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

July 2, 2021

Brian Lehrer: It's the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning again, everyone. The time now as usual on Fridays for our weekly Ask the Mayor segment, my questions and yours for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Our Ask the Mayor lines are open at 6-4-6-4-3-5-7-2-8-0, 6-4-6-4-3-5-7-2-8-0, or a tweet a question with the hashtag, #AskTheMayor. You never get a busy signal on Twitter. Again, just use the hashtag, #AskTheMayor, we’ll watch those Twitter questions go by and pick some good ones. Good morning, Mr. Mayor. Welcome back to WNYC. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, Brian, and just want to do some breaking news with you first. Just of course, a very happy Fourth of July to you and all your listeners and hope everyone's really going to enjoy the fireworks, the Macy's fireworks on the East River, and the Coney Island fireworks on Sunday night, but also have some breaking news about our Hometown Heroes Parade. Now this is coming up Wednesday. We're going to honor the health care heroes, the first responders, the essential workers, the members of the media, everyone who was there for us during COVID and saw us through, want to urge all New Yorkers, if you want to be a part of this absolutely historic parade up the Canyon of Heroes, all are welcome to come and enjoy and see the heroes that we'll be saluting. It'll start at 11:00 am on Wednesday, July 7th, and then there will be a ceremony at City Hall. We're going to honor as Grand Marshall, nurse Sandra Lindsay, who was the first person in the United States vaccinated, and the host of the ceremony will be the anchor of Good Morning America, Robin Roberts, and it's going to be a very, very special moment for the city. 

Lehrer: Are there going to be rules and regulations for what you have to do to go in line the route? Are there going to be any limits on crowds or people? I certainly remember some of the ticker tape parades we've had in the past, in recent years for sports teams and other things, and you'd get like hundreds of thousands of people out along that route. 

Mayor: Yeah, I mean, look, I think everything's a little different because people are still not used to going out to big events, but we want to really encourage people to come out and salute these amazing health care heroes and essential workers who really deserve all the thanks we can give them. So, look, if someone's vaccinated, this is very similar to what we're doing on Sunday with the fireworks. If you're vaccinated come as you are, if you're not vaccinated, feel free to come and join in, but you know, the advice from our health care team is to wear a mask to protect everyone around you and, obviously, be aware, keep distance as best you can. But the fact is this is outdoors and it's really a moment to celebrate folks who just, you know, without these folks New York City wouldn't have made it through. I mean, it's as simple as that. This was the biggest crisis in the history of New York City. These are the folks who were the heroes. They’re everyday working people. They often don't get the accolades they deserve. Here, we're treating them like, you know, the generals of wars and the astronauts and the champions in different sports. We're giving, working people the salute they deserve, and I urge all New Yorkers who can come and be a part of it and let's thank them. 

Lehrer: Let's take our first call on the new, New York City budget for the new fiscal year that began yesterday that was passed by the deadline on Wednesday, and the call comes from Alex, a public defender in Brooklyn. Alex, you're on WNYC with the Mayor. Thank you for calling in. 

Question: Thanks so much. Good morning, Brian. I am a first-time caller and a long-time listener, and I'm really excited to be on your show today. And Good Morning, Mr. Mayor. 

Mayor: Good morning, Alex. How are you doing? 

Question: Oh, thank you. I'm well, thanks. Well sort of well, honestly, I'm pretty outraged about what's happened with the passage of this budget because this is a budget that is increased funding for the NYPD by $200 million and local district attorney's offices by combined $36 million and other law enforcement functions, but it has failed to provide any even nominal funding to organizations that the [inaudible] those targeted and funneled into the legal system by these exact government entities. And it's going to shortchange low-income, New Yorkers, communities of color and deepen inequities that we defenders see every day in our work, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic. And Mr. Mayor, I know that you have run on a platform and spoken at great length about a tale of two cities. This budget, Mr. Mayor, is creating and furthering a tale of two cities. These legal services organizations, which one I am a part of, we provide essential services and fight for the constitutional rights of every day New Yorkers who have disproportionately struggled in the past 18 months. And you've locked us out. You've left us, our clients, and many willing to New Yorkers hanging out to dry without even cost of living increases or any nominal payment.  

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor?

Mayor: Well, Alex, first of all, I really, we disagree and I'm going to explain why, but I do want to thank you for the work you do, and I believe in that work, and that's why we have continued to increase funding for legal aid and legal services for years, including creating the right to counsel with the City Council, where New Yorkers facing eviction have the ability now to get free representation on a level not being done anywhere else in the country, and I'm very proud of that. So, we really believe and have invested in free legal services for people in need, and it's made a huge difference. It's one of the reasons, for example, a lot fewer people have been evicted – this is pre-pandemic – a lot fewer people evicted because they could get legal aid support that the City of New York paid for, that they never did before my administration. So, I do believe in this, and I put my money where my mouth.  

