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

August 4, 2017

Brian Lehrer: It’s the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning, everyone. We begin today with our weekly Ask the Mayor segment with Mayor Bill de Blasio. And with it, I’ll mention that after next Friday we will suspend the Ask the Mayor series until after the election in November because it’s getting to be campaign season and we don’t want to advantage one candidate over another. NY1, which also does a weekly mayoral interview, and is our journalistic partner in some of the mayoral debates, is also suspending there’s. We made the decision to suspend at this time jointly. And, of course, after the election, we’ll invite whoever wins to start doing an Ask the Mayor series again to keep giving you access. 

So, listeners, get your questions in now if you want to ask the Mayor something before the series goes on hiatus after next Friday – 212-433-WNYC – 212-433-9692 – any caller, any topic, any borough. Or tweet your question – use the hashtag #AsktheMayor. 

And good morning, Mr. Mayor, welcome back to WNYC. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you, Brian.

Lehrer: And on the topic of the campaign, you agreed yesterday to take part in a Democratic primary debate, but I see you also got CFB – Campaign Finance Board – approval for the maximum amount of matching funds for the primary – more than $2 million – on the basis of having more than minimal opposition – that’s what they say is the standard. Considering that your opponents have raised very little money and have hardly any support in the polls or name recognition for that matter, how did you justify asking for $2 million of tax money based on running against Sal Albanese and Bob Gangi?

Mayor: Well, first of all, Brian, I don't take any election for granted, and I think we’ve seen plenty in recent years, including, obviously, last year’s election where you cannot assume the outcome. People who do that often are sorely disappointed. I take this election very seriously – the primary and the general. My job is to tell the people of New York City what I’ve been doing and what I intend to do. Also, there are clear laws and rules here, Brian, and that’s what we follow. The laws say very clearly what qualifies any candidate for that match. We followed those laws, we qualified. The matching funds system – I think it’s one of the most important reform elements in New York City that we have. A public financing system – it’s one of the best in the country. And I believe in it fully and I’ve [inaudible] through every election I’ve been in. And I think we want to make sure that people can have all the information they need when they make a decision. And that’s what the rules say and we followed those rules. 

Lehrer: And the Campaign Finance Board had to allow this and they did, so ultimately we need to ask them too. But the Campaign Finance Board is cited in the Times today, saying they’ll consider asking in the future to make the threshold higher. They’ll consider that. All your opponents needed to do for you to get these millions of dollars in matching funds was appear in local media 12 times – we’re responsible for some of that, I guess – and have received significant endorsements. Is that the right threshold in your opinion?

Mayor: Look, I think it’s perfectly fair to say we should, each year, after each election, look and see if there’s anything we want to change. And I haven’t looked at the nuances, but I think it’s a perfectly valid idea. They should be reviewed regularly. But that being said, I want to be careful here. You know, the whole idea of participating in a matching-fund program is to encourage candidates to seek out every-day New Yorkers for smaller donations – that’s been the focal point of our campaign, Brian. We’ve really focused on low-dollar donations from every-day people. If you start saying, well, now you’re not going to have matching funds available, it goes back to the, I think, the bad old days of encouraging people to go seek donations from wealthy people and big chunks of money at one time. I’d like to see ultimately a public financing system where we get out of the traditional notion of people fund raising from private individuals, particularly wealthy individuals. But I’d be cautious as we asses where to go from here that we don’t create a disincentive to focusing on every-day New Yorkers and smaller donations.

Lehrer: The Campaign Finance System, to be sure, rewards small donations with these matching funds, but the Times notes sardonically that your filing request cited that Mr. Gangi has multiple Facebook posts with over 10 likes – 10 – as a measure of his seriousness. 

