Council that there wasn’t the agreement in the Council to do that, and I think that was a lost opportunity but I’m very glad that it happened now. The medallion values, we do believe they will rebound – maybe not to their historic highs. But look, we’ve now limited the supply.

We’re not doing any more auctions of new medallions. It’s a very finite resource. The yellow cabs are now, to their credit, that whole industry is converting to use some of the new technology to maximize opportunity for yellow cab drivers.

I think that’s going to increase the medallion value and help to correct the situation. I also would say – I think the City Council, and certainly on my side of City Hall, we want to find additional things we can do to help drivers and I think you will see some new policies coming forward from the City Council and from the TLC to address the realities of drivers today.

I would just caution on only one other point that in the end this is still government licensing private sector activity. That’s what the medallions are and any private sector activity comes with challenges. There’s no guarantee about what any individual’s profitability level is going to be.

So, we absolutely want to help the drivers and the small medallion owners. I think there will be new policies soon that do a lot more of that. But I would say in the long run there will absolutely be a place for yellow cabs in this town.

Lehrer: While we’re on transportation, Mr. Mayor, now that the Cuomo’s MTA hashtag didn’t make much of a difference in the primary – what happens with subway funding? You saw probably that City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is floating a plan for the City to enact its own congestion pricing scheme without the State, and maybe for the City to take over New York City transit. What do you think?

Mayor: Well, first of all, I’ve been working very closely with Corey Johnson on a host of issues and consider him to be a real partner in everything we do. The big picture – I would disagree with your premise. I think the election focused a huge amount of attention on the MTA and our subways. I think it consolidated the understanding that the State runs the MTA and that is very healthy.

This is what we’ve been needing in this town for decades, to finally find responsibility. I always make the parallel – if you have a concern about our schools or our police or sanitation, come to me. Well, now we know very clearly if there’s concern about the MTA, it needs to be directed to the State. And that’s good – accountability is good.

I think that intense debate will help to fuel solutions and I also believe what we’ve – the other piece of the equation we need in addition to a clear accountability structure has been honestly, bluntly a Democratic State Senate because it was quite clear the Republican leadership in the State Senate was not going to agree to any proposal.

I said let’s do a millionaire’s tax. The Governor talked about congestion pricing. Other people had other solutions but the State Senate Republicans are not willing to do any of them just like they weren’t willing to act on speed cameras. So that was really the politics of no. I think with a Democratic State Senate, we will finally have an historic moment in 2019 this coming spring to solve the MTA funding crisis once and for all.

And so that’s the ideal. To answer the second part of your question, Brian, the ideal is with the current leadership structure to finally provide the MTA with real permanent resources to fulfill that Fast Forward Plan that Andy Byford’s put out which I believe is thirty or forty billion over ten years. That is reachable with a permanent funding source like a millionaire’s tax or arguably congestion pricing or some other combination of pieces.

That’s the way forward to fix the situation with the current structure. To Corey Johnson’s point – look, if the State in the next year or two still can’t resolve a way to address this then we have a structural crisis, and of course we need to talk about what other options may exist but I don’t think it’s time for that yet. I think we may be on the verge of finally solving this funding issue and getting the structural changes that we need so these trains will run on time.

Lehrer: A couple of things, quick, before you go. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this yet but WNYC’s Matt Katz obtained tapes of the Bergen County Sheriff, Michael Saudino, making racist comments, anti-Sikh comments with respect to the New Jersey Attorney General who wears a turban. He commented on Sheila Oliver, wondering if she’s gay because she’s never been married. I only ask this of you because it’s a lot of New Yorkers who are detained, or immigrants picked in New York who are detained in some of the facilities that the Bergen County Sheriff oversees. Do you – have you heard and do you have any reaction to that?

Mayor: I haven’t heard and I’d be cautious any time I haven’t heard both sides of the story. But I’d say if it proves to be true, I don’t know how someone who has those views can play that role, and it’s not just about the detention of immigrants. It’s about everything else.

I mean anybody in a position of public authority, particularly law enforcement, who can have those views on people’s race, religion, sexual orientation – that’s just not acceptable and not part of what should exist in the modern world. So, you know, again, I will reserve judgement on the specifics because I haven’t heard it but as a question of standard, I would apply the same standard to this individual that I would to the President of the United States that this is not acceptable behavior.

Lehrer: And I don’t know if you’ve seen the Staten Island Advance today. But they’re hoping you’re going to endorse The Wheel – the big Ferris wheel and observatory that they’re hoping to build on the North Shore by approving some bonds. What do you say?

Mayor: Not under current conditions. If there is a new proposal, we’ll certainly look at it but here’s the reality. This was an idea approved in the previous administration. It was always a somewhat speculative idea. I understand very deeply why the people on Staten Island want to see more economic development, want to see more jobs. I understand, absolutely, the frustration of a bunch of tourists take the Staten Island Ferry, go right back to Manhattan, don’t spend money in Staten Island.

I do think the outlet malls which are about to open – or the outlet mall, I should say, is about to make a big difference on Staten Island in terms of jobs and tourist spending. But The Wheel was a private sector endeavor that was supposed to pay for itself, and I think the economics were a little shaky from the beginning and they’ve proven to be shakier. And we are very careful about exposing any public resources when we’re not sure something is going to work and also is not – it’s a for-profit entity. It’s not something built for a pure public purpose.

So, the specific requests that have been made of the City, we’ve said no so far. If there’s a new option, a new request, we will evaluate it but the bar is high on that one because, you know, I think we have a long history of the public sector getting involved in private sector activities and subsidizing or bonding in ways that prove later on to be not the best use of public resources.

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, thank you as always. We’re out of time. Talk to you next week.

Mayor: Thanks very much, Brian.

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