On this budget, we were dealing with a set of imperatives. We have a profound gun violence problem that has gotten much worse because of COVID, we're starting to turn the tide, but we've got more work to do. Therefore, we invested a lot in community-based solutions to violence, especially the Cure Violence Movement, The Crisis Management System. That's where you saw the biggest percentage increases. There is a very small increase in the police budget for precisely three reasons. The reforms that the City Council and I agreed to in March, that included investing in civilians to do work, to create dialogue, and to address issues between police and community. That was one of the adds to the budget. There's some new IT costs to help the police to do their work more effectively. And then there was the overtime issue, which we've cut back on overtime substantially, but we found based on all the challenges last year that we had to adjust that number upward a bit to get it right, and that's literally it. It's a very, very small increase in the scheme of things, while the real crucial investments have been in those community-based solutions to violence. So, we'll keep looking always at the needs of legal aid and legal services. That's something I'll continue to keep an eye on if there's any other adjustments we need to make, but for a long time, that has been a major, major area of investment. 

Lehrer: Alex, I don't know if that's the answer that you want to hear that satisfies you but thank you for being a first-time caller and please call us again. You are getting it from the other side as well, you might've seen the New York Post report today that advocates for hiring more police officers complain that President Biden's federal budget allocates money that you could specifically use for increasing the size of the force because of the increase in shootings, but you didn't take advantage of it. What do you say to that side? 

Mayor: Well, that's not the whole reality. The money that the president focused was for certain cities that were dealing with much more profound gun violence problems than New York is. We have a problem, Brian, I'm not trying to minimize that. We have a lot of work to do to turn it around, but a number of other American cities are unfortunately going through much, much worse, and that's where that money was targeted. But look, right now, we have a police force of 35,000. I think that's the right number. We need to take those officers and continue to apply a neighborhood policing approach. Re-bond police and community, there were real challenges last year, we have to overcome them with more dialogue, more working together, more reliance on community-based solutions to violence. I think we are hitting the right balance point and we're going to be talking next week about new information coming in that is showing some real progress on fighting gun violence. Major gun – excuse me – a major a gang take down in Brooklyn was announced yesterday. A lot of pieces are starting to come together. Courts are coming back rapidly, thankfully. So, I think we're starting to move, you know, clearly in the right direction and we have the size police force we need to do that. 

Lehrer: One other police question. I watched you on NY1 with Errol Louis on Monday, and you were asked about police behavior at some of the protests last summer, and you said certainly some mistakes were made. We learned some valuable lessons. And then when he asked you about police behavior in Washington Square Park, just last Sunday during pride, you said we had some issues between police and folks who were there in the park. I think some of that could have been handled better. Chief Harrison and I talked about that. So, my question, Mr. Mayor, is here we are a full year after the lessons you say the NYPD learned, and you're still having to give that same answer about how the NYPD could have handled things better, and you had to have a candid talk with the Chief. Why is this still happening on your watch?  

Mayor: Brian, respectfully, you know, what we've seen now is consistently changing the approach. They're going to be times when people make mistakes. There's going to be times when something was not handled right by an individual officer, and we have to address it. Chief Harrison and I were 100 percent in agreement that we did not like the way a couple of situations were handled there because we've set a very clear template, the Community Affairs Officers handle the vast majority of situations when there's a protest for example, or just major public gatherings, we want to keep it that way unless there is a real problem of violence, in which case we do need to bring in other types of officers as well. That template has been used consistently throughout 2021. It has been very effective. There's been a huge number of events and protests that went off without any problem, but there was a brief period of time in the park where it was not the way I want to see it. It's not the way Chief Harrison wants to see it. People in the chain of command were told very clearly, we expect better, and that situation was addressed quickly. So, you got to look at the overview though. The template we're using now with Community Affairs Officers upfront, and a lot of dialogue has been effective, and we've seen lots and lots of events come off peacefully the way we want them with police presence at a minimum and in the background as much as possible. 

Lehrer: Would it also be fair as an overview statement though to say that this is going to be part of your legacy now? You came in ending Bloomberg’s stop and frisk and are going to go out repeatedly having to explain police misconduct. 