Mayor: Again, I want to focus on this point, Brian. So, when we started this campaign, it was really two-three years ago in earnest – just getting ramped up as everyone does, and we focused on house parties, and we focused on reaching out to every-day New Yorkers. Now, if you had said year in advance, actually, you’re not going to have access to a serious amount of matching funds, then that would encourage me or any other candidate to go try and find larger donations, and that’s not the world I think we should be creating. I think we should be constantly pushing away from the big donations towards public financing, and a heavy emphasis on matching funds. So, it’s a little bit of a double standard, Brian, to say, oh, you know, two years ago, three years ago, one year ago, you should be focused 100 percent on every-day New Yorkers and small donations, and then later on we’re going to say, you know, you don’t get those matching funds after all, even though you did everything right. I think there’s a bigger issue there. If we’re going to really encourage people to participate in the public financing system, and there’s still a lot of candidates who don’t. We want 100 percent participation. We have to make it a system that truly rewards a focus on the grassroots. 

Lehrer: Alright. Onto other things – Police Commissioner O’Neill announced murders and shootings are down 17 percent so far this year compared to last and are on pace for a record-low year – good news, indeed. Is the NYPD doing anything differently than under Commissioner Bratton?

Mayor: Yes, and, in fact, Commissioner Bratton started the ball rolling, and then it was then–Chief O’Neill who was the architect of neighborhood policing. And I would say, Brian, strategically, it was the neighborhood policing’s philosophy and strategy, plus the 2,000 new officers on patrol that we agreed to with the City Council a couple of years ago – that’s made the difference. So, what it means is, there is a lot more communication at the local level between officers and community. It means officers are working a small area, walking a beat again, getting to know community residents. What that has also lead to is a lot more information being received by officers because they build real, personal relationships with community residents, and that’s lead to a lot more gun seizures. Here’s an amazing thing that we’ve seen – obviously, stop and frisk down 93 percent since we’ve gotten here. Arrests down – at the same time, gun seizures up, and that is because community residents are helping police to know where to look for illegal weapons, and they’re aiding police in the work they do. I think that’s where you see this extraordinary change – 17 percent reduction in homicides, 17 percent reduction in shootings since this time last year. And really – credit to the NYPD for an extraordinary job. 

Lehrer: And just to be clear on your answer, since I had originally asked you is it because the Police Department is doing something different than they did under Commissioner Bratton –

Mayor: Yeah, and that’s what I’m –

Lehrer: You said yes, but –

Mayor: Yes, because of these two things – they were started – I want to be fair – started under Commissioner Bratton, but actualized under Commissioner O’Neill. Neighborhood policing was in its infancy when Commissioner Bratton retired. Commissioner O’Neill has taken it to, now, a truly city-wide phenomenon. And, of course, those 2,000 officers – we reached that level in January. So, the seeds were planted by Commissioner Bratton, but the larger changes have now been achieved by Commissioner O’Neill. 

Lehrer: How much do you attribute the decline to the kinds of policing that you were just describing and how much to any other non-police factors? Do non-police factors play any role?

Mayor: Of course. I think there are a lot of ways we can look at this, and this is obvious something of great interest. You know, we obviously know some other cities in the country, unfortunately, have been going in the opposite direction with higher crime. New York has been setting records regularly for low crime. Why is that? I think the strategic approach – first and foremost, I really think it is neighborhood policing, and then pinpoint policing, which is taking CompStat and continuing to refine it. That strategic approach based on numbers and specifics in each neighborhood, changing strategies to address neighborhood problems – I think those two pieces, which are New York-specific, have had a huge impact. But of course there’s other factors, a stronger economy I’m certain helps. We have the most jobs we’ve ever had in the history of New York City right now – 4.4 million jobs. No question that helps. I think when you have an atmosphere where there’s more and more opportunities for young people. We put a big focus on after school programs, a big focus on summer jobs – I think that helps. I think the Cure Violence movement, which is the – they’re often called gang interrupters and the folks who work at the community level of, and by, and for the community to address violence, and stop it before it starts, and get young people away from gangs – that’s been a big piece of the equation too. And it doesn’t get a lot of attention, but those grassroots efforts had really helped. So, of course, Brian, it’s a lot of factors. 