Mayor: No, I don't – I mean, respectfully, I just disagree with that characterization. I came in ending stop and frisk. I went out empowering the Civilian Complaint Review Board, trained the discipline matrix, which has revolutionized the approach to police discipline that made it much more transparent, passing a series of major reforms with the City Council in March. We also, we learned – when I say we learned from the mistakes, when you have a formal report by a government entity in this case, DOI, that lays out in very precise detail, things that needed to be done differently, and then the Mayor and the Police Commissioner say that's exactly right. We're going to do all those things. Then we proceed to do them. That is reform. That's profound reform. That didn't use to happen in the past. So, I'm very comfortable there's a clear through line of what we've done and all that de-escalation training, and implicit bias training, and training to have officers reduce use of force, all of that continues to grow, and I'm – I think it will be a clear and positive legacy for the city. 

Lehrer: Muhammad in the south Bronx, you're on WNYC with Mayor de Blasio. Hello, Muhammad. 

Mayor: Muhammad? 

Lehrer: Muhammad, are you there?  

Question: Yes, yes, yes. I'm here. I apologize.  

Lehrer: Hi there, that’s okay. We got you now.  

Question: My question is about – yeah. Yeah, good morning everyone. Hi, Mr. Mayor. I really appreciate you guys taking my call.  

Mayor: Good, how are you doing, Muhammad?  

Question: Yeah, I'm doing very well, and you've done great, and especially your childcare system. It’s a lot of people that I personally know, but my question is about the TLC and Revel, the company Revel, who wanted to put 50 cars, you know, in Manhattan, electric cars. So, to TLC just came out and banned all new licenses for electric cars. Me personally and my friend were in the process of getting an electric car and putting a license – for-hire vehicle license that I'm talking about – but on the 22nd, the TLC just came out and just stop issuing new licenses. And if they're fighting with Revel, why should we be the victim? You know, because electric cars, they're not only really safe to drive, they're very, very low maintenance and, you know, they are cheaper to buy. You could get a used electric car, a used Tesla, for example, for around $25,000. But if you want to buy a wheelchair accessible vehicle, the transmission is only $10,000. So, if you guys are fighting with – if TLC is fighting with Revel, why not just come up with a new rule saying, okay, every driver can get one license per year. So Revel would be forced to wait 50 years to put 50 cars, electric cars in Manhattan, at the same time, you know, we'd be able to just do our job because right now, the only way to get a license for a new for-hire vehicle is by buying either a minivan and transform it into a wheelchair accessible vehicle, which is a lot of money, but I want an electric car because it's low-cost, low-maintenance, and it's good for the environment— 

Lehrer: I just want to make sure I understand your question clearly. You drive – while the City doesn't have a contract with Revel to put new cars on the road, you drive for another car service, and you just want to be able to buy an electric car? 

Question: With Uber and Lyft. 

Lehrer: Uber and Lyft. Mr. Mayor. 

Mayor: Well, Muhammad, really important question, and I'll just take a second to pull these pieces together. Revel, the company, has tried to defy the laws and rules of New York City. They're threatening to try and go it alone as Uber used to love to do in different places in this country, and the law caught up with them. We do not allow a company to come in and dictate the terms to the public and the city government. So, that's its own separate reality we're addressing aggressively. The bigger question I think you're raising about, should there be more electric cars on the streets for for-hire vehicles. Ultimately, yes, but what we found was a problem, which is the way the rules were structured led to the possibility of many, many new cars that happened to be electric cars on top of all the for-hire vehicles we had already, and what we realized in recent years is that created a race to the bottom for working people, for the drivers. It was driving down wages, was causing a lot of drivers to circulate around with no pickups to attend to, and it created a congestion problem and a problem for working people, and so we tightened up the number of available for-hire vehicles, and that proved to be very effective. We don't want this to be a loophole that reopens that the wrong way. We do want more and more electric vehicles, and we're trying to figure out the way, the balance the equation, for the good of the earth, more electric vehicles, but not at the price of a lot more congestion and a lot more for-hire vehicles oversaturating the market. Please Muhammad, leave your information with WNYC, I'll have the Chair of the TLC call you and talk to you about your particular situation. There may be more than one way to address this. So, let's see what we can do to be helpful to you. But I do want you to understand why we're trying to balance all those pieces in the way we make these rules. 

Lehrer: Mohammad, hang on, and we'll take your contact info and Steve on Staten island, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Steve. 

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. I'm calling you about the lifeguard shortage and the aquatics programs given by the Parks Department. I've been a swimmer in the lap swimming program for over 35 years and the aquatics programs covers not only lap swimming, but senior splash, the children's and adult learn to swim, adaptive swimming, and youth swim team. The lifeguard shortage has been an ongoing problem for many years, and it's just much worse this year. So, one question would be what's the City going to do about this in the future? But in addition to that, the aquatic specialists that teach those programs have water safety instructor and Red Cross CPR – they are not being counted as lifeguards, and there is a section of the Department of Health regulations that would allow fewer lifeguards in those programs that is being ignored. It's the 165.15. I can outline more of this to one of your persons off the air. 

Mayor: Well, I appreciate that, and there's a real issue, Steve, and please do give your information to WNYC and we'll have a senior member of our team follow up with you. There is a lifeguard shortage all over the country. We are doing a little better than other parts of the country, and that's why we can keep the core functions that really matter the beaches, the outdoor pools, we're able to keep them protected properly and a huge number of people are going to come out this year, of course, to beaches and pools as we recover from COVID. So, the good news is we have the basics, but the tough part of the equation is exactly what you're referring to. We're not sure we can do all of the extra programming when we normally would do, if we had all the lifeguards we want. We're still addressing that actually new people are being hired and trained and coming online. So, it is a good, fluid situation in that way, but I'll have folks talk to you about what we can do to keep working on it, and I think you make a really good point, what can we do going forward to try and avoid this problem in the future, so we don't have to worry about – these swim programs are so valuable. We need enough lifeguards. So, I think we need to think differently about how we do things going forward. 

Lehrer: Steve, hang on, we'll take your information off the air. I have a budget question that I think you'll probably like, and then one that you may not like as much.  

Mayor: Thank you for warning me. 

Lehrer: The Baby Bonds program is hopefully a blow against wealth disparity. People who have heard the term baby bonds may associate it with Senator Cory Booker, who has a proposal like that at the federal level, or as a form of reparations. So, what is it in this new New York City budget, and how do you see it in the context of American history? 

Mayor: Very quick to say I'm very proud of this because we have a Task Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity in our city government. This is leaders of color in each of the city agencies who came together as their own collective, and their mandate was determine what we need to do right now to address the disparities that came up from COVID, and as we were coming up to Juneteenth, I said to the task force, look, we want to do something important in the spirit of Juneteenth to invest in communities that have been historically disadvantaged in so many ways, and this task force said, we want to do several things, we did CUNY scholarships, and some other investments in Medgar Evers College, which is the one historically black college in New York City. But the real powerful goal they had was to make baby bonds universal in this city, and so we agreed that for every kindergarten child coming in in September, everyone, we will start a savings account for their future, for college and for their future, every single child in the City of New York, we'll start that account for, put initial investment in, and then it will grow. We're going to bring on a lot of partners, non-profit and business and community partners to keep building up those accounts. So, that by the time kids graduate from high school, they have a substantial amount of money, and the whole idea here, as you said, this is where it gets to the national picture. The generational wealth gap is terrifying in this country. White families have 10 times as much wealth at this point as black families, and COVID made it worse. So, right now the notion of saying, okay, one of the difference makers would be securing a college education for more and more people of color and particularly African Americans is one of the most profound things we can do, and it is a step towards addressing the history. I think the reparations discussion is going to proceed on many levels, but if we're serious about that discussion, it needs to have individual elements like baby bonds. It needs to have structural elements, in my view, would be things like Pre-K and 3-K for all American kids, which would disproportionately help people of color and particularly African American kids. I think we need to do all the above if we're going to change things, but this is really exciting. The biggest city in the country is going to do this with, you know, a municipal approach for everyone - make this a reality on the ground, and I think it's going to inspire similar efforts all over the nation. 

Lehrer: Very good. I think a lot of people are excited about that as a pilot program for the nation.  

Here's the question you may not like as much about the budget. The size of the budget is getting raised eyebrows or outright criticism from fiscal conservatives and deficit hawks. They point out example that the New York City budget is now about the same size as the budget for the state government of Florida, around a hundred billion dollars for the year in both places. But Florida is a whole state with 20 million people. New York is a city of 8 million. Your reaction. 

Mayor: Well, I don't pray at the altar of the fiscal conservatives and the budget hawks and the pro-austerity forces that have led us astray so many times and didn't want to ever invest in working people. This is a budget that invests radically in working people, and in our recovery, and in addressing disparity. So, I'll take on those folks any day. If you're saying, do I want to emulate Ron DeSantis is Florida budget? No, I don't. In Florida, there are so many things that they do not do that are needed for the people of that state, and they have a view of limiting government and favoring business over people's needs, and I don't want that in New York City. What we do is something that's about favoring working people and actually trying to develop human talent, and protect people, not leave them to the whims of the market. So, look, this budget is absolutely fiscally responsible. We increased greatly our fiscal reserves almost up now to the level they were pre-pandemic, and we're doing things that we need to do for our future. 3-K for all, is such an obvious example. If we're not reaching every three-year-old and giving them a quality education across the board, regardless of how much is in a family's bank account, we are undermining our future. This is the kind of thing we should have done decades ago. We're finally able to do it. That's an investment I will make all day long and it's going to pay off intensely for the people of the city. 