Lehrer: And I do want to task you about the killing by a police officer of an apparently mentally disturbed man in Brooklyn this week, Duane Jeune. Commissioner O’Neill says the officer, Miguel Gonzalez, followed police procedures when the man wasn’t stopped by a taser while trying to attack another office with a knife. But as I understand it, Gonzalez was the only officer at the scene without training on how to escalate crisis situations with mentally ill people, and he had shot someone else in a similar situation last October. Does that raise questions for you?

Mayor: Well, first of all, to the best of my understanding, the previous situation was in fact quite different. We always are going to look at every use of force, and they’re shockingly low. I think our officers discharge their weapons something like 80 times – all of our officers – something like 80 times in the year 2016. So, I want people to understand how rare it is for a New York City  police officer to actually discharge their weapon. I think that situation was different from what I’ve heard. This current, horrible tragedy that we’re discussing, it’s under investigation. We can’t fully comment until we see the results, but here’s what we do know so far – this was a very unusual situation, Brian. The call came across to the NYPD as an emotionally disturbed person but with no indication of any violence. When the officers arrived and were welcomed into the apartment by the individual’s mother to assist, very, very quickly it turned into a different situation where the individual had a large knife and lunged at the officers in a very contained space. You know, that is a different dynamic than what we normally would confront, obviously. So, look, the answer to the bigger, structural question – we’re going to look at every situation and determine if we need to make changes. We are doing more and more training of our officers in how to deal with mental health situations. All of our – going forward, all of our lieutenants, all of our sergeants, all of our [inaudible] officers are going to get that training. All of the leadership folks who would be there to give direction will have that training. But I think the other thing is, look, this young man – I think he was 32 years old – there’s another way to look at this – the problem started long before this horrible tragedy. The problem started years ago and was not treated. So, the real focus here Brian, I think is to double down efforts to address mental health at the grassroots, in communities, in schools, get the root cause of so many of the problems in our society which is untreated mental health conditions. And that’s what obviously the ThriveNYC initiative seeks to do. This is something that could have been avoided if as a society, as a city we did a better job of getting mental health services to those who need them early in their lives.

Lehrer: It’s our weekly Ask the Mayor segment with Mayor Bill de Blasio here on WNYC, 2-1-2-4-3-3-9-6-9-2, and Jessica in Park Slope, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello.

Question: Hi, thanks Brian. Hello Mr. Mayor. You actually live on the block I grew up on. I just wanted to ask a question about construction, and if there’s like a master plan of how things get decided because I live on a block where there are two massive construction projects that are right next door to me. I work from home, by the way, so it’s a huge problem. It’s the front and the back of my unit, so it wakes me up at 6:30 am every morning and then I can’t be productive during the day. There’s no parking because there’s also construction happening on the block right below me, right to the left of me, two blocks down from me. Then, you throw on top of that things like television or movie production, and it’s a complete nightmare. I haven’t been able to find a parking spot in the reasonable amount of time in a year and a half. I can’t get a productive day of work done. I have to have my phone on mute whenever I have conference calls. If I go into my bedroom right now you can hear that there are nonstop sounds –

Mayor: Okay I think –

Lehrer: So, so Jessica are you advocating for less construction around the city as a matter of city policy?

Question: I’m advocating for there to be some kind of a plan and an ability to determine what’s a reasonable amount of construction to have within a reasonable amount of space. Because the fact that there’s literally something happening on every – on my block, a block away, two blocks away –

Lehrer: Yeah.

Question: Like that’s insanity.

Lehrer: Okay and there I’m going to leave it Mr. Mayor –

Mayor: Okay

Lehrer: – go ahead and respond.

Mayor: Jessica is raising very real problem and by the way I think there’s a – it’s a subset of another very big discussion we need to have in this city which is how to address noise pollution which I think is a bigger problem and something I want to spend real time trying to figure out what we can do on in general. But, let’s break down this particular problem. In terms of how we figure out who’s allowed to do construction, that – look we’re still, whether we like it or not we’re in a private property based society, and if an individual has a home and they want to add to their home or rehab their home or whatever it is, the government doesn’t say no you can’t do that. It’s obviously someone’s right to do that if they follow the proper procedure. It’s a very fair question to say well should we limit the number of people who can do that on a single block at a single time. In theory, I think that’s an interesting question but I want to be real, that’s not where our laws are right now. There’s no law that says, you know, you can’t have two people on a block rehabbing their house at the same time. And what would you say to those homeowners if they say well hey you know what the first one could do it but the second one can’t, sorry. I think it raised its own complications.

I think the parking issue is different. The parking issue related to construction, I think that’s something we can act on more Jessica. The – if there’s a valid use of some of the parking spaces because of construction that’s one thing. But we’ve often seen construction companies abuse that right and if that is happening in your neighborhood, my neighborhood we can have the precinct act on that and stop that from happening. So I’d like you to please share your information with WNYC and I want to follow up and see if there is something we can do that might address the parking problem per se.

But, the conclusion I would draw is I’d like to see more efforts to coordinate but I don’t think we’re in a position to tell one homeowner they can do their work and then another one they can’t if they both have done everything properly to quality to do work on their home.

Lehrer: Jessica, hang on we’re going to take your contact information off the air and make sure you get a follow up response. Since she raised construction, I saw that City Council’s progressive caucus is working on a set of bills to fight harassment of rent stabilized tenants through endless construction on apartment buildings to make living conditions unpleasant hoping the tenants will leave and then the landlords can start charging market rates. That’s obviously very different issue than Jessica called with but it’s also related to construction. Do you know about those bills and will you sign them?

Mayor: Brian, I know about them, I have not seen them yet. But I’m sympathetic to the vision of those bills. I can’t speak to the details but I can say this, I want a really aggressive approach to any landlord who harasses. Obviously we’re providing free lawyers now, great work with the City Council we’ve done on the right to counsel so now anyone who’s faced with an eviction or harassment if they earn under $50,000 a year they can get a lawyer for free from the city. If they earn over $50,000 they can still get legal advice. And we’re working with the Attorney General on criminal prosecutions against landlords who harass and don’t provide services, and that I think is going to send a very powerful message. But I think we need to do even more, so I’m sympathetic to the idea of those bills and want to see if we can get to something really workable there.

Lehrer: Michael in the Bronx, you’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello Michael.

Question: Hello Brian, hello Mr. Mayor, good to talk to you once again. The problem that I’m having and noticing is upon while driving we all know that it is illegal to be texting while driving and there’s some motorists who are still doing that, however there are plenty of motorists that feel just because they come to a red light that’s a time okay for them to be texting. I totally disagree with that because a – they’re still in drive gear, b – they’re still in the middle of the road, and c – they have to be attentive especially if a police officer comes about and starts directing traffic. As we all know, a police officer supersedes any and all traffic control devices and people are not following that, and I shouldn’t have to keep toot tooting my horn when the light turns to green and people are not –

Mayor: Right I – that’s a good point. It’s a good point Michael, look; let me summarize it this way. I think you’re right that if people are busy texting and the light changes at all they’re not going to be in a position to respond to it properly and that could be dangerous for everyone involved, let alone delay people. So the bottom line is people should not be texting while driving, if you’re using a cell phone you should have the proper kind of headset or hands free. We have a big problem with that; NYPD is going to be very, very aggressive. Now I think generally the place for doing the enforcement is when we see people literally in the process of driving holding a cellphone or texting, and that’s incredibly dangerous. That’s where we’re going to put most of our energy. But, I would say the common sense thing to do is while you’re driving is just put that stuff away or have a hands free system because it’s just – it’s horribly dangerous. I also notice there’s been so many traffic delays lately because of accidents and I know a disproportionate number of those accidents were because people were texting while driving. So besides a safety issue, I think it creates a lot of other problems for people. So you will see a lot of NYPD enforcement, maybe less at the stoplights but in general a lot of NYPD enforcement on texting while driving.

Lehrer: I know somebody who failed his road test as a young driver for taking his hands off the wheel when the car when stopped at a light or a stop sign I’m not sure which, so that is actually considered bad enough driving to get you to fail your road test if you’re taking your hands off the wheel for any reason no less texting. So I thought I would throw that in since I –

Mayor: That is a true statement and good advice, Brian.