Lehrer: Question from a listener via Twitter. It says “this week a 71-year-old cyclist was killed by a driver on Central Park West at the 86th Street Transverse. We've long known this intersection is dangerous. What are your plans to improve safety here? Do you have a plan for safe crosstown bike passage through Central Park?” 

Mayor: We need to do more immediately. I'm waiting to hear back on a plan with the next steps we have to take. Look we've we have too many places in this city that's still needs a lot of work. I'm not going to mince words about that. Vision Zero as the strategy works, because we know that changing traffic design works, we know that speed cameras work. We know that enforcement on speeding and failure to yield works. We're going to do all of these things, and in fact, be able to redouble our efforts now because we're coming out of COVID. But we also know, starting long ago with Queens Boulevard, that many, many places needed to be profoundly changed. We've done that now with most of Queens Boulevard, we'll be done with all of it soon, but there's other places we have to address. So, I'm looking forward to hearing from DOT, getting a plan for this site, and then we'll talk about how we're going to take the next immediately to keep it safer. 

Lehrer: And Vision Zero was such a success. Now, I just read this morning that we're on pace to have the most deaths on the road, I want to characterize it accurately, of any year in your administration. What went wrong? 

Mayor: Well, what went wrong is COVID. I mean, there's a strong parallel – look really important to say. When I came to office, there were so many traffic deaths that really weren't getting the attention they deserve, and when we looked at the actual numbers, the folks we were losing in crashes versus the folks who are losing to murder was shockingly similar numbers, but there was not a plan to address it. That's why I instituted Vision Zero from the very beginning, we saw it radically reduced crashes and injuries and deaths. Along comes COVID, and just like with our efforts to fight violence for six years, we drove down violence, drove down crime very successfully with neighborhood policing and changed the reality between police and community, COVID unglued everything. COVID was the perfect storm that led to a huge uptick in gun violence around the country. It also led to an uptick in car usage and speeding around the country and that we've seen a really horrible trends since COVID began with these crashes and deaths. We will reverse it. It is with more Vision Zero, it’s getting people out of their cars by bringing mass transit back, it's congestion pricing, which we need to now aggressively implement now that the Biden administration is here and willing to do it with us. We will go back – I don't doubt, and I think this is a statement about everything, New York City, Brian – anyone who thinks that New York City lost ground permanently doesn't understand New York City. We will go back to the place we were before the pandemic, and then we'll surpass it and make things better. I don't have a doubt in my mind, but we've got to get people out of their cars, and we know the tools to do that. We just need to bring our city back and have the recovery that will allow it to happen. 

Lehrer: Last thing, Mr. Mayor, I want to give you a chance to comment on one aspect of the Trump Organization indictments. As Mayor of New York City, this is relevant to you, I would say, because allegedly the Trump organization helped its CFO Allen Weisselberg falsely claim he lived outside New York City, which allowed him not to pay the New York City income tax. As described by the associated press. Weisselberg claimed residency on Long Island, despite living in a company paid Manhattan apartment. Prosecutors said, according to the indictment says the AP, Weisselberg paid rent on his Manhattan apartment with company checks and directed the company to pay even his utility bills and parking. By doing so Weisselberg concealed that he was a New York City resident. So, Mr. Mayor, he is innocent until proven guilty. These are just charges, but what are your comments as Mayor of New York about someone who might have cheated the other taxpayers of the city that way. 

Mayor: I admire your you're invoking his constitutional rights. I think there's very little chance there'll be innocent in the end when the process is over. But no, look, we know people have tried to cheat the people of New York City and cheat the City of New York on their taxes. I think it's actually incredibly powerful that such a prominent person has been caught doing it. We're going to get back to the work of enforcing on tax cheats coming out of COVID. This is the kind of thing we're going to aggressively pursue. I actually think such an example being made of this individual is going to help get the message across. If you love New York City, and you're a part of life in New York City, and you benefit from New York City pay your godforsaken taxes. We're talking about wealthy people who have the money, and if you don't want to live here, okay, cool. But then you will not be able to experience everything that makes this place so extraordinary. You know, choose a side. But we will also enforce aggressively, and I think it's, you know, even though the Trump world tried to cover their tracks, the law is catching up with them. 

Lehrer: Thanks, as always, Mr. Mayor, Happy fourth. Talk to you next week. 

Mayor: Happy fourth to you and all your listeners. Take care, everyone. 

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