Lehrer: Edward in Fresh Meadows, you’re on WNYC. Hello.

Question: Hi, yes thank you to the show and the Mayor for providing this access. The issue I want to call about is I’m hoping for some advice is there’s a street in Corona, Roosevelt Avenue Junction Boulevard, the 7-Train passes over there. And if you go from Street 96 to 97 at least half the block is full of street vendors, they don’t have licenses to be selling food and vegetables, and it’s gotten so crowded that literally for half the block it’s a one line passageway. You have to go one by one and sometimes like last week, you can’t even cross the street, you can’t even walk down that block.

So, I asked a police officer about it, they said they would look into but I don’t know if there’s Department of Buildings or if there’s some control stuff because it’s a hazard. You can’t park in the street; you can’t walk down half that block.
Mayor: No, I appreciate it. That’s a very real problem. So, first of all, again, I want your local precinct to follow up and you. And if you could give your information to WNYC, we’ll do that. Here’s the bottom line. We’ve got a dysfunctional situation when it comes to street vendors. It’s really not fair to anyone – the vendors or the pedestrians or anyone at this point.

We’re working with the City Council on new legislation trying to do a reset on this. I think the bottom line is look, we’ve got a lot of illegal vending in the city. That’s part of where all that extra congestion comes from. We’ve got to stop that and we’ve got to be really tough on it.

One thing the City Council has thought about is an increase in the legal number of permits and better regulation of the legal number of permits. But at the same time more enforcement so that, you know, it’s you either have the permit or you don’t. If you don’t you’re not going to be able to be there plus some real clear geographical boundaries. Because a lot of times, there’s too many vendors in one place or the vendors are congregated around brick-and-mortar stores and really taking all their business from them when these are stores that have been in the community a long time and are contributing to the community.

So, my hope is that in the course of the rest of this year, we get to a sort of a big reset on the vendor problem that helps address what you’re saying. But in the meantime, I’ll make sure your precinct addresses it directly with you.

Lehrer: Selena on Staten Island. You’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Selena.

Question: Hi, good morning.

Mayor: Good morning.

Question: Hi. I had a question in regards to the investigation between DoITT and Spectrum. Where do we stand –

Lehrer: That’s the city’s office of –

Mayor: Information Technology.

Lehrer: And Spectrum, the cable company. Go ahead, Selena.

Question: Correct, yeah. I wanted to know where does the investigation stand between DoITT and Spectrum in regards to the franchise agreement held here in New York City. Today, marks the 130th day, Mayor, that we’ve been on strike – 1,800 employees, here, throughout New York City. I mean, they’ve gone to the negotiation table and walked away several times.

We’d love to know where we stand.

Mayor: Yeah. I appreciated the question a lot. Listen, what’s happening here is just fundamentally unfair to the workers and I’ve been out on the picket line with workers in solidarity. Look, I’ve said many times to the leadership of Spectrum – I’ve reached out to them and have not gotten a response yet – that I would welcome them to come into City Hall with the union leadership and try and settle this with no preconditions, with an open negotiation process.

Because this is very upsetting to have so many working people without pay and being subjected to this situation.

The question about the franchise agreement. So [inaudible] an allegation was made recently that Charter Spectrum was not honoring an element of the franchise agreement related to the vendors the use and whether they had made every effort to get local vendors. That is now being fully investigated by our Department of Information Technology. I’m not going to prejudge that investigation but if negative findings occur it can have a very real impact on the future of Charter Spectrum’s business with New York City and their ability to be here and do their work here.

So, that’s being taken very, very seriously. But in the meantime, that’s going to take a lot to play out. But in the meantime, my strong message to Charter Spectrum is – come to the table and work to resolve this. You know their predecessor company Time Warner had a contract with the same union with proper wages and benefits and things were working fine.

I don’t know what has changed here and I don’t think it’s good for this city or for working people in this city.

Lehrer: Beverly in Manhattan. You’re on WNYC with the Mayor. Hi, Beverly.

Question: Hello. I wanted to ask the Mayor why they are spending $1,875,000 to alter and change bus stops – the number five bus – on Riverside Drive. I have walked it with a Community Board member. It doesn’t need it. I’m particularly interested in 104th Street. It has two wide cross walks to the bus stop going south. They platform at areas with benches. It’s a wide open street. There are doorman you can see. There’s a security guard when it’s dark. If you yell, someone is there. It serves as a playground on 105th Street –

Lehrer: And forgive me, Beverly, how are they changing it?

Question: They are changing it to 103rd Street which is small, no benches, faces the island separating upper and lower Drive –

Lehrer: I see. And they’re spending a lot of money to do this. Is that what you said at the beginning?

Question: Pardon?

Lehrer: They’re spending a lot of money to this, did you say?

Question: They’re spending $1,875,000. You got a federal grant for one-and-half million, and you’re adding $375,000. That money could be used for the subway.

Lehrer: Mr. Mayor, do you know this specific issue with the M5 bus?

Mayor: No, I really don’t, Brian. And look, to the very fair question if it is something that was done solely by the MTA, and obviously, as we’ve talked before, the MTA is run by the State of New York, but we have members on the MTA board who can raise the concerns. So, we will get the details and definitely follow up on the concern.

Some initiatives the City participates on like Select Bus Service, for example – but I don’t know this one. So, we will certainly follow up to figure out whether this plan was put together properly or whether some unintended consequences we have to address here.

Lehrer: Beverly, let’s take your contact information off the air and we’ll find out more for you, and you can – relay it to you about that bus route.

Here’s another mass transit question that I think is more directly related to the City. From Twitter, a listener asks, “What happened to BQX streetcar project and why won’t you support congestion pricing for work days in Manhattan to fund the subways?”

And I will note there is a Village Voice article, I think it is, out right now asking – oh, yeah here it is. Village Voice, August 3rd – “The Mysterious Disappearance of Mayor de Blasio’s $2.58 Million Streetcar Plan,” by Neil Demause. Did it disappear?

Mayor: No, it didn’t disappear. It’s a plan that we said from the beginning, construction would start on it in 2019 or 2020. So, it’s just the normal course of things. We’re doing all the preparation work to do the streetcar, to do the light rail from Astoria, Queens down to Sunset Park, Brooklyn. There’s been a series of community meetings.

There’s a lot of folks in the community who want it because a lot of these areas don’t have enough transportation options. There are a lot of folks who are raising real concerns and critiques that we are trying to address. But no, the light rail project is moving forward.

I will have a lot more to stay as the next steps are ready. And then on congestion pricing, look, I’ve always felt there are challenges and problems with congestion pricing that no plan has sufficiently addressed although I think some of the more recent iterations have been more promising. But I’ve been clear, so long as we have the current situation with the State Senate in Albany, it’s just not going to happen.

And I’m the first to say when I think something can happen that, you know, I think if there’s something that there can be a political breakthrough and have a real debate over something, I’ll say it. When I think something is absolutely a non-starter, and I honestly believe it, I’ll say it.

This one is a true non-starter. So, I don’t think this is how address our problems right now. I think it’s everything else. It’s light rail, it’s ferry service, it’s Select Bus Service, it’s Citi Bike. It’s a lot of other things we can do to improve the flow of traffic. We added hundreds more traffic enforcement agents. These are the things we can do right now that we need to focus on.

Lehrer: Alright. And we are out of time for Ask the Mayor today. I’ll mention again, as I did at the beginning of the segment, that the Mayor will be back next Friday but after that we will suspend the Ask the Mayor series until after the election because it’s getting to be campaign season and we don’t want to advantage one candidate over another. After the November election, of course, we will invite whoever wins to start doing an Ask the Mayor series again to keep giving all of you access.

Mr. Mayor, we hope you will come on for a campaign interview during the campaign season as well. But first, we’ll talk to you in the Ask the Mayor series one more time next Friday.

Mayor: I look forward to that next Friday and I look forward to coming on as a candidate and continuing to answer the questions you’re bringing forward from New Yorkers over all five boroughs. I want to thank you for doing that, Brian.

Lehrer: Thank you very much.